This week @WomenWriters asked on Twitter:
How does your family view your writing? Are they supportive?
— Women Writers (@WomenWriters) July 20, 2014
My initial response was pretty harsh.
@WomenWriters Conversations like this can mislead. We don’t need family support or approval to write.
— Racheline Maltese (@racheline_m) July 20, 2014
Who needs support? And do men ask these questions about whether they have family support for their creative work? As women we have got to stop asking for permission.
But @WomenWriters was asking a value neutral question. Just a what is your situation like? The answers were varied, interesting, and largely hopeful. Even so, I do think that sometimes, as authors, and as female authors, we can internalize these questions in ways that are harmful to us and our work.
A long time ago, I dated a man with whom I had a lot of arguments about my writing, which at the time was mostly creative non-fiction, personal essay, and poetry. Some of this was because I wrote about him and our relationship to each other and our social community, which was complex and at times toxic. Some of this was just because my mode of public existence was so different from his.
I always told him I wanted his respect for my work. He would counter that it wasn’t fair of me to ask for his admiration. But by respect, I never meant admiration, more a benign sort of acceptance of its right to exist and my right to do it whatever he thought about it. I was asking for space and an acknowledgement of worth of the work to someone, if not to him.
While we were together, we never really came to a meeting of the minds on this issue. These many years later, we’re good, hard-won, and peculiar friends. The last time we saw each other, I actually spent a lot of time giving him my speech about how if you really want to write a book, you can find 15 – 30 minutes a day to get it done. After all, that’s probably about 250 words, and 250 words times 300 days out of a year is 75,000 words. It’s just a matter of sitting down, making a plan, and plodding through it.
It meant a lot to me to be able to say that to him and that he listened, although I don’t know if he’ll ever make the choices he’ll need to do write the book he wants to write. Because we’re close, I understand that (although it doesn’t mean I’m going to let him off the hook easily).
Choosing to write — or to follow any ambition — is hard. It’s personal. It’s scary. And it has repercussions we can anticipate and repercussions we can’t. In our own heads and in our relationships with others.
The most important thing I always want anyone to know about my writing career before they listen to anything resembling advice from me, is that there have been times (and by times I mean years) where I just stopped writing.
I didn’t write because I was afraid of disapproval. I didn’t write because I believed people when they told me no one would care about my stories or that no one would ever love me, find me attractive, hire me, or talk to me again if I told my stories. I believed people when they said I didn’t have the right to speak. I believed them when they said that I simply created stories for attention and that attention was bad. I believed people when they said that my words were a moral harm.
It turns out none of those things were true, although let’s be honest: There have been times people have been hurt in response to my writing and in at least some of those cases the simple answer is that I didn’t necessarily make the wisest choices available to me.
So when the discussion turns to “Does your family and friends support your writing?” my first answer is always going to be Who cares? followed by a quick admonishment that you, whoever you are and no matter what your family looks like, shouldn’t care either. Because, as we used to say back on one of the earliest public Internet communities (a site called The Well), you own your own words. You also own yourself.
This doesn’t mean don’t discuss your work with your family. This doesn’t mean don’t acknowledge or negotiate how your writing fits into or affects your relationships or other obligations. And it certainly doesn’t mean to be ungrateful if you do have support.
That my mother actually loved a musical about dominatrixes that I wrote the book for is one of the great achievements of my life. That my ex was proud of me for the essay I wrote for Salon about some of my high school misdeeds means something to me that I don’t care to articulate to anyone. And that my partner helps me with my novels as a first-reader even though they are not stylistically or in subject matter her first choice of reading material is an utter godsend.
But I value the support and encouragement I have because I have finally come to believe — after writing careers abandoned and more poor choices about myself and my words than it matters to describe — that permission and support just simply don’t matter.
I want you to have all of it in the world. Certainly support – financial, logistical, or emotional – can make a writing career easier. But if you don’t have that support, I don’t want you to let it stop you for a second. And I definitely want you to waste less time seeking it out from places you’re never going to get it from. Or worrying that if you have it now you won’t have it tomorrow. You are beholden only to the integrity of your stories and to your integrity of self.
This doesn’t mean do whatever you want regardless of the repercussions. But it does mean to stand up for your work and to fight for the space you need to create it.
Because when you realize you’re not doing anything wrong by having a story to tell, you will, among other things, be so much less likely to act the villain. You’ll treat yourself better; you’ll treat other people better; and you’ll probably get a lot more writing done too. That writing is also more likely to be of higher quality, and more honest, even if it is fiction.
Racheline Maltese is a performer and storyteller focused on themes of sex, gender, desire and mourning. Her work has appeared in numerous outlets, and she is a regular speaker on pop-culture topics. Love in Los Angeles, her gay romance series co-written with Erin McRae, is published by Torquere Press. The first novel, Starling, will be released September 2014; its sequel, Doves, is scheduled for January 2015.
Find out more about Racheline on her blog: http://www.LettersFromTitan.
LGBT Romance Writing with Erin McRae: http://www.Avian30.com
Follow her on Twitter: @racheline_m