You don’t need support to write: you own your own words

July 23, 2014 | By | 9 Replies More

This week @WomenWriters asked on Twitter:

My initial response was pretty harsh.

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.

Rachel Matlinese

Racheline Maltese

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.

starlingIt 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:

LGBT Romance Writing with Erin McRae:

Follow her on Twitter: @racheline_m


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Category: Being a Writer, Contemporary Women Writers, On Writing

Comments (9)

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  1. Denise says:

    I understand what you’re saying, and I think that support from the people around you is very important when you’re trying to accomplish writing goals. Support is subjective – waiting ten extra minutes for dinner to be made, say, or just not being negative about the work being put in is being supportive. I would say that outside validation of what you’re doing as a writer isn’t necessary – at least until agents, publishers and editors are involved. Your family and friends don’t need to say how awesome you are and cheerlead. But, having them give you the room you need to get done is definitely a good thing, and in some cases, necessary.

  2. Caroline says:

    Thanks for such an interesting post. I really enjoyed reading it and thought I should add my own two cents here. I agree that we should not need our family (or even our friends’) validation in order to write. If we want to write, nee if we must write, then how family feels about it should not be an issue and, yet, all too often it is a concern and the decisions that must be made on the foot of it can be very complex.

    Indeed, our words can often be easier than our actions and we often look to family for validation in all aspects of our lives. Browsing through a forum a few weeks ago I came across a post from a young writer who was terrified at the prospect of publishing their work, as they knew that they would be mocked by their family for having written anything at all. Whether or not family members do this in jest is one thing, but this poor person was becoming creatively crippled by their fears. In this sense then, your advice is very pertinent.

    However, there is another sense in which it is important that a family is supportive of your writing and that relates to finding the time to actually write and the question of what happens if you become really good at it.

    Particularly in your immediate family, if they are unsupportive then they may resent the time that you need to take in order to actually produce something. This may only be 30 minutes a day but it is 30 minutes that you take for yourself, not your family. Also, presumably a person writes with at least the vague hope that they will be successful, that others will read their work and that someone, someday may even pay them to write more. With the best will in the world, if this happens, then writing will become another part of life and one that is likely to change it in someway. Family then, has to be willing to come along for the ride, otherwise a person will have to make the choice and decide which is more important writing or family. This is not a choice that, I imagine, anyone would relish having to make.

    These are not easy issues to deal with and I’m glad that this post opens a discussion about it here because it might be surprising (to non writers at least) that something as simple a writing a story can have such a far reaching personal impact on the creator.

  3. TheseWomensWork says:

    Thank you for this. It needed to be said. I come from a family that was emotionally abusive and my sister and I were the lowest on the totem pole because the family was extremely patriarchal. My parents still think I need validation and approval from them for everything I do. It’s taken me a long time to discover that my own approval for what I am doing is the most important thing. Now it amuses me when my parents try to “assure” me that they will help me publish my writing. I don’t need any help from them and no approval from them either.


  4. Icy Sedgwick says:

    I’ve been lucky in that my family enjoy my work, and support what I do, which in itself is a good space in which to work because they give me the time to do it, but I dated a man who dismissed my work as merely “okay” because it didn’t fit within the highbrow range of cultural materials to which he was accustomed. I was asked to respect whatever writers he was interested in, but I was not allowed to be offended when he showed no interest in my own work, as if it wasn’t worthy of note. I found myself actually apologising for the ‘genre’ fiction that I write. Eventually I just asked him not to read my work if he was so disinterested. We’re no longer together and in all honesty that’s a toxic influence my writing didn’t need!

  5. I totally agree the support question can lead down some very bad paths. Worse is when writers get the advice that they *should* receive feedback and support from romantic partners and family members. It means people close to the writer who don’t support the idea of them writing anyhow now have ammunition: they have material they can run down and belittle in the name of “giving feedback”, and encourage the writer to find something else to do. You know, something they’d approve of.

  6. Ariel says:

    You’re 100% right – having support is great but if you don’t have it shouldn’t stop anyone from writing. I’m not always at that place where I believe in myself and my writing to try it everyday, but I hope to get there. Wonderful post!

  7. Lori Schafer says:

    Thank you, Racheline! I, too, always have the same response to the “support” question – it simply isn’t relevant to me whether I have support or not. Of course, everyone’s situation is different, and if your writing has to come at the expense of feeding your family, that’s another story. But for most of us, who are writing part-time anyway, this is not the case. I don’t need anyone’s permission to do what I want with my time – and if they don’t like my writing, they don’t have to read it!

  8. I kept a nearly daily journal for almost five years, primarily around college. It was a great experience to purge myself of any of these doubts. Prior to that, I was free with whatever I wanted to write because I was young and immune to worrying about what others thought about it (lucky me in that aspect–in other aspects of my life, I was terribly shy and withdrawn). After writing a private journal for so many years, it never occurred to me that I wasn’t allowed to write what I wanted.

    But the journaling was important in other ways: It taught me how to be honest with myself first and foremost, which is the beginning step to being honest with others. So important if you want to be an effective writer, one that writes from your deepest soul.

  9. Bob Braxton says:

    words belong. I write, without selling, regardless of someone else’s approval. My gender is different (from female) at least on the surface. Sometimes the writing is writing me and not the other way around. Thank you for sticking up for all words that are writing and writers who have words to say.

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