How Not to Be an Asshole to the Aspiring Writer in Your Life
It’s not really that hard. Just stop believing that you know the truth.
Someone posted this in the Ninja Writers Facebook group.
So, basically this guy went on Reddit to tell about a situation and get some feedback about whether or not he’s an asshole. The situation is basically this: his girlfriend is a mediocre (grade-wise) English major who wants badly to be a writer, but he doesn’t think she’s any good and would like her to have a fallback plan.
A few things stand out to me about this.
Writing and Reading Are Utterly Subjective
There is no one person who can tell anyone that they’re not a good enough writer. Even highly successful writers that lots and lots of people love also have readers who just don’t get it.
This Reddit user says his girlfriend wants to be the next J.K. Rowling — but even she had trouble selling the first Harry Potter book and has one star reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.
It’s ridiculous to think that one person can decide for the world what’s good and what isn’t.
You Can Be a Good Storyteller and Only OK (or Even Crap) With Grammar
We all know this. There are wildly bestselling novels out there that are technically dodgy. Storytelling trumps everything. So if this dude’s girlfriend can tell a story that draws people (maybe not him) in — then her less than average grades in her English major classes won’t preclude her from a career.
Here’s the thing. Being able to tell a story is the hard part. If you can do that, the rest is just mechanics. And anyone can learn mechanics. That’s just work.
Maybe She’s Not Good Enough Right Now
It’s possible that this guy’s girlfriend isn’t a good enough writer. Right now. Today. It’s possible that what he read of hers was subpar and not publishable. In fact, if she’s a student just learning how to write I’d say it’s pretty much a given.
No one is good enough, until they are.
It takes time and a whole lot of effort to become a good writer. An that’s hard enough — because you have to do it without any real evidence that you’ll ever actually be good enough.
There’s actually no upside to being the guy who takes it on himself to truth-tell the dream right out of someone he cares about.
Now — I’d be okay with him being the one who tells her that he believes that if she keeps working she’ll get better. Maybe supports her in getting some mentorship or taking a class. Buys her a craft book or two.
But being proud of yourself for being the one to break the news that she’ll never be a good enough writer? Yeah. That’s not okay. If that’s really true, the world will clue them in eventually.
She Likely Knows She Needs a Job
Is he asking her to give up writing and shift to some other career? Or just saying she needs a job?
How to Make Your Day Job Support Your Art
Guess what. Your art doesn’t have to earn a living.
If she believes she’s a writer — everything else can be the side hustle that supports her career. Including a full-time job. Including a good full-time job that other people would consider a career.
The chances that she’s going to only write and refuse to do any other kind of work will last as long as someone else is willing to feed her or until her funds run out.
This is one of those things that will work itself out. It’s okay to talk to your partner about bringing in some income, without telling them that they’re a crap writer and should give up because no one makes it anyway.
Which brings me to . . .
It’s Not True That No One Makes It As a Writer
Some people do.
Know which ones?
The ones who keep writing. Period. One hundred percent of successful writers are writers who kept writing.
Does every writer make a good living that way? Nope. But lots make some kind of money. And there’s never, ever been a better time to be a writer. You don’t even necessarily need gatekeepers like publishers or agents.
Here’s What He (or You or Anyone) Could Do Instead of Being an Asshole
A) Acknowledge that writing is very important to the person you’re tempted to truth-tell. Very important.
B) Accept that writing is a skill that has to be learned and no one (I mean no one) who is in the ‘learning’ stage is also in the ‘good enough’ stage.
C) If you can’t be actively supportive, at least do your best to not be actively dismissive or demoralizing.
D) Understand that becoming a successful writer requires too things: persistence and continued learning. There is no harm in supporting those two pursuits, even if you don’t see the path to financial success.
E) Because art doesn’t have to pay for itself. Or it shouldn’t have to, anyway. The writer in your life might spend forever just writing for the sheer joy of telling stories.
F) Successes are few and far between in the beginning. Celebrate every one like the big deal that it is.
G) Be one of the successes. Think for a minute about how exciting it is to have absolute support. Imagine the difference for the girlfriend in that Reddit post if her partner went around introducing her to people as a writer. If he told her that he believes that she has it in her to become what she might not yet be. Be that person.
H) Invest something in their education. Offer to support them in whatever form their ‘continued learning’ takes. Buy them craft books. Help clear their calendar for a writing class or workshop or group. Keep your ears open for opportunities.
Shaunta Grimes is a writer and teacher. She is an out-of-place Nevadan living in Northwestern PA with her husband, three superstar kids, two dementia patients, a good friend, Alfred the cat, and a yellow rescue dog named Maybelline Scout. She’s on Twitter @shauntagrimes and is the original Ninja Writer.