Today, I’ll be plumbing some of my own personal feelings and struggles to talk about something a little harder: Challenges writers face in life. No flowery metaphors, no glib pithy insights to trivialise it, no saccharine “but passion will prevail” nonsense, just what I feel to be the realest emotions and problems writers face when they try to be functioning adults with jobs and social lives.
If you’re going through them, maybe it’ll help to put things in perspective, or to learn you’re not alone. If not, well, hopefully it’ll help prepare you in case it ever happens. So then, ready for some real talk?
Trick question. You clicked the link, you’re already reading. HA!
Working 9 to 5
As cathartic as it would be to gripe about my job on my blog (as God intended when He invented the blogosphere), I think I’ll skip ahead to the struggles any writer faces when dealing with a job. Or more to the point, dealing with a job and caring enough to do it RIGHT. If you didn’t care in the first place, none of this would be an issue.
See, it’s one thing to have a job to pay the bills and treat it like just a source of income. Certainly, that’s what most writers think it would be: that thing you clock in and do, giving you money to fund your life until you get your next big break. You wash dishes, serve fast food. Or you do something that’s actually marketable because you like having more than minimum wage. Some of us even think this job will enrich us with delightful new challenges, or that the job will be in PRECISELY the same field as our skills and passions.
Pictured above: Basically how it really turns out.
In our naive minds, we assume it’s enough to just go in from 9.00 to 6.00, do our thing, and get out of there, with no further interaction or drive for improvement. A place where we are paid to put the rest of our life in stasis while inching towards our dreams.
Trouble is, that’s just NOT how it works. A job hires you because they expect you to contribute. And the workforce has little use for a worker that’s just coasting in with zero passion or dedication. No, you discover this from the moment you begin your job interview: They’re looking for more than just bodies. They’re looking for what you can bring to the job that’ll make them stronger and better.
So that brings us to one of the common woes of being a writer with a ‘real’ job: The job seems to take up our time, and more than that, some of who we are. Responsibilities come and go, sometimes in neverending waves, sometimes as surprise ambushes. And each time, you’re expected to invest yourself into meeting those responsibilities. Whether you have time to write or not, whether you DO write or not, dealing with work is usually taxing, and being split from what you love is worse.
So What Can I Do?
Perhaps the hardest thing any functioning adult (not just writers or creatives) must face is this: Your job is never JUST a stepping stone. It could be in the long run, but in the here and now, it is a very real, very important part of your life. And as such, you WILL have to grow to meet it, just like you do at every stage of your education or relationships.
Whatever you’re feeling, whether you’re honestly invested or just passing time, THEIR time is very real and valuable to them. They’re out to make profits and seek growth so that they can expand, get big, and pay their employees.
See, whatever you may personally feel about your job, what YOU feel is unimportant to your employers unless it affects them. What’s important is what THEY expect, and right from the start, they’re expecting an employee who’ll give a shit. They’re not there to coddle you, help you grow, or pay you so you can pursue your dreams. YOU’RE there getting paid to pursue THEIR dreams.
If you think this is unfair, or unnatural, however, I’ve a few counterpoints. Firstly, LIFE is unfair and this is how it is. Secondly, they DO have a point to expect things from you, since they’re running a business and not a charity (heck, even charities want to get things right). Thirdly, you’re there because you GAVE them reasons to expect things for you, and you have to deliver or you’re guilty of false advertising. And fourthly, think of it this way: Would you hang on to an editor who gives useless feedback?
So I’m not going to give you advice so trite as “Do what feels right for you” or “Take a step back and look hard at what you want in life”, though those are things everyone should do now and then. I’m not here to perpetuate the Neverland of a writer’s creative dream.
Instead, I’m just here to honestly share what it’s like, and to say this: The sooner you get over yourself, the sooner you can look at it with open eyes. Because if you refuse to open them, chances are you’re going to wind up unemployed a lot sooner than expected. Don’t see it as a stepping stone, or it’ll turn into a roadblock. Accept it as part of your life, while always being aware for opportunities or changes. It doesn’t have to be the core of who you are, but it does need your attention if you want to hope to last. Learn where it fits into your life, or you’ll just complain that it doesn’t.
And once you know what’s needed, you can find the quiet moments where writing can bloom. Assuming you’re not procrastinating, that is.
Too Many Cooks Spoil The Broth, But You Were Making A Salad
So that’s my take on what ‘real’ work means for most creatives in a conventional day job. But there IS something else that can greatly influence us, whether it affects our motivation or our style: our social circles.
Whenever I take a look at my newsfeed for creatives, half the time it’s articles about how we’re all special little snowflakes, here are the clickbait articles revealing how we did it or why we’re special, and we should just exorcise all the toxic naysayers in our lives. Yeah, that’s not gonna work for me. Anyone can tell you “Cut out the tumour!” when it’s black and white. I’m gonna talk about something more complicated: people in your life you actually cherish. People who want what’s best for you, and actually have valid points.
First off, let me just say this: They are your LOVED ones. And barring some severely messed up lives, these are people you can trust to have your best interests at heart, no matter what frame of experience they’re using. They will be there to support you or give you honest advice, depending on their disposition (some will nurture you, others will give you tough love). Though they are part of this topic, don’t get your head so stuck up your butt that you forget this point.
That said, I’m not going to shy away from this: A social life takes work, and can take its toll. Not just with ‘putting up with the haters’ or ‘playing along to be one of the guys’. I’m talking about being close as a family, being there for the ones who need help. And because it’s life, it’s inevitable that sooner or later expectations and aspirations will cross signals. You want one thing, they want another.
And for the most part, we’re aware of this particular clause of the social contract. We accept it as a natural, healthy part of life: They’re there for us, we’re there for them, for a whole bunch of different things. And it’s a burden shared with people that matter. In that light, I’m sure every writer is aware of how it’s both a joy and a duty to put off your art to spend time and nourish this relationship.
Here’s the thing. Far from those cherry-picked fairy tales of how a creative person’s social group is either so toxic they can easily cut it out or so supportive and understanding it’s utopian, your average REAL loved ones are never that simple. They’re never so cartoonishly mean as to crush EVERY dream, and they’re never so poorly-written that they think everything you do is great and you should keep doing it.
But the prickly part is what you don’t expect. Like a Dungeon Master running a game which quickly spiraled out of control (read: ALL of them), the common issue is this: You trust them to support your dreams (or they invite themselves in), and they have a different opinion. I mean, come on. How dare people have an opinion different from what we want? What are they, living beings?
Pictured above: When family gets involved with your dreams.
So here’s my real talk on what it means to have your loved ones involved in your dreams, whether you want them there or not. It’s easy when they think you fart rainbows or when they think your ideas are shit. What’s HARD is when they’re kind of on the same page as you. What’s HARD is when you CARE about what they think.
It’s at once both the greatest resource you can hope for and the greatest challenge. See, here you have people who care about you and want you to succeed. Good. And they’ll give you all sorts of valuable feedback from multiple perspectives. Great! You just have to be able to take feedback! And trust me, your layman uncle who goes to the movies is a lot more dependable as an everyman control group for your quality than the friend who always posts quotes from Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, and Joss Whedon. You get a much more diverse test group, and you don’t even have to deal with total strangers!
But then the trouble happens. Maybe they place expectations on you. Or maybe they might have a different idea of what you should be. Maybe their definition of your true potential is different from what you think it is. To kind of illustrate my point, it would be if Picasso’s loved ones said to him “Pablo, you have a real talent for this! But it makes no sense. Don’t you want your work to be recognised?”
I can imagine what some of you are thinking. “How dare they dictate creativity to us! Who are they to decide what should be MY dream? Don’t they realise that defeats the whole purpose?!” Well, get your head out of your ass and listen for a change. I’ve been there, it’s not a pretty place. My ass, not yours, get your head out of the gutter.
See, the problem isn’t a matter of feedback. Any reasonably experienced creative can tell you all about navigating feedback, whether it’s about staying true to your vision or making it clearer for the public.
The problem is the baggage that comes with who’s giving it. Whatever you feel about the feedback they gave, whether it’s valid or not, there is ALWAYS going to be some feeling there because it comes from a place you trust. Unless you’re a completely self-absorbed arse who takes these things for granted, you WILL feel something. And if it’s clashing with what you wanted for yourself, or if you think it’s moving in a direction you don’t want to go, that muddies the waters.
These are feelings like doubt of yourself or the person. In other cases, you might feel betrayed, or even guilty for feeling this way. And sometimes, as more and more feedback and expectations are heaped upon you, there’s the worst feeling of all: being suffocated by your editors. Like you’re busy living up to their image of your dreams while ignoring what you really want.
The main issue about this isn’t whether they’re right or wrong. In that light, they’d be no different than any random person giving you that feedback.
The TRUE issue is what you feel while hearing that feedback, and coping with what it means for you and your loved ones. And we feel it more personally than with TrollTurd24 because it’s from people in our lives, people we trust. In some cases, we feel outraged and think they should understand us better. In others, it can sap our will to keep going, thinking “What’s the point if I’m not doing it for myself anymore?”
So what do I do?
With regards to the feedback on its own, I can give you the writer-approved answer: Hear it objectively, calmly analyse it, and see whether it can apply to you or not. Compare it with what you want for yourself, evaluate that, and see where that leaves you.
But as for the feelings? Well, the most practical advice I can give is to think it over and talk it out with the person if you can. Unless they’re the sort of person who can dish it out but can’t take it in, in which case you’re better off finding a healthier outlet to vent your emotions and reduce the pressure. Acknowledge how you feel, but don’t let it consume you. And if you need to, be honest about the need to take a break or take time to do things YOUR way. Most times, they’ll understand because they’re your loved ones.
This is all hard to do because of one thing: We HATE being told how to do our job, or having our dreams dictated to us. Whether you feel that’s a justified attitude or not, it is what it is, and it’s something ALL creatives have to work on. We like to paint a pretty picture, but we’re just as vain and self-absorbed as the rest of humanity. Perhaps even more so, given our chosen vocation.
However, I do have one truth which can help you work through this: You’re both right.
Whatever your doubts, however you respond to feedback, this realisation is a great way to stay humble and keep things in perspective.
Yes, they’re right to care about you. If you only did what YOU wanted without considering what others think, your art is really just self-gratification, like that kid creating crappy Sonic webcomics on Deviantart. And no matter what any of us say, it’s a good bet that deep down, ALL creatives want attention, and ALL creatives could use an outside opinion when they’re so in love with their own.
But yes, you’re right, too. It’s still YOUR dream, and you must walk that delicate balance of preserving what makes you happy and working out how it deals with life. Because there’s a difference between what we WANT and what we NEED to grow as a person.
So what’s the main point? Well, if I had to reach a conclusion, it’s two parts.
First, you need the maturity to deal with things outside of yourself. That’s life. That’s how you become a well-rounded human being. And that’s how you can find the perspective and spirit to grow with the world around you instead of being stifled by it. And growing as a whole will only make your art stronger, not weaker, even if you have to work harder to keep at it.
And at the same time, you need the insight and will to stay true to yourself. It takes a lot of introspection, to figure out what fits and what doesn’t in life. Sometimes we’re not the best judges of ourselves, other times the world is the one that doesn’t know. It’s never consistent, it’s always changing, and it’s always hard to face. And it happens to be what everyone faces. Not just writers, but humans.
Welcome to life. It’s inconsistent and demanding, and you have to deal with these inconsistent demands at most times. But with luck and effort, you can find two of the most important things: A purpose for yourself, and people who will support you.