Wednesday, August 20, 2008

When does support become bullying?

Recently, a writer friend told me a long-time writer on one of her loops had announced she was throwing in the towel, or the keyboard, or whatever it is we writers throw in when we decide it's just not worth it anymore. From the sounds of it, this particular writer realized that she'd let her writing and struggle to get published eat up a couple of decades of her life and the decision to let it go was a huge relief. (This is all hearsay, so let's just say it's a hypothetical situation.)

The response to this hypothetical former writer's post was an on-loop outpouring of "don't give up on your dreams" and "it could be just around the corner" and other such offerings of cyber-support.

Support like this is sometimes exactly what a writer needs to hear... But sometimes it isn't. Sometimes those people offering support really didn't "listen" (read carefully) and are offering a knee-jerk reaction, transferring their own current state of mind onto the person they're trying to help.

So it got me thinking... When does group-support become group-bullying? Are writers' loops and communities so awash with group-think that the collective can't see that continuing the pursuit isn't the right answer for everyone? Do some writers keep going merely because of the peer pressure imposed by these loops and communities?

The decision to stop chasing after something that's not working, to stop (in some cases) obsessing over a possibly unattainable dream, to stop doing something you no longer enjoy and have continued primarily because you know how much persistence counts in this business is, I imagine, a very, very difficult decision to make.

Not everyone who wants to write a book (or even does write several books) is cut out to be an author. Either they simply aren't good enough, or don't enjoy it enough, or aren't telling stories enough other people want to read, or they aren't cut out to deal with the constant rejection and stress that come with the publishing side, or even the isolation, and angst and soul-searching that come with the writing side.

And I say that's fine. Each of us is different. Each of us is "on our own path" to use a new-agey phrase. Each of us has to decide what's right for us.

I think it's great that there are so many on-line writers' communities that reach out and give virtual hugs when someone's down. Often the stories of encouragement posted pull writers out of their slumps and they go on to achieve whatever dream it is that they have.

But I think those of us on these cyber-communities have to support any decision a member makes, even if it's quitting. Even if it's a decision that scares the cr*p out of us, because their decision represents our greatest fear -- that we'll some day realize we don't have what it takes, or just as bad, hang up our keyboard when success was inches away.


M. said...

good point, maureen. sometimes what someone thinks of as kind encouragement ("hold on! you can do it! don't give up!") can feel like a bludgeon/guilt inducer to someone who really needs to lay down a burden. who knows, maybe after a period of time away, that person will reconsider an take up the quest again.

Maureen McGowan said...

Ya, that was my point, M.

People have good intentions, but sometimes it's not what people want/need to hear.

Sinead M said...

Great post, and something I had never thought about.
I guess we hear someone else is quitting and we internalize it.
But writing is not for everyone. It's really hard work, for little reward if you don't really, really love it.

Bonnie Staring said...

Wow, great post Maureen! Yeah, it's hard to "listen" when there are so many voices blending into one chorus. I think a person willing to announce that they are letting go of a goal or a dream is extremely brave.

If I heard someone say they were giving up on a goal similar to my own, I'd instinctively encourage them not to, almost like I was talking to myself. Or rehearsing for when I'm writing my next synopsis. ;)

Kristin said...

I don't think I would ever tell someone who made this decision to "not give up on their dreams." Obviously, it is *not* a dream if they are wanting to leave it behind and pursue other things.

When I have a bad day with my writing, or get a bunch of rejections, my mind for a moment thinks about giving up. But then I realize there is nothing else I'd rather spend so much time on. And how much emptier my life would be without. My writing really defines me as a person.

Sure, it would be *very* hard to justify to outsiders (my spouse especially) why I spend so much time writing if I haven't had any real success. But I really feel like I don't have a choice in the matter. Writing chose me. It's the one thing I have always done well and enjoy (most of the time).

If this person has decided the joy is not there, who am I to tell this person: just stick with it and the joy will return?

I don't know that for sure. I think people say these encouraging things because they themselves are worried and having problems in their writing OR they found success just when they were about to throw in the towel. But you can't superimpose your feelings and your experiences on someone else.

Anonymous said...

My two cents: if they really want to quit, they will.


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