This post started out going one way, but then it lingered half-finished for over a month. A few days ago, a friend posed a question on Twitter that got me thinking about the subject again, and this time a bit differently…

Part 1: The cart or the horse

Someone once asked me why I decided to tell people about my writing before I got published. The truth is, I didn’t make a conscious decision about it. My love of writing developed when I was 9 years old. At that age, if someone asks what you want to do when you grow up, you simply answer.

You don’t worry about the questions. The pressure. The tallying of successes and failures along the way. How’s the writing going? Do you have a publisher? When can I read/buy your book?

Now, though, now I know. Now I understand why someone might keep their dreams quiet until they come true — or in case they don’t. Now I feel the scrutiny, whether real or imagined, or maybe a bit of both. Now I worry about the supposed metrics that I may or may not be living up to.

And recently, for the first time, I’ve begun to wonder (with a hint of longing) what it would be like if no one knew about my dreams at all.

Part 2: What it would be like

In my fantasies, it’s peaceful. I pursue my writing in quiet, unworried solitude. No one is watching and waiting. No one is adding to my own patience. Or criticism. Or expectations. Or disappointment. I take my time, make my manuscript perfect, submit it to agents without having to tell anyone about rejections, and eventually get a huge book deal that validates all my secret efforts.

Part 3: The Twitter question

“Do any of you writers have unsupportive families? How do you deal with it?”

Part 4: What it would really be like

On the other hand, if no one knew, then no one could support me. No one would have supported me. My teachers wouldn’t have encouraged me to enter competitions. My friends wouldn’t have begged me to write them stories. My parents wouldn’t have cheered me on every step of the way.

I’d be working not just in solitude, but alone.

Part 5: Perspective

That Twitter inquiry wasn’t about non-supportive families — i.e., ones that either don’t know about your dreams or are indifferent to them — but about truly un-supportive families. Ones who disapprove. Ones who are against your dreams.

I tried to offer my friend some useful advice to her dilemma, but mostly I tried to offer my empathy. This path is emotionally taxing enough without having to endure the opposition of those closest to you.

And that was when the light bulb went off in my head.

Yeah, it’s annoying to feel scrutinized, maybe even judged. But those watchful eyes are the price I pay for all the helping hands that I depend on. And in the scheme of things, that’s a relatively small price.

In the end, I don’t think there’s a right or wrong way to handle this issue of publicly vs. privately pursing one’s dreams. Each person has to work out what’s most comfortable for them, what’s going to best help them achieve their goals.

But for me personally, it’s impossible to imagine getting this far — not to mention continuing onward into the unknown — without the love and faith of my friends and family carrying me forward.

(Thanks, guys.)

15 responses to “Pursuing one’s dreams publicly vs. privately”

  1. Sonje Avatar

    Aw, what a warm & fuzzy holiday story.


  2. T. S. Bazelli Avatar

    One of the reasons I started hanging out online was to meet other writers, going through this whole crazymaking process. I am so thankful for the writing friends I’ve made, which wouldn’t have been possible without the internet. I’m SO grateful for every one of them (YOU INCLUDED). You all help keep me sane, even when other people aren’t as supportive as I wish they were.

  3. Kristan Avatar

    Lol well played.

  4. Kristan Avatar

    Yes, writing friends are invaluable! Even with the support of my non-writing friends and family, I think I’d be crazy(er?) without peeps like you, my We Heart YA girls, Sonje, Shari, and so many of the awesome folks I’ve met through the online community.

    I know technology is changing our industry a lot, and people are nervous, but most of the time I find it hard to be worried because I look around at all the GOOD that technology has done for readers and writers, and I just have faith. :)

  5. Anthony Lee Collins Avatar

    My family is largely, though not entirely, indifferent. Not counting the ones I never talk to. That’s cool. It beats hostile and derisive.

    Also, I’m in a somewhat different position, since I’m not really aspiring to do anything other than what I’m doing already. But I do try to offer help and support to those who are.

  6. gingermandy Avatar

    My family is mostly just confused as hell about what I do (writing on the internet? How do you do that?) and I like it that way, lol. I value the opinions of my close IRL friends and online friends (like you!) because they “get” it, at least most of them, and are more likely to give constructive advice/criticism that I find more valuable than “what’s a blog?” and “why don’t you just go work at a newspaper instead?”

  7. Vp chandler Avatar

    You said it, girl. Thanks for putting it eloquently. :-)

  8. Shari Avatar

    YES. This times infinity.

    I was hesitant at first to tell anyone about my writing – at least, anyone I see on a regular basis – because, like you said, it adds pressure to an emotional roller-coaster that already has so many twists and turns. I didn’t want to face a (however well-meaning) barrage of questions without having all the answers. But then I did tell people, and they were so supportive … they ARE so supportive … and now I can’t imagine them not knowing. I can’t imagine not sharing something that’s such an important part of my life and heart. Do I talk about it with them in as much depth as I do with writer friends like you? Probably not, but that’s okay. I think everyone can be a support in their own way.

    We are lucky to have such amazing people along for this journey. It makes things even more special.

  9. Juliann Wetz Avatar

    Like you, I am very lucky to have a supportive family. They not only encourage me, but are interested in what I write and read my writing.

    My brother was not so lucky. He recently got divorced and one thing that really bothered him in his marriage was the fact that his wife got angry when he wrote and said it took time away from the family, and refused – absolutely refused – to read anything he wrote. She wouldn’t even ask about it.

    My brother and I have been writing since we were children, so imagine what this must have been like. It wasn’t the cause of the divorce, but I can’t help but think it said quite a lot about their marriage.

  10. John Wiswell Avatar

    I just finished Geoff Colvin’s Talent Is Overrated, and one of the more interesting claims he makes is that prodigies and excellent practitioners are most frequently accompanied by some form of repeated social validation, particularly from mentors, teachers, parents, respected friends and employers. I can’t help thinking about his claim while reading this post, and thereby thinking your course of taking the reality of your process to public was right for you, particularly in that Part 4 bit. Cheers!

  11. Julia Avatar

    In my family being practical trumped being creative. Writing was fine as long as it didn’t interfere with your career, which provided the financial security that allowed you to do fun things, like write. And because so much of the external growing up becomes the internal as an adult, I am now an appellate attorney. It allows me to live the life of a writer, but get paid like a lawyer.

  12. Kristan Avatar

    Indifference is sometimes the best response, hehe.

    LOL. Oh man, I used to get the “why don’t you work at a newspaper?” thing sometimes too. After all, my dad owns and manages 2 weekly papers in the Houston area. But other than being editor-in-chief of my HS paper, I’ve never had journalistic ambitions or passions.

    I’m glad you have supportive friends and family too. :)

    I’m sorry to hear that your brother faced antagonism in his passion… but at least he has a kindred spirit in his sister. :)

    Ooo, good point. I wonder if Gladwell talks about that in OUTLIERS (which I own but have yet to read…).

    Yeah, I think my generation is the first (?) to be told it’s okay to throw practical out the window (at least sometimes). The nice thing about writing is that it CAN be done “on the side.” (And the nice thing about being a lawyer is the money, haha.)

  13. Cece Avatar

    When I was modeling I mostly kept it secret. I was so afraid of failing that I didn’t even want anyone to know I was trying. I just barely started mentioning to anybody that I want to write a book and the only reason I did it is exactly for the same reason a lot of people don’t want to have it made public. I actually wanted a little pressure to keep myself accountable. I felt like by “putting it out there” it might make it seem more real to me that it was something I was going to do.

  14. Kristan Avatar

    (Hi! I’ve been to your blog a few times. You and your hubby are so cute!) Yeah, there is definitely an accountability factor that can be helpful too.

  15. Natalia Sylvester Avatar

    I know exactly how you feel, but agree that I wouldn’t trade the support and friendships I’ve found online for the privacy of dreaming on my own. As supportive as my family and friends are, no one understands a writer’s struggle quite like other writers do, which makes it all the more sweet once we get to celebrate our successes together!