This post is for the parent of an adult child. I wish we had a better phrase for that. Fully-grown offspring? Anyway, you get the idea. You have a kid. She’s 18, or 22, or 25, or maybe 35. She says she wants to be a writer, and you want to support her because that is an awesome dream and you know she’s so, so creative and full of heart and just bursting with stories to tell the world. Or maybe she just doesn’t want to get a real job. Ahem. Hard to say.
Here are some do’s and don’ts.
Do support her and encourage her in your words and actions. Like her posts on social media, share her stuff, go to events, buy her book, all the obvious things you would do for a friend. Be her biggest and loudest fan.
Do not pay her bills. Do not give her money (unless it’s a gift card on her birthday…thanks, Mom and Dad!). The thing about being a writer is it’s a huge, huge deal not to have to get up and go to work every morning. HUGE. AMAZING. UNUSUAL. What a significant, unique privilege it is to be a professional, self-employed writer. What hustle it takes, what perseverance! (Okay, I’m being self-congratulatory. Sorry. It’s a Friday and I’m punchy from a NyQuil hangover). If your grown child wants to write for a living, that doesn’t mean she gets a black check to mooch off of you until she’s 40 because it’s tough out there. (And it is so tough out there…the world does not want or need more writers. The world wants and needs more computer scientists and engineers and nurses. I’m not bitter at all about this, it’s just a fact.). She needs to bartend to pay bills until the writing pays the bills. Or be a nanny. Or a landscaper. Or drive an Uber. Wait tables. She needs to piece it together herself. Maybe it’s because I’m kind of done with it now (in one sense), but I believe in suffering. I think it makes you a better person and a real professional. The apartments I lived in should’ve been condemned. Yet here I am, seasoned! Wizened. Perhaps even a little bit asbestos-poisoned.
Do listen with empathy to the struggle. Your budding writer will cry, probably several times a year for a good solid 15 years (I’m just guessing...erm) about how hard it is to do what she’s trying to do. She’ll rail against how unfair the world is, how publishing is changing, how the world has pivoted to video and she hates video, how she has no money for marketing, no time, no energy, the wrong computer, no Wi-Fi, no contacts, no MFA...you get the idea. You’ll want to swoop in and make it easier somehow. And you can, for real, swoop in…carefully. You can make her a delicious meal or send him a care package. You can listen. You can share all the times in your life when you were filled with self-doubt and fear and anger. Do this over and over and over until she grows into the person she has to be to live the life she wants to live. Don’t fix it, beyond just listening and offering a soft place to fall. You can’t. No one can. If she is determined to be a successful writer, she’ll figure it out.
Do offer some ideas, but only if she asks. There are a lot of resources out there for the struggling creative. I’ve found a great deal of help in books offering professional tips and in self-help podcasts. (Shout out to Jen Sincero, you are the bee’s knees and I hope to meet you someday). I’ve personally benefited from switching to new kinds of writing, from improving my website, and from re-doing my LinkedIn profile. It can be helpful to brainstorm with your grown child when it comes to professional development, if that is what she wants. But wait until she asks. You can even say, “do you want me to help you come up with some ideas to get things moving?” For a long time, I thought that success as a writer would arrive like a thunderclap, like an obvious breakthrough. Nope. Instead, it's like building a road, one piece at a time. Piece after piece. Slow. Steady. Forward.
Do not ask, “So, how’s the writing going?” No one can hear it in that question but me (I’m guessing), but to me it sounds pretty doubtful. As in, “So, how’s your plan to win the lottery going? Ready to give up and stop being an idiot yet?” See what I mean? Let her bring it up if she wants to discuss it. When you’re trying to do a hard thing, sometimes you just don’t want to talk about it because you’re in the trenches and it’s so, so dark and horrible down there and the smart thing to do, really, would be to give up. If you sense that the mood is light, however, you could say something like, “My job driving me bonkers lately. How about you?”
Do let her quit. The biggest taboo in the world for budding creatives is quitting. And yet, and yet. Sometimes you just have to quit for awhile. About two years ago, I was really burned out on writing, just not feeling it at all. Discouraged, scared, etc. So I quit for a while. I took a very, very weird job selling adjustable mattresses in a boutique in a fancy suburb. I met Shaquille O'Neal, who was in fact too big of a person to fit in even a $10,000 bed. Then, after a lot of loooooong, lonely, tragic days (so alluringly tragic, so much rain and novel-reading and self-pity) spent sitting alone in a tiny mattress store not selling any $10,000 mattresses whatsoever, I returned to writing. And now I'm doing awesome! I got my groove back, in a much groovier groove than I ever had, pre-mattress store era. So there you go, the road never did run smoothly. Is what I'm saying.
I thought La La Land was really a pretty silly movie, but then again, I’m going to quote it right now, so who knows what I even think anymore.
Here’s to all the fools who dream.
I love you. Enjoy your ramen and suffering, fools.