Definining the worth

January 12, 2010 at 22:30 (1)

I received the following email early in December, from a fan called Rachael. I meant to answer it earlier than this, but got sidetracked with one thing and another.

I was wondering if at some pont in your career, or at the beginning when you first decided that you wanted to be a writer, if anyone ever told you that writing was worthless and it would never get you anywhere? That’s what’s happening to me right now. My stepfather says that writing is worthless and it’s never going to get me anywhere. It hurts when I hear this because writing is my passion and gift. It’s not worthless to me. What should I do to convince him that writing is worthwhile and will someday pay off? I could really use help with this Mr. Shan.

Yes, I had plenty of people tell me that I was wasting my time. Just a few weeks ago one of my cousins was telling me how she used to listen to her granny bemoaning my fate and saying that I should get a “proper” job, maybe become a carpenter or something!!! I think it’s hard for people who know someone with a dream to see that person as anything but a dreamer. Most people don’t know any writers or artists or actors or pop stars. They see such figures on TV and in magazines and newspapers, and think that they aren’t really REAL — they’re not like postmen or shopkeepers or traffic wardens. They’re almost like a breed apart, and it’s hard for most people to imagine one of their own joining the ranks of those “others”. I’m sure plenty of Stephen King’s friends and family thought he was wasting his time. I’m sure plenty of people who knew J K Rowling would have snickered if she’d told them she was writing a book about a boy who becomes a wizard.

Writing is hard, just as acting and signing and painting are hard. There are no guarantees, which is why many adults worry when their children chase such dreams. If you want to be a teacher, you study for a set number of years, get a degree, then find a job with a fixed wage and very real avenues of promotion — it’s a safe, sure career. If you want to be a writer, on the other hand, you might spend ten years working as hard as you can without any financial reward. Most writers don’t make minimum wage, just as most actors, singers and painters don’t make minimum wage. It’s a huge risk if you decide to follow one of those dreams, a risk that most people don’t understand and can’t comprehend. Most parents want their children to do well, to find their feet and be able to afford and home and nice things. It can be hard for them to be supportive when it looks to them like their children might be making a dangerous decision that could lead them into financial difficulties.

When the gamble pays off and you find success, the doubters disappear. I’m sure, if you were to ask my mother, she’d tell you proudly that she always believed in me and was certain I’d hit it big. But I remember the arguments we had, the ways she tried to pressure me to get a “proper job”, to become a teacher and write in my spare time. My mum was the biggest influence on my decision to become a writer, and she WAS hugely supportive of me, but she worried about me too, as most parents worry about their children, and tried to steer me in a safer direction.

You can’t listen to those who would tell you that dreams are a waste of time. You have to tune them out, focus on what matters most to you, and pursue your dream if you have one. As I always say at times like this, be aware of the risks — know that the odds are stacked against you — be prepared to work hard and not gain a quick reward. The worth lies in the work, in what YOU know and judge to be a valid use of your time. Many people lead a safe, secure life, and die full of regrets for the dreams they gave up on. Others might struggle financially all of their life, never make much money, yet let die with a smile, knowing they’ve spent a life chasing the things which mattered most to them. Ultimately each one of us must decide for him or herself. To me, writing good stories was all I cared about — if Cirque Du Freak hadn’t come along, I’d have carried on writing books that didn’t sell, interested only in the quality of the work I was creating, because that was crucial to me. I found true happiness in the work, in the pursuit of the dream, in the struggle. The books I produced in my early years were never published… most of them weren’t even read by anyone else, since I didn’t (and still don’t) like showing unpublished work to my family and friends. But they were worth more to me than any good job with a decent wage. For me there was no comparison. I was perfectly happy to go without the perks of life as long as I was creating stories which fired my imagination and made me feel good about being alive.

If your stepdad doesn’t understand that, Rachael, that’s his loss — don’t let it become yours. Accept his criticism for the misexpressed love and concern that it almost certainly is. Don’t let it sour your feelings for him — if anything, it shows that he is thinking about you, worrying about your future, and that’s always a good thing for a parent or stepparent to do. (Much better that than someone who says “Do whatever you want — I don’t care.”) But don’t let it deter you either. Press on with your dream if that truly matters to you. Life is full of obstacles — were are defined in the end by how we deal with and overcome them.

1 Comment

  1. Ivor Bolton said,

    What a wonderful and inspiring response that was to Rachael, Darren !! I’m sure that we would all like to join you in wishing her all the best with her own writing !

    Super titles for the Crepsley Chronicles ! I love them all. I don’t know whether to plan to jump in the canal or just to stick my head into a bucket of s**t now, or after I have read them ! Perhaps after; you can benefit from the extra sales then !

    Hop[e you’re still enjoying the snow. Loads of schools closed, so all the DS fan kids will be at home building snow wolf-men, and then reading the books by the fire !
    Ivor.

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