Over the years, I've run into my fair share of hostility toward my literary career choice. I believe all writers have, and echoing the sentiments of my previous column on reviews, you can't please everyone. There are those out there who are going to slam you, hate you, berate you, and think you're just plain stupid for writing fiction. Though some of the "glass half full" optimists may feel that that's a bit harsh, it is the truth. Some people, even those close to us, truly think we are out of our minds and should stop writing altogether.
One example from my own life would be my late mother, God rest her soul. She was someone who deep down hated the idea that I was a writer. Though now and then she would try to be supportive, other times she went out of her way to discourage my artistic pursuits. When I received my first publication acceptance in the winter of 2007, I happily brought her the contract, hoping to get her approval. Her response was, and I quote, "How much are you paying them?" There was no sugar in her tone—she absolutely couldn't believe that anyone would want to read or publish anything I wrote. Again, in her words, "Don't you think your time would be better spent on a real career, like stocking the shelves at Walmart?" That wasn't meant to be sarcastic, either. Though, to be fair, I think a lot of that sentiment came from a few well-to-do Church friends of hers, who had a very low opinion of me. I'm sad to say certain individuals felt I was no better than a lowly peasant, who should be kept in his place. Writing was a lofty pursuit for the preppy and well-to-do, not a common working man.
I don't mean to depress you with this tale of familial rejection, but rather to bolster your spirits. I know there are a lot of you out there who have real talent, though you also have a naysayer or two who want you to stop chasing dreams and "face reality." I don't want you to be cajoled by those people in your life, for without dreams what is the point of living at this time in human existence? Truly, there is a greater purpose to life than simple entertainment, but how cold and dreary is this life without the color and flavor of our artistic ambitions?
A few words of advice to those who think you need a college degree to write. You don't go to school to learn how to write fiction. You go to school to perfect your writing skills, and that's something you can also do on your own after you know the basics from Elementary School. The storytelling itself is a gift that those of us who weave fiction must have in our blood. It is a spiritual thing, maybe even a genetic trait, but it's something you either have or you don't, and you don't get it with a diploma. So what if you're working a 9 to 5 day job? It doesn't matter if you make your living paving roads, laying shingles, or pushing papers around an office. If you have the gift, and you work to perfect it, you can be a writer. Don't listen to the stuffed shirts who look at the superficial, peripheral aspects of your life and say you don't have the necessary résumé to be a "real" writer.
I can remember one instance in particular when I ran afoul of an "educated" editor. I submitted one of my short stories to a particular magazine some years ago (the story and the magazine in question will remain nameless to protect the guilty—though I will say they are a fairly small Sci-Fi & Fantasy market). In the very personal rejection letter I received, the editor started out by saying, "This would be a really good story, if it were totally rewritten by a different author." The editor didn't give any specifics about what I did wrong with the story, other than saying "I know you fudged the science on this one, but I don't know enough to say how." (The science in question was well researched, proving they really didn't know enough.) There were a few lines complaining that they personally didn't enjoy my "writing style," that my characters were "lame cardboard cutouts," and they then concluded by saying, "If you want to be a real writer of any sort, you should wait until you have the necessary college degrees to do so with authority and credibility before wasting an editor's valuable time."
This letter was very atypical. For the most part, the editors I've encountered over the years have been sympathetic and considerate. Most of them will say they don't care what your background is, as long as you write a good story, so don't think I'm putting editors down. Heck, I wouldn't have become one if I thought that they were all monsters like the offending elitist. On the contrary, most of us who publish fiction are seeking to uplift our fellow writers and help them succeed, not berate them for being inferior daydreamers.
By sharing these examples, I'm letting you all know that you are not alone out there, and you shouldn't quit. Damn the naysayers. We don't write for them. We write for ourselves, and for those who enjoy our stories—whether that is one person or one million people isn't the point. Sometimes it's hard to remember that when so many voices are putting you down or ignoring you, but you must continue to strive for the mark. Someday, you may make it!