Here at Mutterings Central, I’m pretty honest about my goal to eventually make a living writing fiction. It doesn’t mean I’m unrealistic about it, or that I’d be willing to put my family at risk to achieve it, but it has been and will always be one of the ways in which I measure my success with my writing career. It’s not the only way, nor is it the best way, but it is important. It’s something I work toward — whether it takes years or decades.
There’s certainly plenty of writers who don’t think this is important — in fact, I find it amusing how many writers who do make a living writing fiction discourage others from trying to do the same, not for nefarious reasons, but because they know how hard it is — but I don’t think I’d ever be satisfied until I at least gave it a shot.
What some of these writers may not realize is that the goal of making a living from your craft is not a rational one, any more than trying to become an Olympic gold medalist in archery is rational. Few worthwhile goals are rooted in rationality and logic. So trying to dissuade someone by telling them it’s more logical to keep your day job and write on the side is rather pointless. That’s like telling someone she should fall in love with the guy next door becuase he’s an accountant and good for her when her heart flutters at the sight of grease monkey down the street working on his Mustang. And who wants to live in a world ruled completely by logic anyway?
So that brings me to what I wanted to write about: who to share your dreams and goals with, and how much you should choose to share. Especially in the beginning, I’ve come to believe it’s very important that you get unflagging support from those you share your dreams with, and if you can’t get it, then it’s better that these people remain in the dark. Let them think you just do that “writing thing” as a hobby — or better yet, don’t let them know about your writing at all. I’m now at a point where I’ve achieved enough success that it serves as a bullwark against the doubters and the skeptics, so I can afford to be a little more honest about it, but even I’m careful. Why? Well, let me tell you about an incident that happened to me a couple years ago at the day job.
I work at a small university in technology support, helping with online classes and such. A new colleague, the director of a program on campus that also had some oversight with online classes, invited me out to coffee. It was just a meet and greet deal, a chance to socialize. This colleage, let’s call her Karen, said at one point, “Scott, you seem like a talented guy. I’m surprised that you’re not in graduate school or trying to work your way up the ladder. It seems like you could go far.”
I made the mistake at this point of letting my guard down. (Maybe it was the poppyseeds in the muffin.) I told her that while I liked my day job, and it was a perfect fit for me, my overall goal in life was to become a professional fiction writer, so I deliberately chose a job that would help me achieve that goal — a job, that while challenging and interesting, was one I could leave behind at 5 p.m with a clear conscience and maybe even squeeze some writing in during my lunch hour. So while I didn’t fault anyone from “working their way up the ladder,” I focused that time and energy on my writing.
She nodded in agreement, the conversation moved on, and I didn’t think anything more of it until about a year later. My program was being transferred under another director, and unbeknownst to me, he asked a number of people on campus about me and what they thought of me — Karen being one of them. Pretty much everybody said glowing things about me, but Karen had some “concerns.” You see, we worked together on a grant-funded program a few months after that coffee meeting, and even though it seemed, from my point of view, to go quite well, apparently she didn’t think my work was up to snuff. And she told my boss this. In fact, she told him quite a bit more, that, in her words, “my priorities were elsewhere.”
This is not the way to get off on the right foot with your new boss. At his request, we had an airing out meeting, the three of us, and when she got defensive — probably realizing how shallow her criticisms were — she brought up my comment about my goal of becoming a professional fiction writer. It was a low blow, and I think my new boss saw through it, but the damage was done and the doubt was in his mind. I had to make sure I worked extra hard to prove to him that her concerns, however irrational, were unfounded. And I think I did. But at a time when our university was making budget cuts, it was not the kind of thing I wanted in the back of my boss’s mind.
Both of those two have left the university (in fact Karen had lots of personal problems, which I think, in retrospect, contributed to her warped perceptions of me), but the lesson remains. Be careful who you share your dreams with. While I wish it weren’t true, there are lots of small-minded people out there who will try to use them against you if the need arises. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t share your dreams and aspirations with others. Sharing such things is how you develop meaningful friendships. But it’s good to be cautious until you know whether someone can be trusted.