“Help! My family don’t want me to be a writer!”
I got an email the other day from an ONS reader, containing this little paragraph:
“[...] The problem [is], my parents are not very supportive when it comes to me writing poetry. They think I should stop because I will never make any money or get any success or find a job. They really don’t like me doing it and they don’t like me sending my work to magazines and things, they think I should stop and focus on college. I really love to write and I don’t know what to do. [...] Thanks, from Alex.”
This is a fairly common thing - whether you want to be a poet, sculptor, ballet dancer, actor, singer… whatever! If your passion is something creative, or if you choose a creative career path, it’s not unusual for parents and loved ones to be worried… and sometimes, they’ll even try and stand in your way. It’s a really, really tricky spot to find yourself in, but here are a few tips for dealing with the situation. Hopefully they’ll help you, Alex! Good luck!!
1. Get clued up.
OK, first of all, if you think that you’re going to become a world-famous poet overnight and never have to do a day’s work in your life, then you do need to listen to your nay-saying family a bit. Parents are often worried that creative career prospects are unrealistic, and with poetry, that’s kind of true. Chances are you will never be able to pay the bills by just writing poetry - but that doesn’t mean you have to give up writing altogether and get a 9-5 desk job. Admit to yourself that you’ll never be a millionnaire poet, and put together a plan B. Think about career paths that appeal to you, and work out how to follow them. Tell your parents what you’re plotting, and assure them that you have got rid of any rich-celebrity-poet ambitions you might have had. Show them that you’re thinking realistically, and that you’re willing to commit to a “proper” career… as well as writing poetry on the side.
2. Talk up the positives.
Just because you can’t make a living out of poetry, that doesn’t mean writing it is pointless. With just about any job, great writing skills are highly desirable, and a good track record of writing fabulous poetry might just swing it for you against a less creative candidate. Poetry publications make good CV fodder too - they show that you’re fearless, confident, and that you can write a good cover letter! Also, in a time when everyone seems to be as qualified as everyone else, an extra-curricular hobby or activity can add a little something in your favour… poetry included! Tell your parents that writing poetry could really improve your job prospects, no matter what job you’re going for. It really could make a difference to your future… so you should definitely keep doing it!
3. Show you’re passionate.
It may well be that your family don’t realise what a big deal poetry is for you. A lot of poets - young poets in particular - keep their work very private, and even if they’re sending work out to magazines, they don’t like to show those close to them what they write. If you feel like you can, show your family some of your work. Tell them why you like to write and what inspires you. Let them see how important your writing is for you - be honest. A lot of people have only really experienced poetry at school and as a result think it’s something boring and analytical - show them why you get excited about it and they might have a better understanding of where you’re coming from!
4. Redraw the lines.
Redefine your family’s idea of what you’re doing - tell them that you see poetry as a hobby, rather than a life-path. It’s just like any other hobby - some people play football, others do cross-stitch, you write poetry. And submitting your poetry to magazines isn’t really any different to taking part in a football tournament or exhibiting your needlework in a gallery. It’s a way of showing off the fruits of your labours… it’s not something you necessarily do because you want to “get ahead” in poetry (although it helps with that, too!). You might want to point out that writing poetry is a safe, cheap, low-maintenance hobby that improves your mind and looks good on your CV. If you’re feeling really brave, point out the alternatives - expensive dance lessons? Dangerous karting or climbing? Mindless arcade-gaming? Surely poetry is preferable, at least where worried parents are concerned?!
You might have to admit to yourself that actually, your parents have a point. If you have a hectic college schedule or a load of work-experience to worry about, then that really ought to take priority. If you show your worried family that you are willing to work hard and you do care about the stuff they’re pestering you about, they’re more likely to go easy on the poetry writing side of things. If you can, timetable yourself - even if it’s just loosely. Set aside a good chunk of time to do the important stuff, and once that’s done, you can work on writing/editing/submitting. Show your family that you’re doing this - make sure they know you’re willing to compromise and you’re serious about your studies/work/whatever. Meet them halfway; generally it’s not that painful once you do it!
6. Get creative.
OK, it might well be that you’ve read and/or tried all of the above, and nothing works. The answer? It depends. If your family are going to cut you off without a penny/anywhere to live/any further contact if you don’t stop writing poetry, you need to really think about how important poetry is to you. If it’s more a case of ‘what the family doesn’t know can’t hurt them,’ then be willing to get a bit creative. The good thing about writing is you can do it pretty much anywhere, and if you have a spare half-hour at work or on campus, why shouldn’t you scribble a few lines? And when it comes to submitting your work to magazines, you can don a pen name so the fam never find out. It’s a bit sneaky, but really, it’s not like you’re doing drugs or soliciting on the streets, is it? A bit of poetic subterfuge never hurt anyone!
Do you have a poetry-friendly family, or have you had trouble convincing your ‘rents that writing poetry isn’t all that bad? Do you have a question you’d like to ask, or a suggestion for an article? Leave a comment below, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org