They are not your people

The words I read came from the heart.  Admittedly, they were written a long while ago and never fully polished.  Perhaps they weren’t quite ready for a public airing.  Plus, they were a part of something longer which hadn’t yet been completed either.  And the audience was expecting a fictional story, not a personal essay.

Is that why the words were misunderstood when they were read to an audience?  Is that why the listeners took issue with the philosophy when all they’d been asked for was a view on the writing itself?  Is that why the whole thing was so painful and annoying?

I learned three things that evening:

  • Make sure the work that you share with others is work that you are truly happy with.  If you have none ready, share nothing and keep writing.
  • If they don’t understand what you’re saying, check whether you’ve written what you thought you had.  What’s clear in your heart and head may not be clear on paper.  It doesn’t mean you’re wrong.
  • If you stand by your writing and your words, then those who didn’t understand are not your people.  They can be your friends, but they are not your audience.
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They might not understand (and that’s ok)

You’re sitting in a cafe with a friend, catching up on all the news.  She asks what you’ve been up to, and you mention writing.  She looks blank.  You tell her of your two recently-published articles, and after a bemused pause, she asks, “Can you make money doing that, or is it just…”  She trails off, leaving you to wonder what she would have completed her thought with.

“Just…a hobby?”

“Just…a waste of time?”

“Just…something to do while you look for a proper job?”

Or is it just something she doesn’t understand?

Would you be defensive in that situation, justifying yourself and explaining the writer’s life in great detail?  Would you find yourself curling up inside and thinking, she’s right.  I’m wasting time.  I should stop playing around and get a real job.  I’m no good at this anyway?  Would you get angry and flounce out, vowing never to associate with such a Philistine again?

Or would you stop and think about it?

Do you understand every one of her decisions?  Do you really ‘get’ what she spends her time doing?  Does working in a bank / horseracing / collecting toy pigs (or whatever it is that she loves doing) make your heart sing in the same way it does hers?  And if it doesn’t, why would you expect her to understand your need to write?

Many people won’t understand.  And that’s ok.  If we all wanted to be writers, the world would be lacking an awful lot of plumbers, actors, farmers and a lot more besides.

When they don’t understand, write anyway.  There will be others who do understand.  Write for them, write for you, but write.

PS. In case you were wondering how I responded (because you really weren’t fooled into believing this was a hypothetical situation, were you – although the pig-collecting etc was made up), I simply said, “Yes, you can make money from it,” and moved on to something else.  We’re still friends.