It's the first Wednesday of the month, which of course hails the regular arrival of the Insecure Writer's Support Group, hosted by Ninja Captain Alex J. Cavanaugh. The group offers a place for writers of all kinds to support each other in those ever-present moments of insecurity.
While many use this as an opportunity to vent their frustrations, I realized early on that if I keep posting about my own insecurities, these posts will start sounding very similar. So I decided to move away from "woe is me" and focus on motivation and encouragement, centering my IWSG posts on inspirational quotes from people I admire.
Today's quote marks the first of this series that does not come from an author in my usual domain, speculative fiction. Nonetheless, it comes from one of the most influential and admired authors in the modern history of the written word, called "the father of American literature" by William Faulkner. His most well known works, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and its sequel, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn have been given a place in the pantheon of the "Great American Novel" by most literary critics, capturing the zeitgeist of a nation ripe with the wide political change and civil upheaval of the time. I am, of course, speaking of none other than Mark Twain, who had this to say:
“Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.”
One of the things that many writers have in common (especially new writers) is a reluctance to dive in head-first and proudly proclaim themselves writers to the outside world. Often the writer will go to great lengths to excuse this attitude, telling themselves things like, "You're not a real writer until you've been published." They might even relinquish a baby step or two, calling themselves things like "an aspiring writer" or even "a wanna be writer." I've gone on a rant or two in this blog about why I think that's the wrong attitude to have, but I didn't arrive at that conclusion spontaneously. I went through a period in my life where I had trouble calling myself a writer as well.
So why is that? Why do so many of us hesitate to outwardly embrace what we do? Well, let's face it. One of the primary reasons is probably because a lot of people in this world are downright judgmental. All of us are, to a degree, and there's no way around facing that when it's do or die time and you get the oft dreaded question, "So, what do you do?" We just know the response some of them give us when they hear our answer will be that vapid look in the eyes that says, "Sure, you're a writer. And I'm an NBA superstar every Saturday at the gym." These are the "small people" that Mr. Twain warned us about.
But my question is this: why on Earth should these small people matter to you and your writing? Why would you even begin to instill any kind of gravity in the opinion of one who offers nothing but pessimism and discouragement? These people do not matter. Brush them off your path like abrading chaparral. Step over them without a moment's thought and carry on.
Of course, this doesn't just go for perfect strangers and fleeting small talk. Sometimes those small people have very large roles in our lives. Sometimes those most discouraging can be those closest to us. They can be our significant others, our parents, our best friends. They're coming from a good place, but they don't realize just how deep their words can cut. They don't want to see us wasting any of the precious time we have in our short lives. They love and want the best for us, and the long odds of "success" in the world of publishing are no secret. So they tell us we'd be better off pursuing something more realistic, more achievable. They tell us this is just a weekend hobby or a passing phase or something we're just playing at until the fancy leaves and we get over it. They tell us we'll only last as long as the first rejection, then we'll get on with our lives.
Well, guess what? They still don't matter, not where your writing is concerned and not where your personal identity is concerned. That might sound cold or calloused when it's aimed at the people you love, but the simple fact of the matter is that we are still us and they are still them. And some of them just plain don't get it and likely never will. You'll drive yourself crazy trying to fight that, so don't even think about it. And damn sure don't let it break your heart. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other. Keep doing what we do. You know what that is. We write. Because we're writers.
No small person can belittle that unless we let them.