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Priorities, Toxicity, And Putting Up With Sh!t

Dame Lili
Dame Lili
First off, news! My writing partner the Selkie, aka Nina Merrill, gave an interview to Grace Draven the other day. It might be interesting for readers of my Friday posts about process to see how another writer answers some of the same questions. (You can find Nina’s work here and Grace’s here. Yes, they both work for a small press for the moment, yes, I know about the covers. Really. I do.) I absolutely adore Nina–she’s my writing partner and beta reader, after all–and I love Grace’s kick-ass-and-take-no-prisoners attitude. So, enjoy!

Keri Arthur did a great post yesterday at Deadline Dames, titled Achieving The Dream. It’s chock-full of truth and usefulness, and I’m going to shamelessly borrow the idea and talk a little bit about #2 from it.

I don’t know about your family, but mine never really took my writing seriously. In the early years, it was considered ‘my hobby’ and was not something anyone ever thought would amount to anything (including me, most of the time). So, they never really considered it an inconvenience to interrupt my writing sessions for whatever reason. (Keri Arthur)

Yes. Oh, God, yes. I know this. And Keri goes on to hit the cause on the head:

In the early years of my writing, it was totally mine. My family treated my writing as a hobby simply because I did. I might have been serious in my attempt to be published, but I didn’t voice that. I let myself be interrupted. I didn’t treat my writing as a job, I didn’t give it any degree of importance. So if I didn’t, why the hell would any one else? (Keri Arthur)

I’ve talked about this before, but I want to tell you something different today. Yes, most people will get the hint when you start making writing a priority. For example, my hairdressing friend MakeMe came over the other night to hang out. “I’m under deadline,” I said. “Two hundred more words, then I can talk to you.”

She nodded, grabbed a book, and sat down to read while I finished up what I needed to do. There were two parts involved with this: I was willing to enforce my boundary and she was perfectly willing to respect it. Both sides were reasonable. As soon as I finished we settled down for some serious power-lounging and gossip.

But it is not always this way, my chickadees. There are people who just don’t care what your priorities are, and it is hard to deal with them when it comes to your writing time. It is even harder when those people are lovers, spouses, friends, parents, relatives–you name it.

Now, my children have a perfect right to expect to be more important than just about anything. My priorities as a mother trump my priorities as a writer–but they do so reasonably. Writing is how I make the money to feed my kids, after all, so it is actually kind of a mother priority. My kids know I have to work during the day, and they know Mommy’s writing is how she pays the rent. They know they can break in for an emergency, and they know that, in absence of emergency, my attention will be fully theirs once I get my wordcount in. We manage all right.

But what I’m talking about is other adults presuming you’re on earth just to please them. Which is, when you get right down to it, what a lot of people assume about everyone else, to varying degrees. It’s natural for human beings to think so. It’s also natural for you, as a writer, to put up with no sh!t when it comes to getting your words in–or to be conflicted when it seems that you do have to, after all, take some sh!t when it comes to getting your words in.

Therein lies the problem. There will be tension and various passive-aggressive and (let’s face it) aggressive strategies you will face at least once in your writing life. No matter how blunt and up-front you are about writing being a priority, there are some people to whom this will not matter. It’s a good bet that at least one of those people will be in your inner circle–family, close friends, spouse/lover.

I’ve had parents who told me writing was never going to amount much, the artsy-fartsy stuff wouldn’t put food on the table, I should get my head out of the clouds and do what their unfulfilled ambitions dictated so I would be Safe and they would Proud. I’ve had lovers and a spouse resent my affaires d’écrires and pull every possible emotional (and sometimes physical) stunt to pull me away from the keyboard. I’ve had friends come over and ignore my boundaries while I’m writing. I’ve even had friends who dumped me once I got published. (That’s a whole ‘nother blog post.)

You have to weigh this like you weigh other Important Stuff. If your lover tried to keep you from going to your day job or the doctor’s office, how would you react? Is your writing that important to you? It is to me, but your answer might be different. Is your emotional investment in this person enough to justify the toxicity of their overstepping of your boundaries? Are there other reasons to put up with this sort of behavior?

A lover who doesn’t “understand” or who doesn’t respect my boundaries when it comes to writing time is not a lover I’m going to keep, for a variety of reasons that might have nothing to do with writing. Any relationship isn’t going to last long if the other person don’t understand I write to pay my rent and cannot afford to stop. Cause, you know, I need a place to live. Besides, if that person doesn’t care about something so important to me, is it really a relationship that’s going to last? That would be…no. Nope. Nuh-uh.

A family member…well, that’s stickier, and you have to factor obligation and family duty into the equation. I am actually in a strange position because I don’t talk to most of my family at all, again for a variety of reasons. I’m pretty much only in contact with my sisters, and they understand both that I have to write to pay the rent and also that they can break in with an emergency and I’m all over it. (Because other things come and go, but sisters? That’s FOREVER, man.) So I’m saved a lot of the toxic and passive-aggressive crap I had to deal with back before I was writing for an actual living.

Your mileage may vary, of course. Lots of people who call themselves “writers” don’t write, or allow drama and crap like this to impinge on their writing lives and time. I hit a point, right about the time I hit thirty years old, that I just could. not. take. it. any. more. I became a lot more willing to tell people to leave if they weren’t going to respect my time and my work ethic. A lot more willing to draw the line, ignore, or just plain avoid the toxic. It’s an ongoing process, of course, but one I have to spend time on or I don’t produce and if I don’t produce I don’t get to buy groceries or live in my nice house.

It’s amazing how one’s priorities shift once it becomes “write-or-be-homeless.”

You might not be at this point, and your priorities may be different. But if you want to write, do yourself a favor and think a little bit about this issue. Think about what will happen when someone decides their emotional needs are more important than your writing and you don’t agree with them. Think about what might happen when and if you say, “Busy. Got wordcount. You can have my attention when that timer rings.” Think about just how far you’re willing to go, how much you’re willing to make writing a priority. If you want to make a career out of it, these are questions you’re going to have to answer sooner or later.

If you don’t, it’s better to know that sooner than later, right?

Over and out.