Why Having the Right Support System Makes A World Of Difference
On the night I graduated from the top law school in the country, my parents sat me down and asked me, “What will you do when you fail?”
That’s right, on what was supposed to be one of the happiest days of my life, my parents spent over an hour lecturing me about how I’d thrown my life away by abandoning a career in law to become a writer.
For most of the four years that have followed that conversation, I’ve felt like an imposter. What right do I have to go around calling myself a writer when I don’t yet have anything to show for it.
When you tell people you’re a writer, their first reaction is usually one of disbelief. The questioner will immediately size you up.
“Oh, so what have you written?”
“I’m working on a novel.”
“Yeah, but what do you write for money?”
Six months out of law school, I stopped mentioning that I was a writer at parties because every time I did, someone would challenge me on it. One time at a party, a brand new and very short-lived acquaintance responded, “Oh yeah, I know a guy who graduated from law school a couple of years ago and just won the Pulitzer. Is that what you’re doing?” I wish I’d said yeah, just to see the look on his face.
I once confessed my self-doubt to a law school friend who was now living in a high rise in Manhattan with a balcony that overlooked Times Square. “Maybe I’m just lying to myself,” I said. “Maybe I made a huge mistake.”
I don’t remember what response I was hoping for, maybe some validation of my feelings of inadequacy. His response surprised me. Instead, he said, “What you’re doing is brave.”
Brave. The word echoed through my thoughts. Foolish, I thought. Foolish is what my parents had called it. Foolish is what everyone who ever asked me, “but what do you do for money?” thought.
Even after I stopped doing so myself, my friends would still introduce me as a writer at parties, telling people I wrote steamy romance novels. “Ghostwrite,” I clarified. It wasn’t real writing.
I don’t think I’ve fully grappled with the toll my parents’ lack of faith in me took on my writing at the start. I’m an only child, and, prior to that post-graduation conversation, I would have described my parents as generally supportive. They pushed me to make straights As in high school and college. They supported me in sports, in music, even letting me go off to boarding school for my last two years of high school to get a better education.
But writing was a goal they could not support. “How will you make money?” they asked any time I declared my intended profession.
“Real writers have piles of writing. They’re writing all the time.” My father said. I thought of my desktop folder filled with half-finished stories, hundreds of word docs with just a few sentences on them. “Maybe you’re just not a writer.” my father said.
Fast forward four years, to a game of superlatives with my friends, where everyone picks the person most likely to do a thing, and the person with the most votes has to take a shot.
I think the prompt was something like, most likely to write an award-winning screenplay or something. And all of my friends picked me. I don’t think any of them have read anything I’ve written, and still, the fact that I’ve called myself a writer is enough for them. The shot went down smooth.
When my boyfriend and I moved in together at the beginning of March, our initial plan was to find a roommate for the second bedroom to help us save money. Of course, the pandemic stifled those plans (in retrospect, this was probably for the better).
And after months of using the second bedroom as a shared office, he told me I should take it. “Write stories,” he says. “Get rich, get famous. That’s what I got you for.” he joked.
Occasionally he pops in, “Are you writing? You better be.”
I haven’t kept in touch with very many people from law school. I’m actually terrible at keeping in touch with people. Literally, I’m the worst. But every time I talk to someone, they ask, “are you still writing?”
“Kind of,” I say. “I’m writing more than I used to.”
I often wonder why my friends haven’t called me out. Why they don’t ask more questions or challenge me? At the same time, I’m starting to feel I should take advantage of that grace. If my friends think I’m a writer, why can I? Why can’t I feel like a writer more often? Why can’t I draw on the same discipline that got me into the top law school in the country to finish things and actually publish them?
There are answers: perfectionism, self-doubt, ADHD, depression.
But there is only one solution: to channel the faith my friends have in me into my spry little fingers.