How Not to Support a Writer

A partner once asked me why I never shared my writing with him.

“I’ve shown you stories,” I reminded him. “The ones I won that award for.”

“Everybody saw those,” he said, dismissing them. I don’t think he’d bothered to read the stories, because that wasn’t the point of this exercise. What mattered to him—what threatened him—was that I had an inner life, one I didn’t share with him. If he truly mattered more than everybody else, I needed to prove it by sharing something unfinished, something no one else had seen.

I never caved to that pressure, but that was my only victory. Having a partner who was threatened by my writing—by my desire to go off and create something that wasn’t about him, instead of making myself constantly available, staring unblinking at my phone waiting for his attention—wrecked my ability to see the value in my work. My writing would get his support if and when I used it to prove his worth—and it could only be written during the rare moments he was too busy to demand my unwavering attention. Looking back, it’s no wonder I quit writing altogether around that time.

That memory was sparked by a cheesy movie I saw recently, about a photographer under constant parental pressure to pursue a more lucrative career and whose parents apologize by the end of the movie, after they’ve seen her work on display and their friends clamoring to buy it. They’re willing to support her art now that they can appreciate its value. And, sure, part of the artist’s developmental arc was finding the courage to put her work out there, but I was struck by the concept of such conditional support. Who would ever want to share their work with a loved one who judges it sight unseen? Being raised by poet parents who believed in the value of my writing regardless of whether it was any good—or whether I let them read it—gave me the courage to write all my life. It didn’t save my creative spark from being smothered by a controlling partner, but that foundation of support was there to strengthen me when I was ready to write again. Too, now, I have a partner who is curious and enthusiastic about my work, who encourages me and gives me space to write, and who doesn’t bully me to share what I’m not ready to share.

For anyone struggling to stand up for their art, I wanted to come and share those comparisons and what I’ve learned from them:

If you’re a creative person—writer, artist, performer, et al.—you have a rich inner life that needs tending. In order to thrive it needs support, encouragement, and at the very least acknowledgment of its inherent value. Your family, friends, and partners may not be artistically inclined, or they may be artists who don’t share your particular passions, or they may have wildly different ideas about what good art is. They don’t have to love your art, but in loving you they owe you this much respect: your art belongs to you, it has value in its being yours, and it deserves the support of those who love you. If they can’t give you that, they don’t deserve a window into your creative world.

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