The other day, Jessica came home from school with exciting news. “Someone is going to win a prize for their essay!” she told me, beyond thrilled. I looked at her big smile, her shining brown eyes, and I knew exactly what she was thinking. Someone was going to win a prize, and it might even be her.
But I know better. I know she’ll never win a prize for writing the best essay, or the most persuasive one. She’ll never win a prize for perfect attendance or the most improved record. She’ll pass her classes, the way she always does, because her father and I work hard to support her efforts, because her teachers modify the requirements for her, because there’s no point in failing a child who is this far from normal.
But I don’t say anything like that to her. “Wouldn’t that be great, honey?” is what I do say, though I wonder how deceitful it is to take that approach. Would it be kinder, in the end, to tell her, “The rewards are for other children, not for you”? To let her know the deck is stacked against her, and she hasn’t got a prayer?
This relates to writing in a roundabout way. When I was younger, I was surrounded by people who assumed that I could never be a writer – I wasn’t smart enough, obviously, or talented enough, and I had no hope of ever becoming either of those things. These people made no bones about telling me how ridiculous it was for me to even entertain the idea that I could earn my living with words.
I’m not the only one who has had to shed a lot of baggage in order to write for a living. Our friends and families think they’re doing us some kind of favor when they explain how hard it is to succeed, how the deck is stacked against us, how we’re misguided, naive and arrogant to think we could ever do this thing that matters so much to us. “Don’t give up your day job,” they say, as if we haven’t done the agonizing calculations time and again.
So here is my piece of advice. Get rid of those people. Surround yourself with the ones who say, “Wouldn’t that be great, honey?” You already know about the deck, and how it is stacked. What you don’t need is someone telling you that you haven’t got a prayer. What you do need are people who will tell you, “I think you can do it,” even when they’re not sure you can.