Like Alice

The Snark Zone: Letters from the Editors
Theryn “Beaver” Fleming

Photo Credit: alex:

You’re probably familiar with the sentiment that on one’s deathbed, no one ever wishes they had worked more.

I don’t believe it. I mean, I’m sure there are people who wish they had worked less. But I’m equally sure that there are some who wish they worked more.

“No one ever wishes they worked more” is a myth arising from the cultural framing of work as a necessary evil, drudgery to be endured until rescue by retirement, lottery or—these days—building an app that Facebook buys out for $1 billion. But whether you think you worked too much or too little depends on how you view your work. On what you view as work.

Charlotte Perkins Gilman once explained that she was inspired to write “The Yellow Wallpaper” after a doctor’s advice to never write again nearly drove her insane: “I cast the noted specialist’s advice to the winds and went to work again—work, the normal life of every human being; work, in which is joy and growth and service, without which one is a pauper and a parasite—ultimately recovering some measure of power.”

Who’s ever heard of a writer who wanted to write less?

As a young mother, Alice Munro was always conflicted about spending time writing. She wrote anyway, because writing was what was most important to her. You might think, well that’s fine for her, she’s Alice Munro. But she wasn’t the writer Alice Munro back then. She was Alice “housewife finds time to write short stories” Munro. And you can be sure Jane “doesn’t find time to write short stories” Jones from next door was giving her the side-eye. Think about our collective loss if she had decided that Jane’s opinion of the state of her living room carpet had mattered more than getting an hour of writing in.

You’re probably not spending what could be your writing time trying to perfect your impression of June Cleaver. But most of us do spend too much time worrying about what other people think.

Most writers aren’t lacking in empathy. Most of us want to be liked. We feel guilty putting our work ahead of the people in our lives, so we tell ourselves that our work isn’t important. That when we look back on our lives we won’t care about the incomplete projects, the things we planned to write but never got around to. We lie.

If you put it on your wish list, would your family or friends give you the gift of writing time? If not, why not? If they ignore, devalue or belittle your writing, is it because their love is conditional on you behaving in a way that pleases them? Or is it because you’ve framed what’s most important to you as unimportant?

I’ve read a lot of author acknowledgments this fall, and one thing I’ve noticed is successful writers typically have other writers in their lives. People who not only support them, but understand them. It’s stating the obvious, but I’m going to say it anyway: if you’re the only writer in your family, if none of your friends are writers, if everyone around you thinks writing is a big waste of time, you’re going to have a harder go of it than if your spouse or sibling or parent is also a writer, if you’re surrounded by creative friends, if everyone around you wants to be the first to read the next thing you write. That’s not to say you can’t make it without support and understanding. Of course you can. It’s just harder. So give yourself a break. Stop treating it as if it doesn’t matter.

It’s time to reframe.

If you haven’t expressed to the people who are important to you how important your writing is, do it now. If you have done so and still no one cares, you’ll need to develop a thicker skin, learn to ignore their negativity, and be firm about your writing needs (“Enjoy the movie. I’m going to write.”).

Go ahead, feel guilty. But be like Alice: write anyway.

Maybe one day you could be a writer of Munro’s caliber. You’ll never know unless you actually sit down and write—regardless of what the people around you think. As Marge Piercy once wrote:

Work is its own cure. You have to
like it better than being loved.


Email: beaver[at]

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