Writers have to face a lot of bullies. We're working away at something that is often the brunt of jokes, and so we can receive antagonism from the outside. At the same time, the competition and bitterness within the writing world is so great that we have to suffer antagonism on the inside as well. Today I want to remind you to stand up for your writing, and offer a few tips for dealing with all of the different kinds of bullies you might encounter as a writer.
"Anyone can write" bullies
Some non-writers are overtly hostile to writers. They take the endeavor as a personal affront, as if you're trying to say you're better than anyone else because you can write. These bullies are dismissive of writing as an art form. "Anyone can write," they tell you. "Look - I just dashed off a blog post. It's easy. All that agonizing over writing well is ridiculous."
How to stand up
This kind of bullying can feel very hurtful; the implication behind the statement "anyone can write" is that any esteem we have for our talent is ill-founded; really, we're no better than anyone else. To combat this type of bully, turn the discussion back on its head. Sure, anyone can string sentences together - but can anyone be a Hemingway or a Fitzgerald or an O'Connor? It's tough to get published, and if you've seen your work in Teen Ink or elsewhere, you can be proud of it.
"Writing won't pay" bullies
Other people who find writing somehow offensive will claim that they're trying to help you. It's better just to realize now how little writing will pay, they'll tell you. Just give up now, while you can still get another job or major in something else. Not everyone can be a J.K. Rowling, they remind you. Where do you think this little writing hobby can possibly take you? They systematically and subtly undercut the value and importance of writing. What is most distressing about this kind of bully is that this bullying often comes from the people closest to us - parents, friends, and relatives claiming to be doing what's best for us.
How to stand up
This kind of bully is often well-intentioned, so it's best to be respectful but honest. This sort of talk isn't very supportive, and ultimately, it's your choice to go after writing. It doesn't mean you can't do other things. Remind them that writers can make money in a variety of ways - through speaking, reading, teaching, writing reviews, doing journalism, writing magazine articles, blogging, and more. Writing is a valuable life skill, not a dead end.
Within the writing world are bullies as well. The workshop can often become cutthroat; if another writer is threatened by you, the comments can sometimes get personal or offensive, dismissing you and your style as a whole rather than critiquing your writing. Like many small competitive groups, the workshop has its ugly side.
How to stand up
Remember that a personal attack is not saying much about your writing. Try to stay objective; take the high ground and give your bully thoughtful comments as a way of showing how it should be done. If it gets really bad, talk to the workshop teacher, or talk to the person in private. Ask politely if you've done something offensive. If called out, the workshop bully will often be shamed into silence - because after all, as writers we're supposed to stick together and support each other.
Have you encountered any of these bullies? What did you do to stand up for yourself? Share your stories in the comments.