SparkNotes Blog

Auntie SparkNotes: My Mom Doesn’t Support My Writing Ambitions

Dear Auntie,

I’ve always wanted to a be a writer, but recently, I’ve been receiving a lot of negative feedback in the form of rejections—this week alone, I’ve received 6 rejections from journalism camps, literary magazines, and writing competitions. This school year, I’ve received over 20.

At this point, I’ve accepted that writing is a difficult thing to want to try to pursue, and have more or less come to terms with it. The teachers at my school are very supportive and have encouraged me to keep writing and keep trying. I even made the terrifying decision to transfer to a brand new arts high school this year to take conservatory classes in creative writing, where I’ve received a lot of support, encouragement, and cool opportunities.

However, my mom is less supportive. She really, really wants me to be something like a doctor or a chemistry major and go to an Ivy League school, while I really want to pursue journalism or be an English major at a small liberal arts college. Because of my failures, she thinks that the transfer was a horrible idea and complains every single day that it was a bad decision.

I honestly thought that the transfer was one of the best things that I ever decided on my own, because it put me with nicer people, generally leaves me in a better spot emotionally, and I get to focus on what I truly enjoy doing. Since transferring schools, I’ve thrown myself into the work, leading the school paper, co-writing a musical that was performed, working alongside our director of public relations, being an editor on our literary magazine, and writing my classmates’ stories. But I can’t seem to stop getting rejections, and I don’t know how to write so that it won’t get rejected. I try to tell myself the rejections are just a normal part of the process, and try to make myself focus on my growth this year, but my mom keeps saying it is not enough, and unless I’ve been published or won something, I have no hope of getting into a good college or pursuing writing in the future.

If I don’t get any good news anytime soon, I’m worried that it will mean my mom is right…and that I really shouldn’t want to be a writer at all. What can I do to motivate myself to keep pursuing writing even though I can’t stop receiving rejections, and my mom may never support it? Is there a way I can convince my mom to support my dream of being a writer/journalist?

Well, we’ll get to that, Sparkler. That is, right after Auntie SparkNotes finishes laughing until she cries over the part where you said, “I can’t seem to stop getting rejections,” which is right up there next to “I can’t seem to turn myself into a walrus” on the spectrum of Impossible Unattainable Dreams. Let me be the first to tell you, kiddo: if you truly intend to become a writer, you and rejection are going to get extremely well acquainted. BECAUSE IT NEVER STOPS.

But don’t be discouraged! No, seriously. Don’t. For those of us who make a living with words, rejection really is just part of the process, and one you’ll eventually get used to— especially when it’s eventually balanced out by the occasional (or more-than-occasional) success.

That success isn’t going to come right away, though, and that is something that both you and your mother need to wrap your heads around. To suggest that your chances of a writing career are already shot just because you haven’t won a contest or gotten published at the age of—what, sixteen? That’s like telling a STEM-oriented kid to give up on being a doctor, because if he didn’t win the 10th grade science fair, he’ll never get into medical school. Which of course nobody would ever do, because it’s completely ludicrous. We don’t expect teenagers to be accomplished experts in their chosen field, because (unless we are collectively out of our ding-dang minds) we realize that they need time and training and education to get good at whatever that field is.

So if your prose isn’t polished enough to be published now, or to earn you one of a few limited spots at journalism camp, or whatever, all that means is that you’re about as ready to join the ranks of professional writers as most high school students—which is to say, you’re not ready. And that’s fine! You have years (YEARS!) to improve, and you’re already on track to make that happen. The practice you get from your writing assignments, the guidance you get from your teachers, and the experience you gain from things like editing your school literary magazine or working in the PR office: all of this will motivate you to keep going, and all of it will make you a better writer. By the time you get to college, you will not only have a much finer set of skills, but also a much better idea of what your strengths are and how you’d like to use them.

And within that same time period, hopefully your mom will let go of the ridiculous idea that a career goal is only worth pursuing if you start succeeding at a professional level in high school —that is, if she even really believes that and isn’t just looking for excuses to rain on your parade because what you want is not what she wants. (If you want to test this theory, you could try turning her own logic around to ask how she expects you to ever study chemistry at an Ivy League school when you’ve never won a science competition or published a single peer-reviewed study… although depending on the dynamics in your household, this might be a compelling argument that also gets you grounded for a week.) But if she’s still unsupportive, then hopefully you will have long since realized that her opinion is a) wrong, and b) irrelevant to whether or not you succeed as a writer — and maybe even c) a motivating factor to keep going, and prove that you can do it. I, for one, have no doubt that you can.

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