My moms want me to devote my life to writing. I'm 30 and want to explore life. How do I get them off my back?
April 6, 2012 8:43 PM   Subscribe

My moms want me to devote my life to writing. I'm 30 and want to explore life. How do I get them off my back?

I'm a pretty gifted writer, and have a unique way with words. I started reading at age three. All through school, I was praised for my creativity in writing stories. I started thinking it was my destiny to become a well-known author. Whenever I felt friendless and left out of social life (see my previous questions), I would tell myself, "Just wait, soon you'll be a brilliant writer and they'll be lining up for your autograph, blah blah blah." While in college, I began a novel. I felt inspired, and I did it for myself, but with those longstanding aspirations somewhere in my mind. Today, the first draft is complete.

Now I look around me, and I realize there's so much of life I still haven't experienced, and I want to get out and start living it. I've bought some new clothes that are different from my usual, and look great on me. I've made myself finish the Harry Potter series, and learned that just because something's popular, that doesn't mean it can't be awesome. I'm reading challenging classic literature I've always heard about, but have never read. I'm going to my first board-game meetup at my local game store later this month. I've joined OKCupid and begun filling out my profile. And I still want to start that small craft business of mine next year.

But I feel shackled and trapped by my parents' expectations and hopes for me. Even a former teacher has weighed in and wants me to keep writing. One of my moms is really pushing this. She brings my novel up every time we see each other, she thinks it's a really important piece of writing that the world needs to see, and she will just not let it go. Fortunately, I have one older family friend who agrees that I shouldn't feel pressured to go in a certain direction in life. She's the only person close to me I've told about my business plans. But I'm not sure I'm doing the right thing. Something in me feels guilty. What if I am throwing away my destiny? Is it okay to refuse the whole idea of a destiny?

(By the way, I have not given up writing. I've published a piece of HP fanfiction, and spun a birthday story for one of my moms written in the style of Victorian literature.)
posted by tamagogirl to Human Relations (31 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Well, I'm a professional writer (!) who happens to think that living life is vital, essential, non-negotiable to good writing. So, there's that.

Have you tried asking your mom to knock it off? It might be worth a try, even if you feel guilty. Maybe she doesn't know how much this upsets you. I suspect this is much more about her projections onto your talent than you or your talent.

Either way, you will never be happy if you don't life your life for yourself, and not for your parents. A huge part of growing up is being able to say "Thanks so much for your input," take what is applicable and valuable to you, and leave the rest behind. If this sounds impossible and hard and crazy and scary, it's because it is, especially when your identity is wound up in other people and old relationship patterns. I suggest working on boundaries and pursuing your own life notwithstanding your parents' guilt trips.
posted by mynameisluka at 8:48 PM on April 6, 2012 [3 favorites]

You just say, "Hey, am thrilled that you think I'm talented enough to do that. I'm gonna do what's best for me -- be it writing, or not. Thanks for your support!"

And if they get really pushy, you say... "Listen, I've noticed that you bring up the topic of my novel every time we talk. Let's talk about something different today -- there are so many other parts of me that I am getting to know and I'm excited to share those with you. No more novel talk unless I bring it up, okay?"

And if they continue to bug you, you say.. "I've mentioned before that I really don't want to talk about my novel with you anymore. Please give it a rest."
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 8:51 PM on April 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

You're not a character in a novel but you're thinking like one and in my opinion that's unhealthy except maybe to indulge in a little fantasy once in awhile. You're 30 for Pete's sake -- do what you like. If you write or don't write, honestly, it doesn't matter. Be happy, don't hurt anyone, and maybe do something nice for people every once in awhile. Boom. A fine life.
posted by Buffaload at 8:51 PM on April 6, 2012 [13 favorites]

> Is it okay to refuse the whole idea of a destiny?

Yes, especially if it's a destiny that someone else is trying to impose upon you.
posted by scruss at 8:51 PM on April 6, 2012 [4 favorites]

Eh, maybe you're just not ready to be a full on published author of a novel yet. I don't know if it's your destiny or not (you don't sound against it, just that you don't want to be full time at it), but you've got time. I don't get why you can't write and read Harry Potter and date at the same time, but eh, do whatever. If novel writing isn't your priority, then it isn't. Everyone assumes that just because you write well, you'll do fiction. Meanwhile, it took me years to figure out that I just don't write very good fiction and I am not burgeoning with ideas for it.

Do what you want. You can't really get a nag off of your back, especially if it's a mom, but you can at least say that novel writing isn't your priority right now, but you'll see how it goes.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:00 PM on April 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

All of the above comments are spot on, but I will note:

>Today, the first draft is complete.

Congratulations on hitting this milestone!

Your draft is not going away, so feel free to put it on hold and experience life for a while. But don't forget about it. You've put in a lot of work, and if you still believe in it, it'll be worth picking up again and bringing it to completion.
posted by dudeman at 9:06 PM on April 6, 2012 [4 favorites]

In writing, as in every creative activity, there needs to be some aspect of inspiration. You can not *force* yourself to write brilliantly. Well, you can force yourself to write, but how much better is it if you actually enjoy it!?
Inspiration can come from very earthly things, from feeling good, from trying things.
You say you just finished one big project and you don't give writing up completely. It is totally fine to take a break, isn't it?

If people compliment on your writing, there must be something to it. But if it does not make you happy, you certainly don't owe anyone to pursue it. Like all the others above have said: it is your life and you get to make the decisions. Do what makes you happy.
posted by travelwithcats at 9:14 PM on April 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

This post has nothing at all to do with your giftedness as a writer; it's about you setting boundaries with your parents. Their obsession could just as easily be your clothes or your marital status or any of the countless concerns that parents have about their adult children. I sense you are a bit entranced with your own dramatic vision of yourself as a "writer" a la Emily Dickinson. Writing does not exclude "living life," dating, or any of the things that you're ready to do. I should hope you're ready to do those things: you're 30. Most writers do not live in garrets.
posted by Wordwoman at 9:17 PM on April 6, 2012 [27 favorites]

It's your life and you get to devote whatever you want to whatever you want. It's not about your parentals.
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 9:23 PM on April 6, 2012

If you just need an excuse to get other people off your back while you try to get out of your head and figure things out: many writers (Stephen King in particular practiced and advised this) will immediately put a first draft away and not read it or think about it for several months. Not to revise, not to second-guess, nothing. Then, when you finally do pick it up again, you won't be bringing as much baggage from the initial writing process to the table, and you'll be able to look at it a little more objectively.

I suggest you use that as your excuse not to talk about or act on your writing. It even gives them a plausible reason to not even talk about it: you're trying to distance yourself from your writing, so you can later come back to revisions with a fresh perspective, ready to edit. If they want to know why you don't start something new, say you're burned out for now, or whatever.

That should buy you time to look at the other things you want to do. And by the way, you don't have to be a writer. I was similarly praised for my early reading ability and solid writing. A lot of people expected (and some still expect) me to become either a writer or a scientist. Welp, I'm an IT guy, instead! Ha! It's not grand, it's not artistic, and I'll leave no mark on the world, like as not. But that's okay, because it's low-pressure and I enjoy myself.
posted by gilrain at 9:28 PM on April 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think you fear failure when everyone is telling you how great you are. You are at a point, after finishing your first draft of a novel for the rest of the world to tell you (not just your moms) if you are any good and fear them telling you that maybe you are not as good as your family thinks.

Writing and pursuing other things are not mutually exclusive. In fact, as mynameisluka points out, they go hand in hand. I think you should pursue what you want to pursue, but know that a decision to pursue something other than writing does not mean it is an end to your writing. Tell your moms that.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:33 PM on April 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

My moms want me to devote my life to writing. I'm 30 and want to explore life. How do I get them off my back?

You pointedly ask them what the hell they think you're going to write about!

You pragmatically explain that a successful writing career isn't a prize handed out to the most creative and most devoted writers, it's a tough game of strategy, connections, politics, compromises, and luck.

You remind them that none of your other interests prevent you from writing.

And -- forgive me for offering up a bit of tough love -- you try your damnedest to embrace adulthood. 30 is a great excuse, a nice round number, a traditional time to reassess goals. Adulthood doesn't mean conforming to a strict rulebook of Officially Sanctioned Stereotypical Grownup Interests, it just means that you assume authority to make your own decisions but also take responsibility for the consequences. (Which is not to say that adults can't be dependent on each other for emotional and/or financial support.)
posted by desuetude at 9:58 PM on April 6, 2012 [3 favorites]

"Hey, Mom. I'm 30. Get off my back. I love you. But get off my back."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:04 PM on April 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

Today, the first draft is complete.

You've just finished a major piece of writing. You have permission to do something else for a little bit.

Tell your moms that for a start. Acknowledge your accomplishment publicly.

But also - explore some of the world. No doubt the second draft will call you back soon, but for now, go take a break.
posted by mleigh at 10:25 PM on April 6, 2012

If you let this woman keep hounding you, she will keep hounding you. It's not at all about writing. It's about you living how you want. It's about living your life.

Move away. And very limited minutes on your cell phone. Go get married and divorced, a really horrific heartbreak, then date a guy you'd never have looked at twice but he hears what you say about your heartache. He doesn't have a car or he's got a shitty car, you'll walk where you go or use your car, his shoes and clothing are worn but cared for, he'll look you right in the eye and hold doors for you and say things in bed that no one's ever said to you, and he'll mean it. Then he'll move on, because you can't open your heart enough to let go the first guy, and now you've got double-dog heartache, and you cry, nights, and money problems, too, and no clean underpants, either, you've got to wash them in the bathroom sink and hang them on the shower rod and they won't be totally dry when you need them tomorrow morning and that's going to suck. Notice lines around your eyes, and consider that. Rinse repeat rinse repeat, etc and etc and etc, five years at least.

Now maybe you can write.
posted by dancestoblue at 11:41 PM on April 6, 2012 [3 favorites]

When I read this first, I thought wtf?!? She's 30! But then I realized that in a sense, it's the story of my life. I'm not a writer, I have another talent. But for my whole life, up till quite recently, other peoples' ambitious plans for me have been disturbing my choices, and ultimately my life. Not only my family's plans, but also teachers, colleagues, boyfriends, my ex-husband.
I have found it difficult to make my own choices because of the cacophony of voices surrounding me.
To cut a long story short. There are two things which have been good for me on my journey in life. One was to move to another continent. I am European, and I moved to the US for a while. It was wonderful. No noise at all. Like you, I had one person who supported me strongly in doing my own thing. He fended off the others, and we kept a great correspondence. In the end, I had to return, for several reasons, but I had gotten a taste of being myself.
The second is kind of opposite. I have spent a long time mainly doing things for others, both professionally and in my family life. I won't say it has been a happy time, but somehow it has given me some distance to myself, which has been a good thing. When I was a beautiful and talented young thing who everyone found immensely interesting, it was too easy to become self-absorbed, which is a bad thing for creativity.
Now I have a story to tell, and methods to tell it within my field of work. I feel far more grounded and happiness is beginning to show it's smile in my life.
Good luck - you will be good
posted by mumimor at 11:44 PM on April 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Destiny is nonsense. Also, tell your mom you're an adult who makes her own decisions. You have been for over a decade.
posted by ead at 12:04 AM on April 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

I had a very similar experience. Throughout my childhood and early adulthood, I was always lauded for my writing ability and way with words. I LOVED books and always just sort of assumed I would be A Writer. My dad used to talk about how I was "such a writer." Teachers would take me aside and tell me how they couldn't wait to read my first book. Like you, I had a lot of trouble socially at school, and I also used to be all "oh, just wait till I'm a famous author!" (heh)

But gradually, I realized that I could never seem to finish anything that wasn't an assignment (this is where I diverge from you - kudos for finishing a novel!) because I wasn't writing for the love of writing. And finally in my twenties I realized that being A Writer wasn't necessarily my dream - it was other people's dream for me. It took me quite a long time even after that to get over the guilt of not writing and realize that I actually did not have to be a writer.

Here's the thing - one of the hardest but most important things about becoming an adult is coming to terms with the fact that your parents' expectations and hopes for you are not necessarily in line with what you need to be happy. A big part of growing up is defining happiness and success for yourself instead of letting others do it for you. I think this can be especially hard to come to terms with if your relationship with your parents is basically good - I wasn't really used to saying "whatever, dad" because I hadn't had to before (at least not after the age of 15 or so). So in your case, you need to be willing to say, nicely, "back off, mom," and leave it at that.

The irony for me is that I actually write so much more now than I did before, now that the pressure's off. You never know what will happen!
posted by the essence of class and fanciness at 12:59 AM on April 7, 2012 [9 favorites]

Oh and the destiny thing - oh god, I know what you mean about that! So much pressure. But hell, if it's your "destiny," then it'll happen anyway, right?
posted by the essence of class and fanciness at 1:00 AM on April 7, 2012

But I feel shackled and trapped by my parents' expectations and hopes for me. Even a former teacher has weighed in and wants me to keep writing. One of my moms is really pushing this. She brings my novel up every time we see each other, she thinks it's a really important piece of writing that the world needs to see, and she will just not let it go. Fortunately, I have one older family friend who agrees that I shouldn't feel pressured to go in a certain direction in life. She's the only person close to me I've told about my business plans.

You're 30. These people are not putting pressure on you. They are forming sounds with their mouths into recognisable strings. The only pressure is the air on your eardrums. The pressure is all coming from within you. There's a few ways of reframing your thinking. The first is, any time they make any mention of your writing, translate "you should..." into "I love you", because that's what they really mean.

But I'm not sure I'm doing the right thing. Something in me feels guilty. What if I am throwing away my destiny? Is it okay to refuse the whole idea of a destiny?

You are only throwing away your destiny if you make choices without objective consideration. I would posit that you don't know if you like writing or want to go further in it, because it's not about writing at this point. Right now, and previously, it's a battle between what you want to do and what you think other people want you to do.

A friend of mine was a gifted maths kid in school. He was brilliant. He dropped out of college and became a less-gifted chef for about a decade. One day, he sat down and was reading an article about maths and it really connected with him. He went back to maths, and is now a maths professor having a wonderful time with his life. He never didn't like maths actually -- he needed distance to make his own choices. Most people tend to like doing what they're good at.

Not realising that cost him ten years. He had an interesting adventure, sure, but he wasn't cooking because he loved food, he was cooking because he didn't know himself.

It's similar to people don't quit jobs, they quit managers. Quit your managers for a while because you make a career change. Nobody here can tell you if you're throwing away your destiny. In fact, the best advice you can take would be to stop listening to what anyone else thinks you should do with your life.
posted by nickrussell at 4:19 AM on April 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

I may have missed it but ... do you have a full-time job? How do you support yourself? You mention a business plan but ... what business? Your parents may simply be pushing you to make money at the thing you seem to have devoted so much time to, and are good at, and once upon a time, loved. Honestly, you sound much younger than 30; maybe they hope if you commit to writing as a career, it will help you mature a bit?
posted by thinkpiece at 4:49 AM on April 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

Just like you wouldn't let your moms tell you what to put in your novel, you can't let them tell you what to put in your life. Sure, parents, and editors, have advice to give, but ultimately, your life is your own creative work.
posted by Obscure Reference at 6:13 AM on April 7, 2012

Are your moms supporting you financially? That is the first thing to look at - if they are supporting you, that gives them more justification to try to run your life for you. Rightly or wrongly, they probably feel (if they are supporting you) that this gives them license to tell you what to do and how to live your life. Those strings come with parental support, unfortunately. If you are financially dependent upon them, that is the first thing to address - hard to do in this economy, but one step at a time. Get a temp job or a McJob at Target or Starbucks or wherever if you can.

Being able to support yourself independent of them will give you the leverage you need to tell your family: "I know you mean well and love me and want the best for me, but I'm 30 and I want to live my own life, travel, work at Career X, live in City Y, etc."
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 6:19 AM on April 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

One of my moms is really pushing this. She brings my novel up every time we see each other, she thinks it's a really important piece of writing that the world needs to see, and she will just not let it go.

How do I get them off my back?

"Well, Mom(s), if you believe in this novel so much, maybe you'd be willing to help me 'get the world to see it'. See, I may be a gifted writer, and I've even finished a draft of a novel, but I'm 30 and I haven't (so far) discovered my natural love of researching agents, finding editors, reading about markets, selling myself, and networking with publishing people. I may well find that I love doing those things, but first I have to grow up a bit, become less sheltered, and I can't do that unless I experience life. So I'm going to date, travel, start a business, and some other things. But maybe while I'm doing that, you can read the eleventy thousand books and blogs on how to sell a novel, and read all about agents and find out which ones are shady, and which ones are seeking new clients who write in my genre, and oh, maybe you can find out if this book is too similar to any other already published or soon to be published books. And maybe find statistics on how many novels the average writer completes before they actually sell one. And find me submission guidelines for literary magazines and other publications that pay for short stories, so maybe I can try to break in that way. Oh and find me some writing groups full of helpful people who aren't assholes. Doing all that doesn't pay, but it's necessary, so since you believe in this SO much, you shouldn't mind doing it. And I'll be back in a few years and I'll be ready to take the results you've prepared for me and start working on this!"

OK, so that was kind of snarky and being snarky to your moms probably won't help. But it might help to have a real conversation with them about what they expect of you. Not because you're automatically going to do it, but because, assuming they're not just horrible overbearing people and they really want you to do well in life and be happy, there may be some misunderstanding here. I agree with everyone above that ultimately it doesn't matter what they expect, and you have to live your own life. However, they seem to think you should just sit in your room and write stuff forever. Do they actually know what it takes to be a professional writer? Do they even want you to do that, or are they just aggressively encouraging you to keep doing something they know you to be good at? Do they see you as sort of aimless, and want to push you towards any career, so they're going with one they think you'd be good at? I just wonder because a lot of people think being a writer is this wonderful thing, and then when they find out what it entails, they're like, "Oh." And then they back off talking about it considerably. If they see you're also great at the craft business, they might support (i.e., nag you about) that too.

But hell, if it's your "destiny," then it'll happen anyway, right?

And tell them that too.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 7:00 AM on April 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

I wonder if you are taking your moms' intense support for you and your talents and hearing them as a command to live a monastic life devoid of all other pleasures that they REALLY don't intend.

I grew up as one of those asian kids whose parents sent to endless piano lessons and violin lessons. They hounded me to practice every day and when I would get caught lying about having already rehearsed, they'd get so mad. And I began to feel, as a teen, this incredible resentment that all my mom really wanted was a concerto-playing musical prodigy and even though I had a some talent, I was never going to live up to the crushing weight of her expectations; I wanted to do other things and live my life and go out and have fun, would they just get off my goddam back already.

It wasn't until later, looking back, that I realized that they had never pinned their hopes on my going to Julliard at all. They wanted me to learn to play music for a few reasons:

1) My parents, who deeply enjoy music but have no musical sense, never had the opportunity to learn to play. They loved giving me the gift of at least trying to learn. It was fantastic and wondrous to them, that a human being they created together had an ability that neither of them had. I imagine that as a parent this must be exceedingly strange and wondrous and precious.

2) They wanted to gift me an ability to make something that made me happy, essentially, so that later on in life, if I was ever lonely or bored or seeking some beauty or relaxation in my life, I would be able to find some comfort in knowing how to create lovely sounds for myself.

3) They also hoped I would discover a deep confidence and sense of accomplishment that comes from embarking on a lifelong task of learning difficult things.

Really, this applied to anything I wanted to try - music was just an easy example for them to understand. Success, in conventional terms, was never the point.

Is it possible this is what your moms want for you, and that novel-writing is the incredibly specific manifestation that this hope takes for them? It has taken me many years to realize this, and now that I'm starting to think of a family of my own, and think about what I want for my own children, I want these same things:

I want them to have opportunities, I want them to have comfort and confidence, I want them to love exploring all their lives. That's really it.

I really think that unless your moms feel like *they* should have been writers if only they had had the chance, when they ask you about your novel they are really just trying to suss out if you are doing things that make you happy and fulfilled and forward-looking. When your mom asks you about your novel, you can tell her that you're doing great thanks to the values she instilled in you, and you're working on your own life project that really gives you meaning, and you know she must also be happy for you.
posted by sestaaak at 9:21 AM on April 7, 2012 [5 favorites]

Just tell them "achievement is overrated" and smile a lot. When they lose their tempers, you win.
posted by flabdablet at 10:03 AM on April 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Your comment reminds me of a person I met who told me about finally, in her 30s, "coming out of the closet" to her artist parents as an actuary, and how happy she was, even though her parents were terribly disappointed in her.

Eventually you just have to figure that your life is YOUR life and there aren't any do-overs. As a friend of mine would say, get in there and rip a chunk off!

Easier said than done, but also easier the second time you do it, and easier yet the third time, etc etc.
posted by small_ruminant at 10:49 AM on April 7, 2012

Response by poster: Thank you for all your constructive and supportive answers. AskMe is the best.

The reason I seem to be maturing slower than other adults is because I have Asperger's. (I'm not saying this as some kind of excuse, and I'm aware that not everyone with similar brains feels this way.) I'm doing my best to catch up, but my "socioemotional age" is probably a few years behind my physical/cognitive age.

As to whether or not I have an income, I'm currently on government assistance and feel that holding me back in some ways. I wouldn't seriously think about becoming self-employed without that safety net, though, so I'm glad I have it.

Do I really enjoy writing? I love thinking up ideas. I love putting them on paper and seeing what I can create with my mind. That enjoyment and drive kept me going for several edits and revisions of my short story. Am I good at writing? Yes. But I hate feeling that this talent of mine puts me into this "writer" box, and I will be stuck doing the same one thing with my life until the day I die. (And my novel? I look at it now and realize there's not much of a plot. It's basically a me-substitute literally walking around finding herself.)
posted by tamagogirl at 11:28 AM on April 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

I saw your previous question about your various blogs, and wonder if that might have something to do with your mom urging you to keep writing. If you have trouble with follow-through, starting to write something but laying it aside can be hard for others to understand. Since you've got your first draft done, you might want to set a date as to when you'll pick it up again.
I doubt that anyone puts you in a "writer" box, especially if you're just starting in your writing as something other than a hobby--there's no indication that you'll be working as a writer, either as a novelist or journalist or free-lancer, for the rest of your life, is there? You have the time now to explore other options and work on your book or another one or something entirely different.
posted by Ideefixe at 1:11 PM on April 7, 2012

Just do what you want, man. Your Moms don't want anything else.
posted by christhelongtimelurker at 3:21 PM on April 7, 2012

Now that you have a draft, there is a lot you can do to keep nudging things forward that don't require a ton of inspiration or even time, more like just doing the next indicated thing. You can find beta readers, you can apply for fellowships, enter online contests etc. It's all just basically putting stuff in the mail and opening it and sending more stuff out. Next time one of your parents asks you about progress you can tell them that's what you're doing to bring your novel to completion. Whenever you have ideas for another novel, jot them down. Basically treat the fiction writing like it's something you're doing at a maintenance level or on the back burner but don't forget about it completely. That way you have something to tell your parents plus you haven't abandoned your work; after all you did put a lot of time into that draft and it seems a pity to completely let it go.
posted by BibiRose at 9:54 AM on April 8, 2012

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