I have been reading your answers for quite a while now, Will. I admire your real-life examples and hope you have something to say that will help me with this problem. My husband is 35-years-old. He wants to quit his job and become a writer. This has been his dream since we met, not long after we left college. His argument is that we have enough saved and I make a more than a decent salary so money shouldn’t enter into the equation.
Will, money isn’t necessarily the issue, I just don’t think he can make any as a writer. I know it is a hard thing to “become” and even harder when your work SUCKS. The real problem here is I don’t have any faith that he is good enough even though I always encouraged him to write, just not as a career. Anyway, Will, how do I stop this looming train wreck without hurting his feelings or do I just stand by him and hope that he figures it out sooner rather than later?
He’s No Shakespeare
So, I take it you aren’t a huge fan of your husband’s writing. Well, let me tell you a little story about another author whose wife hated his work. The year was 1927… Nah, I’m just foolin’. We all know those stories and you want to hear one about as much as I want to tell it. Right now, the story of your husband the novelist, is writing itself and whether you’re portrayed as the fairy godmother or the wicked witch all depends on how you handle it.
*DON’T GROUND YOUR HUSBAND: My favorite poet, Langston Hughes, wrote a piece titled “Dreams.”
Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.
Maybe that bird was never much of a flier, and maybe that field only grew dandelions, but a little flying is better than none and a field of dandelions is a better picture than a big chunk of frozen dirt. Writing is your husband’s dream; if you EVER tell him that you think he “sucks” at it, whether it’s true and whether he believes it, you’ll hurt that dream and his feelings. At least some little part of him will grow to resent you for that. It’s very possible that he’ll never sell a single paragraph. It’s also possible that he could, one day, stumble into writing a best-seller. He’ll likely end up in that huge, gray, area between the two where most writers live. There’s also a gray area between telling him that he’s the best writer on the planet and being the person who breaks his wings and leaves him freezing on that barren field.
*PLAY “LET’S MAKE A DEAL”: Your husband’s dream is one I share. I’m enough of a romantic to want to walk the beach barefoot in rolled up khakis and an unbuttoned silk shirt, then saunter home and finish my award-winning novella. Luckily, I’m enough of a realist to understand that my children have developed a habit of eating and now think they should do it every day, so I still take my butt to work. Writing because you’re inspired is much different than writing because you’re hungry. Tell your husband you want him to test the waters first. Tell him that, just for now, he should continue to write part-time and that if he can earn half of his normal, annual salary writing, then he should definitely quit and write full-time. This puts the ball in his court and the emphasis on his ability, not your opinion. It also makes the editors, agents and the rest of the publishing industry, the bad guys, something most writers believe anyway. This lets them do the dirty work while you get to be the understanding and supportive wife. A stack of rejection letters speaks volumes and any writer worth his or her weight in salt can show you at least a hundred of them (if you’re wondering how many times I’ve been rejected, well, this discussion isn’t about me). On the other hand, a little success goes a long way. Even one tiny, published piece may be enough for him to say, “Yeah, I could have made it”, giving him the option of closing his laptop and moving on to bigger and better things.
*THE PROOF IS IN THE PULITZER: Art is subjective and readers are fickle. I personally think Stephen King is one of the greatest authors who ever sat hunched over a typewriter, yet I couldn’t finish Melville’s “Moby Dick” if Captain Ahab himself held a harpoon to my head. Maybe you’re right about your husband’s talent. If so, either the pressures of trying to write professionally will push him back into hobby mode or that same pressure may make him a good enough writer to eke out a literary career. Then again, maybe you’re completely wrong about his writing; he may find a niche and an audience who think he is the second coming of W.B. Yeats. Either way, having something to hope for is all that gets a lot of us out of bed in the morning. Don’t be the person to take that from him. He’s spread his dreams out at your feet; tread softly.
I wish you both the best of luck and if your husband makes it, tell him he owes me an autographed copy of his first published book (but don’t ever tell him why).
More from GEM:
William Jones is originally from the tiny town of Alton, Illinois, and now lives in the tinier town of Reisterstown, Maryland. He is a happy husband and a proud father of three, and writes as a hobby, in those few moments he finds between husbanding and daddy-ing.