Advice for First-Generation Writers

On Wednesdays, I share posts, fables, songs, poems, quotations, TEDx Talks, cartoons, and books that have inspired and motivated me on my writing journey. I hope these posts will give writers, artists, and other creatives a mid-week boost.

In a recent post on the Writer Unboxed blog, award-winning author Jennifer De Leon shared advice for first-generation writers. Here’s an excerpt from that post:

Much has been said about being a first-generation college graduate, or a first-time home buyer, or the first woman in space. But being the first writer in the family is such a unique and often emotional experience. Here are a few things that have helped me.

Remember that it’s a job. It’s easy to say now, but for a long time I didn’t see writing as “a real job.” It was my hobby. It was something I did when I felt like it. I didn’t have any real deadlines. I now have contracts with publishing houses, deadlines for my agent and my editor, deliverables (such as this blog post!), and research to do for my next book. For a very long time, I did not get paid for my writing. But if I could go back in time, I would tell my younger self: it is a job, whether you get paid or not. It’s work. Real work. Really hard work, sometimes. It’s not frivolous. It matters. So: roll up your sleeves, make a schedule, commit to your art, and get to work.

Write about them. Yes, write about your family. For me, this helped bridge the gap between my identity as a writer and my relationships with family members. I have written about my parents, extended relatives, children, husband, and sisters, in my creative nonfiction essays. And in my novels and short stories, I often pinch certain characteristics from family members and give them to fictional characters. This doesn’t work for everyone, of course, but for me, I find that it is a privilege to finally be able to bring often marginalized stories, to the center. I love this quote by playwright Suzan-Lori Parks: “Write for them, fight for them.”

Take your family with you to readings and events. I have taken my mom to countless readings and even the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference in Sicily. My husband and I have spent time in several writing residencies across the country. I bring my young sons to readings and events. I have a distinct memory of my then three-year-old son running across an enormous stage towards me while I read at the podium. I looked at his sweet face, picked him up, and kept reading.

Know that it’s okay if they don’t “get it.” Sometimes family will say dumb stuff. Or ask questions at holiday tables that make you feel totally deflated. What have you published lately? How much do you get paid for writing a book? How long does it take? What page are you on now? Take it with a grain of salt. Most people don’t know what really goes into being a writer, into publishing a book.

Have a sense of humor. It really does help.

Above all, my advice is to keep going. Being the first writer in the family can be trying at times, joyous and celebratory at others, but above all, it is an honor to be able to do what you love in this life. And by being the first, it means you are helping to carve a path for others.

Source: Writer Unboxed


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s