The Writer’s Need for Approval and Reasons Why It’s Often Unattainable

Photo credit: Lenee Cobb. When the writer says,  "I can therefore I might," they might.  --Coach Cobb
Photo credit: Lenee Cobb. When the writer says, “I can; therefore I might,” they might. –Coach Cobb

3/10/15 by Leneé Cobb

One day, I overheard my new mother-in-law talking to someone on the phone: “She’s one of those artsy fartsy types. Fancies herself a painter or writer or some damned thing.”

Perhaps some of you can relate. But I must say this upfront and now: If all of us waited for approval from others for what we’re writing, how many manuscripts would ever get finished?

For the record, the relationship with my mother-in-law improved only slightly when I mentioned transcribing some of her family stories.

The need for approval is strong in us. It’s tougher, I think, for creative/artistic types to find approval from their families and close friends. Let’s examine some concerns others have about our work.

Many of us have parents who desire more from us. They want us to treat our art, whether it is painting, music, choreography, or writing, as a hobby and they prefer us to work a real job. However, I think there might be more than just the financial fears they admit to “on our behalf” when we state our desires to follow our artistic calling.

First of all, there is stage fright. Oh, they’re not directly on stage but through us, they very well might be. This is because whatever an artist does never counts unless it is seem by others. There are a few appropriate quotes I read recently that address this:

• “When I sit down to write a book, I do not say to myself, ‘I am going to produce a work of art.’ I write it because there is some lie I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing.” –George Orwell

• “Writing is a socially acceptable way to get naked in public.” –Paulo Coelho


• “”All literature is gossip.” –Truman Capote

Our families, friends, and enemies know that out there, there are people who will recognize us as their sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, grandparents, and acquaintances. There is the fear in them that what we express might not be good enough to meet the approval of others or worse yet, that what we express might lead to controversy and even exposure. When we work typical 9-5 jobs, they are reassured of their own anonymity.

Their successes connect to our own, and likewise, our failures reflect back on them.

Those epic fails:

• Falling off stage during your dance recital.

• Hitting a wrong note on your soprano solo.

• Fumbling the football in the game winning play.

Those holding us dear experienced such failures themselves. If given a choice, they’d rather not relive them through us. It is a fearful thing to watch a loved one fail.

There is also the real fear that you might write about their failures, and your own, and they’ll tell you, “Some things are best forgotten.”

“Why, oh why,” they lament, “would you want people to know about something so humiliating that we purposely swept it under the rug years ago?”

Things secret are exposed. It’s a fact and also a very reasonable fear.

And let’s face it, there is more to fear from a writer than any other person. The pen is mightier than the sword. We know this. Others know this.

Our loved ones realize it’s impossible to please everyone all the time and that perfection is more elusive than catching a shadow; so chances are what you write is going to upset someone. Therefore, when we state we’re writing stories from our life, the people around us greet this information with trepidation. Sure, they might smile and say, “That’s nice.” However, inside they could be feeling something quite different.

And we cannot dispute the fact that many witnesses to or participants in an event will all have individual perspectives. In their opinion, we might be recalling something very different from what they remember.

Also, the things people say in jest are easily misinterpreted as literal, and this is especially true when we set out to write our childhood memories.

There are plenty of legitimate reasons for people to fear writers.

I conclude that if I am to write, I need to consider the fears others respectfully, realize the power and responsibility that comes with my profession, and answer to my own conscience. I cannot wait for everyone’s approval. It took me years, but I realize now that everyone’s approval will never come. I must choose to write anyway or find another profession.

How about you? What are some fears about your writing that you suspect might hide behind the smiles and outward encouragement of those with whom you are close?

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