Taking Wisdom from One of Kevin Smith’s Very First Haters

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A note from Kevin Smith’s ex-girlfriend’s mother reads, “Kevin Smith will never be a famous writer. He does not have the drive.” Photo courtesy: Kevin Smith’s Facebook page

All the writers I know have at least one person in their past who told them they would never make it. In my case, it was a creative writing professor in college. Too often it’s a critical parent who thinks writing isn’t really a career or a disgruntled spouse waiting for the income to start rolling in to relieve financial woes.

For writer/director Kevin Smith, it was the mother of an ex-girlfriend.

Smith wrote about his experience on Facebook last month in an inspiring post which he began, “I’m gonna close #2016 with a relic from 1989.” He described how this woman, the mother of a girl he had just broken up with, handed him a note that said: “Kevin Smith will never be a famous writer. He does not have the drive. I do wish luck.” You can read the full post here, and you should.

It will make you angry and hopeful and happy all at the same time. Angry that a person would dare to try to crush someone’s dream like that, and hopeful that if Kevin Smith could overcome that kind of criticism anyone else could too, and happy that he did it. He proved that woman wrong.

Jeff Anderson and Brian O’Halloran in Clerks, Kevin Smith’s break out film about slackers working at the local convenient store debuted in 1994. Photo courtesy: Miramax

However, after you pump your fist into the air and the giddiness of Smith’s victory fades, the issue lurking underneath remains.

As humans, we are social creatures. Each one of us lives in the center of a complex web of relationships and works constantly to negotiate the connections between family, friends, bosses and coworkers, our government, the media, and society as a whole.

What do you do when the people close to you—or even the people who are only on the fringe of your web—are critical of your dreams? How do you keep working to make your destiny manifest when someone pops up and says, “Nope. Never gonna happen.” and then leaves you seriously doubting yourself?

You become a highly resilient person.

Julian Rotter, a professor of psychology at the University of Connecticut, developed the concept of what he calls “locus of control.” Some people, he says, view themselves as essentially in control of the good and bad things they experience — i.e., they have an internal locus of control… [while] others believe that things are done to them by outside forces or happen by chance…research shows that those with a strong internal locus are better off… They’re less likely to find everyday activities distressing… they take compliments and criticism in stride,” according to an article about highly resilient people in Business Insider.

What this means is that highly resilient people believe that every choice they make matters. And if they find themselves in a situation where neither choice is very appealing, they focus on the choices they can make about their reactions.

Elizabeth Banks and Seth Rogen in Smith’s Zach and Miri Make a Porno. The film grossed over $31 million at the box office. Photo courtesy: The Weinstein Company

Kevin Smith could have chosen to believe in that woman’s opinion. He could have stopped writing then and there. But instead of using that note as evidence of his own inadequacy, he chose to use it as fuel to stoke his creative fire. In his Facebook post Smith says, “The note served as a constant reminder that NOBODY writes my story but me. Rather than believe this adult who had some minor insight into my character, whenever I looked at this piece of paper, I’d start typing. And one day, I typed a screenplay that changed my life.”

Highly resilient people also don’t let the emotions of the moment dictate the outcome of their future success, but this is a tough one for most of us to pull off.

“Whether we feel guilty, outraged, scared, or hurt, we are prone to quickly dismantle the only part of our brain that sets us apart from other mammals and default to fight/flight/freeze, the three responses of a prey to a hunter,” says psychologist Randi Gunther.

As hard as it can be to stay present and not go into fight/flight/freeze mode, it’s essential for our long-term success. Kevin Smith could have written his Facebook post as a rant, with the goal of shaming the woman who wrote him that note and gaining personal vindication. But he chose a different route. He shared how one critical opinion spurred him on to keep writing, and ultimately helped him achieve his dream.

Lastly, highly resilient people are not afraid to be vulnerable. Social scientist and author Brené Brown says, “The most transformative and resilient leaders that I’ve worked with over the course of my career… have the ability and willingness to lean in to discomfort and vulnerability,” in an article on Brain Pickings.

Kevin Smith could have chosen to keep this note to himself out of embarrassment or because of fears about what people might say about it now. He might have been nervous that someone reading his Facebook post agreed with the woman’s opinion and would make a comment letting everyone know that. However, he chose to share something from his past that made him vulnerable. He chose to open himself up in a way that courted emotional risk, but also made possible greater emotional connection within his community.

All writers sooner or later encounter the person who tries to deflate their writing dreams. The solution is not to barricade ourselves in an underground bunker and only interact with the world via the internet, because the dream-deflaters are trolling around there too.

Instead, it’s time to make “building resilience” priority number one on our self-improvement agenda. In the words of Kevin Smith: “…As we head into #2017 remember: nobody writes your story but you. This year, write the shit out of your story. Don’t let someone else define your future for you: sing your song and show ’em what you’re made of. Happy New Year, everybody. Thanks for making the lady wrong.”

author-avatar

Lauren Sapala is a writer, writing coach, and blogger. She founded the WriteCity writing groups in San Francisco and Seattle and coaches all levels of intuitive writers.  She is also the author of The INFJ Writer and blogs regularly at www.laurensapala.com.

18 Replies to "Taking Wisdom from One of Kevin Smith’s Very First Haters"

  • comment-avatar
    KNS January 12, 2017 (5:22 am)

    Kevin’s such a nice boy. I’m sure he’ll make it big some day. Go get ’em, Mr. Smith!

  • comment-avatar
    Ross Schriftman January 12, 2017 (5:46 am)

    It is best to simply roll with the criticism and move forward with your passion if you truly believe in what you are doing. Constructive suggestions are different and you can learn and improve from those. Thank you, Lauren, for this inspiring article.

    • comment-avatar
      Lauren Sapala January 12, 2017 (9:28 am)

      You’re welcome Ross! And you make a good point: Constructive comments ARE usually helpful. Sometimes when we’re already feeling low it can be difficult to separate the constructive criticism out from the unhelpful kind of criticism. But this is a skill that every writer who is serious about their craft learns over time.

  • comment-avatar
    Bob Greene January 12, 2017 (6:22 am)

    Thank you, Lauren, for this inspiring story of triumph. I, as many writers experience, have a similar story which took me a lifetime to overcome. I wrote a screenplay (30 or so pages) when I was fourteen and proudly showed it to my newspaper editor father. He became so discouraged and critical of my writing and Hollywood in general that I dropped the idea of ever writing a movie script until a few years ago. I thoroughly enjoy what I am accomplishing now. Lots of reasons for not following my dream that would take an in-depth psychological analysis to explain. Word of advice to any parents, friends, acquaintances be an encourager and not a hater. We have too much of that in the world today.

    • comment-avatar
      Lauren Sapala January 12, 2017 (9:26 am)

      Yes Bob you are so right! I cannot count how many clients I’ve worked with who are in their 40s, 50s, 60s or beyond and are still struggling with the harsh critique of a parent. It’s very unfortunate, but it’s always inspiring to see how these writers have worked to get past it and are making beautiful works of art today.

      • comment-avatar
        Bob Greene January 12, 2017 (12:04 pm)

        Thanks, that does filter into some of my work. Surprise! Surprise!

    • comment-avatar
      Star January 12, 2017 (11:13 am)

      My first hater was a teaching assistant in college, who went out of his way to note on one of my bluebooks that my writing was stilted. My first paid article was in the Washingtonian magazine and I won a Telly for a short I wrote and coproduced. I supported myself and my family for 35 years by being a freelance writer. Now, at 73, I am working in the animation space, as Hwood people put it, which means Millennials as far as the eye can see and plenty of mansplaining. I just keep putting one foot in front of the other. Wonder where that TA is today, but I actually don’t care that much. Tell Kevin Smith I have seen CLERKS half a dozen times and still laugh.

      • comment-avatar
        Lauren Sapala January 12, 2017 (2:03 pm)

        I also had a bad experience with someone in a teacher role at college. So glad to hear you kept at it with the writing! And that you’re still going strong!

        • comment-avatar
          Bob Hughes January 14, 2017 (2:28 pm)

          I had a professor in a copy writing class berate my writing in front of the entire room. I continued
          on to a successful broadcasting career that included a stint as a production director. Maybe his method was that of J.K. Simmons in Whiplash, but I highly doubt it.

          • comment-avatar
            Star January 16, 2017 (9:16 am)

            I doubt it, too. They know not what they have spawned, these twits. Oh, well, we laughed last and are still chuckling. By the way, over the years, I learned that writing at the sixth grade level worked in every venue–from magazines for doctors and lawyers to WebMD to Jane’s. You can’t bee too “stilted” if you keep it short and targeted.

          • comment-avatar
            Star January 16, 2017 (9:18 am)

            Make that “be” not “bee”–although I have an animated project about bees…

          • comment-avatar
            Lauren Sapala January 17, 2017 (9:30 am)

            I am so sorry that happened to you Bob. But it’s pretty cool that you came back from it and went on to find success anyway. It is always so puzzling to me why someone in the role of a teacher would choose to treat their students this way.

  • comment-avatar
    Howard S Rosenzweig, Ph.D. January 12, 2017 (7:57 am)

    Thank you Lauren for writing this article about Kevin Smith. Mr. Smith comes across in general as a humble, self effacing man who tries to encourage people to follow their dream. Sadly, whenever people expose their work to the general public, there are always those individuals [whether out of jealousy and/or simple spitefulness] who seek pleasure by knocking that person down [e.g. “Don’t quit your day job.”]. It is so very important for people to have high self esteem; to truly believe in their work, or otherwise such naysayers will cause them to give up their dreams.

    • comment-avatar
      Lauren Sapala January 12, 2017 (9:24 am)

      Oh the constant battle for self esteem…every writer knows it so well! You make a wonderful point Howard. Writers DO need to believe in their work or otherwise they stand very little chance in this crazy world of writing.

  • comment-avatar
    Kathy Ayers January 12, 2017 (1:11 pm)

    Very insightful! Those who make a blanket negative statement wiping out someone’s entire future, then buttoning it up with ‘but best of luck anyway,’ would do well to stay in their own lanes. It’s one thing to give what could be useful insight on one specific piece, and quite another to off a person’s dream in full. Wow. Many fortune tellers roaming the halls out there. Who’d have thought La La Land would do what it’s doing? The real challenge is to try to maximize one’s own ability and creativity, seems to me, and then see what happens, rather than taking to heart words from random people.

    • comment-avatar
      Lauren Sapala January 12, 2017 (2:02 pm)

      “Those who make a blanket negative statement wiping out someone’s entire future, then buttoning it up with ‘but best of luck anyway,’ would do well to stay in their own lanes.”

      Perfectly phrased! I couldn’t have said it better myself Kathy!

  • comment-avatar
    Wyatt Wayne January 16, 2017 (5:08 am)

    “Listen to your enemies. They will tell you what you really need to know when your friends never will.”—Kenneth Wayne Wood

    Kevin’s ex-girlfriend’s mother’s reverse psychology worked like a kick in the butt. Stated positively she could have said, “If you will only get the drive, you will succeed as a screenwriter.”

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