When you start a writing project, whether you’re diving into the intensity of NaNoWriMo, or just carving out a few hours to peck away at the keyboard on weekends, it helps to get emotional support from friends and family.
But be prepared for the opposite.
Some people in your life may find your new interest threatening, and if you’re not emotionally prepared, they can derail your project and undermine your self esteem. They’ll work to sabotage your writing and confidence in dozens of subtle—or not-so-subtle—ways.
Here are some non-supportive types to watch out for, and tips on how to deal with them:
These are the know-it-alls who specialize in discouragement.
- They’re full of statistics showing the odds against getting published.
- They’ll send links to articles with dire warnings about carpal tunnel syndrome and back injuries due to long sessions with the computer.
- They have an unending supply of stories about suicide and depression in writers.
They may appear to be supportive at first, and may even express an eagerness to read your WIP—only to give entirely negative feedback.
- They always “know” some rule that you’ve broken—probably mis-remembered from their 5th grade grammar class.
- They’ll criticize your premise in a way that’s also a personal attack: “nobody wants to read about women over 40/washed-up athletes/teenagers with disabilities.”
- They’ll criticize anything in your work that doesn’t promote their own world view, and suggest the story would be much better if the hero were more like them.
These people have given up on their own dreams, and want you to do the same.
Encourage them to write their own damn books.
Creativity guru Julia Cameron described these people as “storm centers…long on problems but short on solutions.”
They are the drama queens, emotional vampires, and control freaks who crave your full- time attention and can’t stand for you to focus on anything but their own dramas.
Writers are magnets for these people because we tend to be good listeners.
- You tell your Crazymaker friend your writing schedule, but she’ll always “forget,” and show up at exactly the time your story is on a roll. She’ll draw you into a weepy tale of woe, saying you’re the “only one who understands.”
- Have a deadline for a difficult article? That’s the moment Crazymaker will stomp into your office and confess the affair he had four years ago when you were on a relationship break.
- Got an agent waiting for a rewrite? That’s the week Mrs. Crazymaker calls to beg you to babysit her sick child because she can’t take off work. After all, she has a REAL job
Crazymakers need to be center stage, 24/7. Nothing you do can be of any importance: your job description is “minion.”
The Groucho Marxist manifesto is, to paraphrase the great Julius Henry Marx: “I do not care to read a book by a person who would accept me as a friend.”
Groucho Marxists are your family members and buddies who assume your work is terrible because it was written by somebody they know.
I’m not talking about those helpful beta readers who comb through your unpublished manuscript looking for flaws to be fixed before you submit.
These are the folks who feel compelled to ridicule and belittle your work, whether they’ve read it or not. No amount of success will convince them you’re any good.
- You get a story published. Groucho can’t be bothered to read it. But he’s always bringing you stories by other writers in your genre, “so you can see how a REAL writer does it.”
- You get your big call from that agent. Groucho will try to convince you she’s a scammer. Why would a real agent represent a nobody like you?
- You sign with a publisher. Groucho thinks he's heard a rumor the company is about to go under: look how desperate they must be if they’d publish your book.
- You get a good review. Groucho doesn’t have time to read it. But he has lots of time to research other pieces by that reviewer to show the reviewer has terrible taste.
- You win a Pulitzer. What? No Nobel?
These people are highly competitive and feel your success will make you “better than them.”
Remind them of their own skills and accomplishments and reassure them that any writing success you achieve won’t change your relationship.
It’s hard enough to live with the constant rejection we have to deal with in this industry, so when you’re attacked in your personal life, it’s tough to hang on. You have to erect strong boundaries and be fierce in defending them. But if you’re serious about your work, the people who really care about you will learn to treat your time and work with respect.
The others will evaporate.
Chances are you won’t miss them.