books with Athena

books with Athena

Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Writer’s Enemy List: Dream Smashers, Crazymakers and Groucho Marxists

 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:

Dream Smashers

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.

Crazymakers

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.”

Resign.

Groucho Marxists

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.

18 comments:

  1. Great post - and most amusing! I've been lucky to have avoided Crazymakers and Groucho Marxists, I think, but have come across a fair few Dream Smashers. And yes, they're best ignored.

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  2. Thank you for posting this. We sometimes forget that it's okay to ignore these types of people in our own lives. Or at least I know I do.

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  3. I've learned to surround myself with positive energy friends. So far so good. I've walked away from the ones you've described.

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  4. Brilliant post! And so true!! Thanks :)

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  5. Wow, there is actually a lot of encouragement in this post. Always good advice to stay away from such negativity. Writers carry enough of their own doubts.

    Awesome post.

    ........dhole

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  6. Great post Anne, and so important.

    I had a writing "friend" who could never get past the early novel stages himself and who did not like it when I finished my novel. He didn't want to hear about my agent search. I broke off contact and I'm glad I did.

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  7. Just thought of another group of saboteurs who need to be mentioned: "The Ignorers." These people just don't react to your good writing news. If you tell them a story sold, they look right through you. If you write them that an agent requested a partial, they never respond.
    It's a very quiet form of sabotage. Best is to not tell these people anything. :)

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  8. You don't have to be a writer to encounter these kinds of folks. They're everywhere. So no matter what you do in life, keep a sharp eye out. Heh-heh.

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  9. Spot on Churadogs ... and encounter them I have.
    What is most fortunate for me is that during my other life in community work I encountered all three of these folks daily.

    If I got a 200K grant for the kids, their son was managing a million dollar foundation.

    If I developed a new teen program, three other agencies had already done a better job and do we really want rowdy teens in our program?

    And every month all three of these archtypes, members of my Board of Directors, took turns stomping on my methods, plans and results.

    I say I am lucky because once you learn to beat down these "I can't make it in the real world, so why should you," folks in any form during your life, you learn to build in defenses.

    Advice for those who are younger and more vulnerable? Learn not to talk about your work too much. The truth is not too many of your friends and family are interested, you shouldn't disapate the energy you need for the work by talking too much and you'll have more peace and quiet if people think your knitting in your spare time. Give them all sweaters for X-mas and keep the real work to yourself.

    If you make it out here in the real world let the nay sayers do as my father suggested and bite their own elbows.

    I love your post as always Anne, thanks. :)

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  10. I've known one from each category. I can't say I've missed having them in my life either!

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  11. Thanks for your comments everybody. And welcome new followers!

    LR--you're right: the Ignorers should get their own category. Their motivations can be similar to any of the three groups, but their tactics are more subtle and subversive. It's as if your writer self simply doesn't exist for them. They're trying to erase that part of you.

    Good riddance to them all. And if you have to work with them or can't get them out of your life--yes, Florence is right. Don't tell them anything personal and seek real friends elsewhere.

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  12. Great post! I have also know these folks. I find that the ignorers can be the most hurtful. Passive/agressive behavior is the hardest to deal with because there is--intentionaly-- nothing THERE to deal WITH. Thank you for your continued wisdom!

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  13. I love this list. I could make a related one having to do with academia. Most people simply don't understand how it works. They think that applying for an academic job is like walking into the HR office of a corporation, and don't get the national scale of the enterprise. Very funny and insightful, as always. I find that the Groucho Marxists are the most frustrating, followed by the Dreamsmashers and the Crazymakers. What great terms you have coined! I'm gonna start using them.

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  14. Wow, Anne. That was a great post. I've come across several of those people to this point in my writing journey, but I never really compartmentalized them into categories. Now I have a reference list!

    And I'm so stoked to hear you're joining in our NaNoQuerMo adventure. Best of luck to you!! Let's pray to the writing gods that the agents are receptive this month!

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  15. The Dream Smashers. I've met plenty of them!

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  16. Learn not to pay attention to the Dream Smashers, and best to surround yourself with positive folks, haven't figured out yet how to discourage those who drop in unannouced, usually relatives.

    Marilyn

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  17. This is hilarious--but funny because it's true! I must admit that I've gotten pretty lucky, and have a pretty awesome group of people who support me. That said, I have encountered a few of the negative ones along the way... recognizing and getting rid of them definitely becomes a valuable skill!

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  18. It took me a while to identify and avoid Dream Smashers and Crazymakers in my life. The Groucho Marxists, however, had me fooled for the longest time. In fact, I never had a name for that type of sabotage until now. They just have this air of good intentions that I'm a sucker for! Thanks so much for this post. ~Tui

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