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Anne R. Allen's Blog


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Anne writes funny mysteries and how-to-books for writers. She also writes poetry and short stories on occasion. Oh, yes, and she blogs. She's a contributor to Writer's Digest and the Novel and Short Story Writer's Market for 2016. 

Her bestselling Camilla Randall Mystery Series features perennially down-on-her-luck former socialite Camilla Randall—who is a magnet for murder, mayhem and Mr. Wrong, but always solves the mystery in her quirky, but oh-so-polite way.

Anne lives on the Central Coast of California, near San Luis Obispo, the town Oprah called "The Happiest City in America."

Anne blogs at Anne R. Allen's Blog...with Ruth Harris 
and at Anne R. Allen's Books

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Are Your Family and Friends Sabotaging your Writing Dreams?

Writers participating in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) may discover that friends and family aren't entirely enthused by your decision to disappear into your computer for a month. (I have a secret suspicion that Chris Baty invented NaNo in order to escape those painful family Thanksgiving dinners.)

But at any time of year, some people in your life will find it difficult to relate to your passion to write. A few will even sabotage your progress, often subconsciously, but sometimes with the deliberate intent of steering you onto another path "for your own good."

Kristen Lamb wrote on her blog this week about a minister of her church who told her she "had a better chance of being hit with lightning than becoming a published author." And that she "needed to be an adult and pursue a 'real' career."


What's a new writer to do?

One thing that can help a lot is networking with other writers. That's where blogging and social media can be helpful. Kristen's "WANA tribe" (We Are Not Alone) is a community where writers can find mutual support. Another is Alex J. Cavanaugh's Insecure Writers Group, which he wrote about on this blog a couple of months ago.

Online or in-person, writers' groups can be a godsend. I'm lucky enough to live in a town with a fantastic writing community called the SLO Nightwriters. It has members at all writing levels, from fledgling first-timers to New York Times bestsellers. National organizations with local chapters like RWA, SCBWI, and Sisters in Crime can also provide welcome support.

A good writing group will also save you from the mistake so many new writers make: asking friends or family members to read a work in progress.

The urge to share your work with loved ones is natural. I did it myself early in my career. If you're lucky, you may get some helpful suggestions, but you're more likely to get evasive looks and polite platitudes—or worse. Much worse.

Here's my cautionary tale: my WIP was having problems with flow, so I gave it to a friend who had praised my published work. I thought he might be able to pinpoint what wasn't working. But as a non-writer, he had no idea what “rough draft” meant. After he finished the typo-strewn ms., he phoned immediately, telling me to toss the book because it was a “mess that nobody would ever want to read.”

I tried to get him to tell me exactly what he didn’t like, but he kept ranting, giving no specifics. After he screamed "show, don't tell" about ten times, I have to admit I hung up on him. (Years later I realized I'd asked him at a very bad time in his life. He'd just lost a beloved job and my career was on the rise. His own dreams were in shatters, which made him into a Dream-smasher.)

I shelved the book. I figured whatever was wrong, it must be pretty terrible.

Years later, when I opened the manuscript again, I realized it wasn't that bad. I'd let one uninformed person's opinion kill a project I'd spent years of my life creating. I did a quick polish and sent it to my publisher. The editor suggested a new opening chapter and a handful of tweaks. It's now part of my boxed set that's been a humor bestseller on Amazon for 20 weeks.

But the friendship died. And since then, I've never let a non-writer see a draft of anything.

Critiquing and editing require experience and expertise. Anybody can say "I hate it," but it takes an expert to say. "This doesn't work because of ___ and____."

Recently freelance editor Holli Moncrieff wrote about the problem of friends critiquing friends on Michelle D. Argyle's blog. Holli and Michelle think even friends who are writers may not be the best people to critique your work. As Holli says, "there are enough people in the world who will tell you that you suck without having to hear it from a friend."

No matter how much you want to share your WIP with your real-life friends, it's not a good idea. Do try to enlist emotional support—although even that is not always forthcoming—but realize that finding a friend who's also a fan of your writing is a stroke of good luck, not something to expect.

And the truth is, a lot of people in your life may find your new interest threatening. If you’re not emotionally prepared, they can derail your project, stifle your creativity, and undermine your self esteem.

They may not be as heavy handed as Kristen Lamb's minister or my Dream-smasher friend, but they’ll work to sabotage your confidence in dozens of subtle—or not-so-subtle—ways.

They can do it for a variety of reasons. The most obvious is that your new passion can feel like a rival. Writing robs your loved ones of time you used to spend together.

Or your friends may be secret wannabes who have stifled their own creativity out of fear of failure. People like this may try to make you feel like a failure in order to justify their own fears.

Or they can just be at a bad time in their lives like my friend. In any case, it's best to be prepared.

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.

  • Like Kristen's minister, they’re full of statistics showing the odds against being successfully published. 
  • They’ll send links to articles with dire warnings about carpal tunnel syndrome and back injuries due to long sessions at the keyboard.
  • 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. (Like my "show don't tell" friend.)
  • They’ll criticize your premise in a way that’s also a personal attack: “nobody wants to read about women over 50/washed-up athletes/teenagers with disabilities.”
  • They often try to hijack your story. 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 books, take an art class or start a new creative hobby.


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 editor waiting for a rewrite? That’s the week 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.”

Politely resign from the minion department. If they're capable of real friendship, they'll get the message. If they don't, you're probably better off.

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.

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. Their entire world view is based on the premise that success is impossible, so why bother? By aspiring to something more, you're violating their belief system, and no matter what you do, they will feel compelled to treat you like a failure
  • 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 self publish a book. Groucho will give you a heated lecture on how self-publishing is destroying the culture with a "tsunami of crap." 
  • 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 from agents, editors, and reviewers, so when you’re attacked in your personal life, it’s tough to hang on.

We need 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.

The best way to get good feedback on your work is from other writers, through critique groups and beta readers. Even if you're not lucky enough to live in an area with good in-person writing groups, the Internet age provides wonderful opportunities to find good critiquers online. Two great resources are CritiqueCircle.com and SheWrites. And GalleyCat has a great new sign-up system for finding the right critique group.

What about you, scriveners? Have you run into any of these negative types in your writing journey? How did you deal with them? 

Previews of Coming Attractions!

Ruth and Anne have a boxed set coming out this week!
Chanel and Gatsby: A Comedy Two-fer

Available RIGHT NOW for  NOOK and KINDLE
Kobo and iTunes to come shortly

Smart chick lit for chicks who weren't born yesterday.
Ruth Harris and Anne R. Allen: together again for the first time!
Need something to keep you entertained while traveling home for the holidays? Ruth and I have put together two of our most popular comic novels for the price of one!

Due in December

The Lady of the Lakewood Diner
a comedy

Nostalgia ain't what it used to be...

Who shot Morgan le Fay? The Lady of the Lakewood Diner is the story of a six-decade friendship between an aging rock star and her childhood best friend--the owner of a seedy diner in Central Maine. She just might be the only person who can figure out who's been trying to kill the rock diva. Think Beaches meets Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe

How to be a Writer in the E-Age: a Self-Help Guide

Advice for writers from Anne R. Allen and Amazon #1 Bestselling author Catherine Ryan Hyde
Updated edition with all new-material.

Not another guide to self-publishing. This is a fun, friendly book about how to plan your writing career and make the publishing choices that are right for you, as well as take care of yourself along the way.

Opportunity Alerts

Glimmer Train Press Short Story Award for New Writers Entry Fee: $15. A prize of $1,500 and publication in Glimmer Train Stories is given quarterly for a short story by a writer whose fiction has not been published in a print publication with a circulation over 5,000. The editors will judge. Using the online submission system, submit a story of up to 12,000 words with a $15 entry fee during the month of November. Visit the website for complete guidelines. Deadline: November 30, 2013

J.F. POWER PRIZE FOR SHORT FICTION NO ENTRY FEE. The winner will receive $500. The winning story will be announced in February, 2014 and published in Dappled Things, along with nine honorable mentions. The word limit is 8,000 words. Deadline is November 29, 2013.

DRIFTLESS REVIEW ANNUAL FLASH FICTION CONTEST $15 ENTRY FEE for up to three stories. Each short-short story limited to 500 words. $500 prize. Deadline December 31

The Lascaux Prize for Short Fiction: Stories may be previously published or unpublished. Length up to 10,000 words. Entry fee is $5, and authors may enter more than once.The editors will select a winner and nineteen additional finalists. The winner will receive $500 and publication in The Lascaux Review. Both winner and finalists will earn the privilege of displaying a virtual medallion on blogs and websites. Deadline December 31, 2013.

CRAZYHORSE PRIZES IN FICTION, NONFICTION, POETRY $20 fee (includes subscription). This is a biggie, well worth the fee. This venerable literary magazine has published the likes of John Updike, Raymond Carver and Billy Collins. Winners in each category receive $2,000 and publication. Submit up to 25 pages of prose or three poems. All entries considered for publication. Submissions accepted in the month of January 2014 only.

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Blogger Ruth Harris said...

My novels were getting rave reviews & hitting the NYT bestseller list. My younger brother had one comment: "I'd never read any of the shit you write."

#1: Remarks like that help a writer develop the Teflon hide s/he needs to deal with rejection, real critics, pissed-off thriller readers who hatehatehate your witty romantic comedy..

#2: I never knew said brother to read anything except the Reader's Digest in the bathroom and, when he was in one of his religious phases (which never lasted very long), the Bible.

Perspective, people. Perspective!

A sense of humor never hurts, either. :-)

November 17, 2013 at 10:25 AM  
OpenID liebjabberings said...

I loved your classification of the problem people - emotional vampires and drama queens indeed.

And your solution for the ones who are threatened: praise their work (and tell them you aren't going to take over THEIR pulpit).

This: “nobody wants to read about women over 48 with disabilities.” Thank you for summing up my story! It's also going to end up a powerful love story - after countless trials and tribulations caused by a few basic facts.

If you can't be dissuaded from writing, you are a writer. If you can, you might have become one - try again later. That's what life and hope are for. Listen to your Auntie Anne.


November 17, 2013 at 10:42 AM  
Blogger Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I see Ruth has an awesome brother!
I've hit more dream smashers than anything else, but most of those people haven't really impacted me. They are just those jealous that someone else is enjoying success or trying to accomplish something while they aren't.
I've only encountered one Groucho and definitely not a friend - and possessed a lot of dream smasher qualities as well.
I've been fortunate with family and friends. I'll just pray that trend continues.

November 17, 2013 at 10:42 AM  
Blogger Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I am lucky to have a local group. they're supportive but they tell the truth too. I never let friends or family read my stuff before it's published.

November 17, 2013 at 10:43 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Ruth--Your brother sounds like he's still stuck in some sibling rivalry thing from childhood. Amazing how we can revert to those roles. But you're right that people like that do us a favor of sorts: helping us learn to deal with all the inevitable negative feedback in the marketplace. (Especially from people who hate comedy.)

Alicia--It sounds as if you have a powerful story to tell. I'm so glad you've persevered in spite of all the obstacles.

Alex--There are a lot of dream-smashers out there, probably because there are so many people who have given up their own dreams. I used to have a lot of crazymakers in my life, but mostly they've disappeared since didn't have time for their dramas. Grouchos--I've still got a few, but I ignore them.

Susan--A supportive writing group can be the most important ingredient in launching a career. I'm so very grateful for mine. We've been together about 15 years.

November 17, 2013 at 11:35 AM  
Blogger G. B. Miller said...

I did come across the dreamsmashers way early in my writing life. Fortunately, I stopped showcasing my writing in the chat rooms as well as showing anyone else my writings for that matter.

I plugged along for three years until I felt comfortable to opening myself to serious critique by opening a short story blog for roughly 1 1/2 years. Best thing that I ever did as I picked up numerous writing tips/critiques.

Since those chat room days, I've only come across one person who gave me grief, and sadly, they were on such a power trip that they singlehandedly killed my word of mouth sales at work.

But we still persevere.

November 17, 2013 at 11:52 AM  
Blogger Tamara Marnell said...

I've experienced my share of dream-smashing by jealous competitors, frenemies, and sourpuss teachers.

However, not all dream-smashing boils down to the smasher's personal problems. They're not all drama queens and emotional vampires. My SO, for instance, gives me the most scathing feedback. It's not because he wants to smother my dreams--he really wants to help me reach my full potential. But not being a writer himself, he can't pinpoint exactly what he hates or where I could improve--that's up to me to figure out. Honestly, it's not fair to ask a non-writer for help fixing a story. It's like asking a non-mechanic for help fixing a car. All they can tell you is that the danged thing doesn't work.

Also keep in mind that your story may be truly, objectively terrible. Writers can be drama queens too. I've been on the other end of the critique, giving other writers frank suggestions--and getting epic tantrums in return. Many, many writers believe they're misunderstood geniuses and any criticism of their work is a personal attack. Many others have no self-confidence and give up the first time someone points out a plot hole, burning their manuscripts and crying that they have no talent.

So before you write off criticism as the ravings of a selfish uninformed dream-smasher, take a step back from your work and your own ego. Remember that you don't write stories for yourself; you write stories for other people to read. If other people don't like them, it may be your fault.

November 17, 2013 at 11:59 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

G.B.--It's awful when a dreamsmasher affects your sales. Troll reviewers can do that too. We just have to pick ourselves up and try again.

Tamara--In the post above, I carefully noted the difference between dreamsmashers and experienced critiquers. People with no experience are unlikely to be able to give a useful critique. This is why I said you shouldn't ask non-writer friends to read your work.

A good critique will tell you what doesn't work in a constructive way so you can learn and improve your work.

A dream smasher just says mean things to make you feel bad because of his own emotional state.

I would never change my work because a non-professional says my work sucks. Although he can help me learn who ISN'T my audience.

But as I say in the post: I think you should NEVER ask a non-writer friend to critique a draft. The risks are too great (you could lose the friendship) for very little return (a non-writer isn't likely to be able to give helpful suggestions.)

Obviously writers who have tantrums after getting a sound critique from an experienced critiquer are still too amateurish to be ready for a professional career, but that's not what I'm addressing here.

November 17, 2013 at 12:23 PM  
OpenID paulfahey said...

Loved this post and not so much, Ruth's brother. :) I'm lucky in the sense I have a husband who leaves me alone--when I write. Also during NaNo this month, my publisher, JM Snyder of JMS Books, has set up a special spot on FB where we can post word counts and cheer each other on. YOur cover is terrific, Anne, and I can't wait to get a copy. I know you'll keep us all posted. Congrats to you and Ruth for the upcoming set. Even though I've read and loved The Gatsby Game, it's worth it to have both Allen/Harris works together. Paul

November 17, 2013 at 12:37 PM  
Blogger Phyllis Humphrey said...

Anne: What a great post. I learned my lesson years ago when I let my husband read a story I'd written and he said, "Why don't you write like Charles Dickens?" (That's not why I divorced him.) Current hubby is really helpful (he's now written two books himself.) But the best way to go is still the critique group that understands. My current group, alas, isn't so hot, but I've turned to Beta readers who have been pretty good.

November 17, 2013 at 1:24 PM  
Blogger Beth Havey@Boomer Highway said...

Thanks, Anne. This column really helped me as I have had my share of discouragement. And when friends don't ask about what you are doing or encourage you, it feels so disloyal. I have backed up what they are doing and feel they should back me up. Luckily I have family who believe in me AND I believe in myself.
Thanks again, Beth Havey

November 17, 2013 at 1:27 PM  
Blogger fOIS In The City said...

Amen to perspective, Ruth and Anne. We need that, a tough hide, a storng will and a good sense of humor. Hey, I'd rather laugh :)

November 17, 2013 at 1:42 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Paul--Even the most understanding spouse can get a little annoyed during NaNo. But how great that your publisher is so encouraging and gives you a way to network and give mutual support! Small publishers can be great that way.

Phyllis--Charles Dickens!? That's exactly the kind of clueless remark I'm talking about. Just not helpful. So great you found a partner in writing crime :-) Since you were a member of my very first critique group, thanks much for your expertise. Good critiquing is a specialized talent.

Beth--It can feel like a betrayal, can't it? We go through their trials and tribulations with their love life or work or volunteer groups, but for some reason people don't want to hear about your writing. I don't really know why it is. Maybe because something like 88% of people think they have a book in them, so they're envious? Not sure. But you're lucky to have family to give you support.

Fois--Ruth's advice is spot on. We gotta laugh and not take them too seriously. Like Phyllis' husband's remark. It's hilarious to think of somebody trying to write like Charles Dickens today. In fact, that might be a great idea for a comic tour de force...

November 17, 2013 at 2:25 PM  
Blogger abby said...

Thanks for the courage to dust off the keyboard and keep writing!

November 17, 2013 at 3:02 PM  
Blogger JoLynne Lyon said...

I love this post! And it has made me so much more grateful for the writing buddies I have found. I always throught of writing as a solitary persuit, so it's a pleasant surprise to discover that it's brought real friends into my life. It also made me realize that in another life, I've been a writing villain--often without meaning to. I'm better now.

November 17, 2013 at 3:14 PM  
Blogger CS Perryess said...

Bravo to the new collaboration. May it do famously.
In terms of Dreamsmashers & such, I count myself screamingly fortunate. Most of the negative voices regarding my writing come from within. Thankfully, a good whack in the head usually shuts them up & sets them back.

November 17, 2013 at 3:26 PM  
Blogger Liz Penney said...

Thanks for this post. I had a few experiences that stung at the time:
- an English-major friend who wanted her "red pencil" when she read my first story (at age 20)
- my ex-husband who refused to read anything I wrote because he was sure he'd have to criticize it - and said once about another writer I admired: but HE's a good writer
- the boss who said another staff member (ironically now my SIL) was "the writer" on staff.

Since then I've written literally hundreds of business articles, been published in the Boston Globe, and now have a 3-book mystery contract. And I'm an Asst. Editor. To be honest, I made sure all three of them learned of my achievements.

I have a new supportive husband who encourages me and is a beta reader. (he writes too) It's the pearls before swine thing--be careful who you show your work to and/or discuss your dreams with. I don't really talk about it with anyone. Many many people have dreams but don't want to do the work. "I've always wanted to write." Well, sit your butt down then and do it!

November 17, 2013 at 6:23 PM  
Blogger ED Martin said...

A close family member has been very negative about my writing - from comments like "who would want to read what you write," to actually making fun of me behind my back for writing. Now that I'm published, however, this person is telling everyone they know that their family member is published (although they've made no attempt to read my book).

The whole thing really hurts, but it's helped to thicken my skin and learn to just ignore critics' unhelpful comments. And fortunately the rest of my family is supportive enough to make up for it!

What's helped me with family and friends is to let them know I'm published and then leave it at that. If they ask to read my stuff, I'll tell them where to find it, but I don't force them to read it. That way they don't feel obligated to give feedback when they don't know what to say.

November 17, 2013 at 6:38 PM  
Blogger Meghan Ward said...

Ruth's story is heartbreaking! My brother once told me: "What do you want to be a writer? Don't you know that all writers are crazy?" And when I told my mother I wanted to write (25 years ago), her response was, "Marty (different brother) is a good writer." Thanks, Mom! Now I'm surrounded by enough successful professional writers that's there's always a lot of encouragement. And my family has stopped thinking I'm crazy to want to write. I think they secretly all want to be writers themselves :)

November 17, 2013 at 9:06 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

abby--I know it can be hard when you've been squelched, but you're exactly right: dust off and keep on keeping on!

JoLynne--Thanks for saying that! I have been a villain too. Back when I was squelching my own muse, I fear I gave some clueless and unkind feedback to writers who were braver than I was at the time.

CS--You bring up an important point. Most of the squelchers and smashers succeed because their comments team up with our own self-doubt. The enemy is within as well as without.

Liz--Congrats on all your awesome successes. And yes, you've got it just right: it's the wannabes who can be the cruelest, because they can't face the butt-in-chair, blank-page thing. So they try to convince themselves that it's all futile.

ED--You've got it exactly right. It took me a long time to get to that level of wisdom: let people know you have published work and then if they want to read it, it's up to them. And yes, there's usually somebody who needs to ridicule you. If you're lucky, they'll come around. And it all helps us develop the thick hide we need in this business.

November 17, 2013 at 9:11 PM  
Blogger Julie Musil said...

I can't believe Kristin's minister said that to her :(

So far I've been lucky in that everyone who is close to me is super supportive. Will it always be that way? I have no idea. I'll be on the lookout for the vampires mentioned in this post.

November 17, 2013 at 9:29 PM  
Blogger Rosi said...

I guess I'm pretty lucky. I have a very supportive family and excellent critique partners. But I have never tried NANOWRIMO. If I do that , maybe it will be a different story.

November 17, 2013 at 10:38 PM  
Blogger Cynthia said...

While I've met mostly people who are supportive of my fiction writing ambitions, I've come across a few people who, to put it mildly, make inconsiderate comments about what I'm doing. Addressing this second group, I try not to put too much weight on the words of someone who doesn't know what they're talking about.

November 17, 2013 at 11:57 PM  
OpenID findingtimetowrite said...

I'm now trying to post a comment for the third time, so let's hope it's a lucky one.

November 18, 2013 at 5:22 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Ooops, and it went off by itself, without the actual comment...
I wanted to say that I wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry in recognition when I read your post. I've also met some further subcategories which may be familiar to you and your readers:
1) People who don't even attempt to read your work, because you don't write in their favourite genre. 'Why can't you write more like Neil Gaiman or Terry Pratchett?' Well, yes, I enjoy them too, but I can only write like myself...
2) People who only take your paid work seriously and cannot understand why you would turn down a work gig to get some writing done. 'If you do have to write, why not publish a nice non-fiction book in your field?'
3) Spouses who claim they are very supportive of your dream, but then complain that you are constantly hunched up in front of your laptop (even as you have to prise the iPhone or tablet from their hands during family dinners). They are also the ones most likely to pipe out (with impeccable timing) the immortal phrase: 'You still haven't finished that novel?'
4) Children who are proud that Mum has had something published in an anthology, whinge loudly that they aren't allowed to stay up late to attend the public reading from the anthology and then, when you organise a private reading at home for them, they get bored halfway through and start playing wrestling games with each other. Bless!

I could go on, but I am working hard on developing my rhino-hide to deflect these fateful arrows or blunt-force traumas.

November 18, 2013 at 5:29 AM  
Blogger Priscilla Strapp said...

Timely. Incredibly timely. Finally came out of weeks of darkness after reading a currently successful, but long-time rejected author's take on dreams and purpose, and risk only to have my dear family member suggest that dreams, vision, and passion for words are not enough. Must earn money, after all. She followed that up by taking my newly realized (and foolishly shared) mission and using it as a weapon against my WIP. How could I be writing truth when my premise creeped her out?

November 18, 2013 at 5:31 AM  
Blogger Trekelny said...

Such an important topic, and so hard to resolve. I think Anne, you reacted just like a writer! Describing characters and their place in the world- and lined up as you have them, the comic tale would roll right out. Me, hint? Well, hardly ever...
But e-pub and indie pub force us to ask these questions in the knowledge that certainty will surely elude us. Hey look, I'm getting lots of great feedback... that must mean... I'm asking the wrong people. Ditto great reviews, even lots of sales (plenty of clunker best-sellers out there). So most of us flop back to something internal ("you know, it just felt right") and we're back to self-justification. Which is better than self-loathing.
The writer's group is the closest-to-best solution, in my view, because it's MUTUAL. We post chapters to a board (not open to all, have to be a member) and whomever is active at that time (usually 2-5 people) comments. One readily confesses she's a grammar-nazi; I warn ahead of time I focus maniacally on character; only one of the group is an avowed heroic fantasy writer like me. But when you can't corner the author alone, when you have to post comments for the group to see, you focus on the positive and treat each other as equals.
And when three of them in a row tell me, "wow this world detail section is heavy sledding- can it, um, go later in the story?" I know I'm in trouble.
And I don't have a solution, but I start seeking one instead of going arms akimbo and muttering "no one understands me"! Those words are on a sign over the back-exit from the Writer's House.

November 18, 2013 at 5:39 AM  
Blogger Churadogs said...

I wonder if artists, writers, and other creative types are particularly in need of constant approval and support or particularly vulnerable to any kind of criticism or benign neglect, or have a harder time than "normal" people in dealing with a world that is often indifferent or hostile to their efforts? I know the creative act is incredibly hard and putting yourself out there on a page, on a canvas, on a stage can be really, really hard on the psyche, especially when the world yawns and walks past, uncaring. Or laughs and points.

And judging your own work accurately, objectively takes an extraordinarily difficult-to-achieve skill set.

And I wonder if that (too easily wounded) "artistic temperament" presumes that the world should somehow care more about their "dreams," even though it's been my experience that the World is indifferent to everybody's dreams, be they a writer or inventor or entrepreneur or even a kid who wants to be the first in his family to get a BA.

The "Art Biz" is particularly tough, tough, tough so, as Ruth Harris notes, you better develop a thick hide. And low expectations. That way, if something even modestly good happens to your "dream," you'll be happy.

As for never allowing an amateur to read/critique your work-in-progress, isn't the amateur the writer's ultimate critic? They're called customers. :-)

November 18, 2013 at 6:41 AM  
Blogger Creaky door writer said...

I sent an early draft of my current WIP to an old family friend, who I have known since I was a baby, because he is a published author. I asked him for a line or two of endorsement, if he felt he could give it, for me to put on query letters. What came back, passed by him to my Dad, could only be described as an extremely hostile review. I could not believe that a family friend could send such a thing. I sent him a note to that effect, then sent my draft to another published author, who had written the novel 'If' on which the iconic film was based. He sent a lovely endorsement. I'll never know what possessed the family friend to be so unkind, when a simple 'I don't feel I can endorse it as it needs a lot of work, but good luck etc' would have done. I have never done anything to offend him, and helped nurse his wife when she was dying. A bruising episode, but I concluded it said more about him than about my work.

November 18, 2013 at 7:50 AM  
Blogger Sisters in Crime Central Coast Chapter said...

A cousin threw my second book down with the comment: "I guess you've got some talent, but I don't see it."

With cousins like this, who needs enemies? (Sometimes only a cliche will do.)

November 18, 2013 at 8:35 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Julie—Glad to hear you've been lucky. But we have to keep vigilant. Even a successful career doesn't make you immune to the vampires. Sometimes your success is what sets them off. Once you're "a published author" you're a public figure, so you become fair game for the nasties.

Rosi—NaNo does put a strain on relationships. I wouldn't attempt it unless you live alone or have a very understanding family.

Cynthia—That's the only way to deal with it. Remind yourself these people are clueless and take their remarks accordingly. Any two-year-old can say "yuck." It takes intelligence and education to understand how the publishing industry works.

Findingtime/Unknown. I apologize for Blogger's hoop-jumping. I wish they'd make it easier to comment if you don't have a Google+ ID, but of course they're trying to force everybody to join Google+.

These stories are kind of heartbreaking, but unfortunately, pretty universal. I think every writer has heard that "what, you haven't finished that novel yet?" line. I used to be miffed when friends wouldn't read my work, but now I'm usually relieved, because the deafening silence from ones you know HAVE read it is even more painful.

And they all help us develop that rhino-hide we'll need when we start getting those inevitable one-star reviews.

Pricilla—Ouch. That's a mean one. It's remarks like that that probably prompted Chris Baty to invent NaNo to avoid family Thanksgivings. Sorry you're going through that. We writers have to stick together when we get hit with that stuff.

November 18, 2013 at 10:01 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Trekelny—You bring up some good points here. Self-publishers can be clueless amateurs who haven't put in their 10,000 Malcolm Gladwell hours. (That's why I think all writers should work on learning their craft at least three years before they publish.)

And as you say, the best way to do that is in a critique group. A safe, well-mannered one. Our fledgling muses need a place of safety to learn our craft. Family and friends are often not safe at all.

Churadogs—It may be that creative people are more sensitive and do need reassurance. That's no reason to deny it to them. Some puppies need to be petted more than others. Do you think those dogs should be kicked and neglected "for their own good"? People who would rather not be around sensitive people would be better off making friends at sports events or other "tough guy" venues.

Learning to write well requires a long learning curve. We need to do that learning in a safe environment. That's where we need good teachers, not dream-smashers.

And as far as ignorant amateurs being the ultimate judges, I don't agree. If that were true, we'd have no Picassos or Jackson Pollocks ("My two year old can paint better than that!") The art world would be nothing but Thomas Kinkade as far as the eye could see. Luckily, professionals still have some say in things. "Customer reviews" are certainly moving us to a Thomas Kinkade world, but luckily, we're not there yet.

Creaky Door. Wow. I'd say that family "friend" had some issues of his own. And he couldn't even respond to you—he had to say it to your dad. So sorry you had to go through that.

As Michelle D. Argyle's piece says, it's not a good idea for friends to critique friends, and it would have been so much kinder if he'd simply said he didn't read unpublished work. That's my policy. I've worked as a paid editor, so I if I read a WIP outside of my critique circle, I want to get paid.

Sisters—I'd like to say I don't have friends and family like that, but I fear we all do.

November 18, 2013 at 10:04 AM  
Blogger Nancy Beck said...

It's not so much sabotaging my writing - friends and family just don't care.

Needless to say, I don't bother talking about it with anyone any more.

Except other writers.

November 18, 2013 at 11:51 AM  
Blogger Marie Force said...

I have another perspective to add to this... Back in 2003, right around the time I got serious about pursuing my longtime dream of writing books, my mother got sick with pancreatic cancer. She died in Aug. 2004. When I finished my first book(s) in 2005 and 2006, several of her friends, who knew I'd been writing and finished a couple of books, asked to read them. The stuff they said to me (such as: Your book kept me up all night OR My husband had to fend for himself for dinner because I couldn't stop reading) kept me going when I was being rejected by agent after agent, editor after editor. I figured if they who were regular women (meaning not industry people or writers) loved my books, maybe someday other regular women would too. I wrote seven books before I sold in late 2007. They made sure I didn't give up when the first six didn't sell. All of those early books are now on sale and making money every day. I've written 30 books, made the NYT list four times this year with four different books and have sold 2 million books since my 2008 debut. Every time I see that particular group of women, as well as several other friends who also encouraged me every step of the way along with my own incredibly supportive family, I thank them for not allowing me to give up. While all of your points are very well taken and very often true, sometimes friends say exactly what you need to hear right when you need to hear it. I'm grateful every day for the friends who kept me going when the industry wanted nothing to do with me. Turns out there were other regular women who loved my books. Lots of them.

November 18, 2013 at 12:03 PM  
OpenID jennifertanner said...

Hi Anne,

Boy, this post takes me back to a creative fiction class I took as a sophomore. I got an A and a close friend, who took the same class, different section, told me that my writing sucked and that my professor was lax about giving out grades. I learned then that sometimes those closest to us don't want us to succeed. It's a lesson I'll never forget. Thanks for another terrific post.

November 18, 2013 at 1:05 PM  
OpenID sandrudm said...

No, this couldn’t happen to other people? Relatives and friends not supporting you, being jealous, ignoring you, and even _____ you can fill the blanks. But that’s life, and although we can chose our friends we cannot chose our relatives. It would be nice to be born in an artsy-fartsy family, and be encouraged to create, but that’s not reality. Sure, my parents encouraged me to be creative until I became a teenager; then getting ready for “the real life” started. Practicality trumps dreams.
However, let’s look at this from their point of view. Sure there are famous and rich authors out there, but not You. What makes You different? What makes You special? By having such lofty ambitions you upset the order of the relatives-friends tribe. Not too mention that most may not read books at all. Some may not read any fiction. So, why bother them with your dreams, your writing, or even your books? I know you want them to be proud of you. It’s not going to happen until you make serious money and they’ll see you on TV. Then the relationships will change, and new headaches will start.
So what to do? Test the waters and see their reactions, if positive continue to engage them on the subject of your writing. If not, close the drapes, shut your mouth and find other people aspiring like you, either in person, or online. Like this forum.
One thing you should never do, don’t give up, stand tall and say to them and anyone else:
-I am a writer/author,
-My latest published book is “RIP, the Death of a Vampire” and give them your elevator spiel,
-I’ve published so many books as of today: five,
-I’m in the middle of writing a new novel, and it is great!
Why say all these things? The only one who needs to believe in you is You. Act and talk like a writer/author and you are one. :)

November 18, 2013 at 1:19 PM  
Blogger Debby Gies said...

Excellent poat. Things we think about, yet may not recognize. Still, I can attest to many on the list. Almost done reading Sherwood, love it! Looking forward to getting the collaboration combo with Ruth's book! :)

November 18, 2013 at 1:31 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Nancy--That adds to the isolation of being a writer, doesn't it? I don't know where I'd be without my wonderful critique group and other supportive writers I've met since I started my writing journey. I'm lucky to have a mom who's a writer too, so she's always been supportive, and I had a couple of encouraging friends early on. But that's not the case for everybody. And most people have the reaction you're talking about. Basically "meh."

Marie--I'm honored to see you here! It sounds as if you're as good at choosing the right friends as you are at making good career choices. Congrats on going from all that rejection to becoming one of the top Romance writers around!

Jennifer--As you say, "sometimes those closest to us don't want us to succeed". It's true for a number of reasons. They may be competitive, like your "friend" or they may be fearful and genuinely afraid for you. Either way, you need to learn to tune out their noise or you'll get derailed. Sounds as if you did.

Sandrudm--That's an exellent point: when you aspire to something creative and "higher" than what's expected of you, you disturb the tribe. Fearful family members will feel personally threatened by your desire to upset the "natural" order of things.

Maybe it was better in the days when writers felt they had to go to "the big city" to live their dreams. They had to break from family and form a new "tribe" of other creatives. Now we try to remake our friends and family into a literary circle and it often doesn't work.

November 18, 2013 at 1:39 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Debbie--I'm so glad to hear you're enjoying Sherwood!

November 18, 2013 at 1:42 PM  
Blogger Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

I have a huge family, but only my sister, eldest daughter, and a couple of granddaughters have actually read any of my books. My sister, sweetie that she is, give a copy of my latest books to each of her kids. I've had more acclaim from an Indian doctor in my writers group who had introduced me to people like I'm a celebrity, "And she's had over 35 books published!" In reality, I think he's amazed I'm so old and still writing.

November 18, 2013 at 2:15 PM  
Blogger Marie Force said...

Nice to meet you, Anne. Thanks for the kind words!

November 18, 2013 at 2:45 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Meghan Ward--I missed you up there! Your comment must have come in when I was answering the ones above. Your brother may have thought he was "helping" by discouraging you from trying something he was scared to do. But it sure doesn't come across as helpful, does it? Wannabes are definitely the worst. When I was in the theater, the nastiest remarks about a show always came from the people who wanted to try out but were too chicken. They they'd say "I could have done that so much better!"

Marilyn--Good for your sister. My mom gave my books to all my cousins one year. I don't think any of them read a word. That makes it such a joy when you meet someone who is a real fan, like your doctor friend! 35 books and still keeping them coming is something to be awfully proud of.

Marie--Welcome. Do stop by again!

November 18, 2013 at 3:55 PM  
Blogger Christine Ahern said...

I don't know what I would do without my truth telling, helpful, supportive critique groups. I fell very lucky.

And, congratulations on your collaboration with Ruth, soon to be released new novel (fab cover by the way!) and on the re-release of your how to survive book. All wonderful news and well deserved!

November 18, 2013 at 3:55 PM  
Blogger Kate Upmoor said...

How do you find a writing group???? Post an ad on craigslist?

November 18, 2013 at 4:21 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Christine--We are indeed lucky in our critique group. They're sometimes off in their suggestions, but they can pinpoint where there's a problem. Yeah, three books coming out before Christmas. The two-fer is already up on Amazon and Nook and we've made a few sales!

Kate--Yikes. I wouldn't start with Craigslist. Could be creepy. If you want an in-person group, check your local libraries and bookstores and maybe alternative newspapers for notices of meetings. See if a national organization in your genre has a local chapter, like RWA or Sisters in Crime.

Online, you have your pick. I recommend CritiqueCircle.com and SheWrites and that GalleyCat service I mention is a link to their sign-up form. They match you with just the right people.

November 18, 2013 at 4:34 PM  
Blogger Morgan Prince said...

This is fantastic advice Anne!

I have to admit that my plan was to let the hubby be the first to read my WIP but I want it to be 'just right' before he does. I know...

Anyway, I think I'm going to check out those websites you mentioned and see how I get on. Thanks.

Morgan x

November 19, 2013 at 3:56 AM  
Blogger Judith Mercado said...

Anne, as always, your posts are insightful. And, yes, I've made the mistake of asking non-writer friends and family. I received input similar to what you describe. Live and learn.

Different subject: I don't know whether it is my computer, but every time I click on the WANA and ALEX links in the paragraph starting with "One thing that can help a lot ...," I get sent to a blogger setup page.

Different subject again: after a long hiatus during which I was dealing with serious health and family issues, I've come back to my blog to announce the coming publication of a poetry book. Yes, I've lost most of my readership in the interim. Perhaps you can devote a post at some point to discussing how to sustain those reader connections through "thick and thin."

Thanks again.

November 19, 2013 at 6:14 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Morgan--I think your instinct to make sure the book is "just perfect" before showing it to your hubby is a good one. And get it "perfect" by using beta readers or a critique group. People you don't have an emotional relationship with are best. Best to separate the pain of learning from your support people. The online critique groups are great because it's easy to leave if the first one is not the group for you.

Judith--Good to see you and thanks for the heads-up! I've fixed those links now. Blogger was being squirrely the day I put in the links and even though I tested them, Blogger elves seem to have had other plans.

When you need to take time off from blogging, I realize it's hard to keep your audience. But now that you're back, maybe the best thing is to visit the blogs of some of your former blogpeeps and start commenting, as you've done here. You can even mention a subject you've recently blogged about-if it's in some way relevant--and invite people to stop by and get re-acquainted.

Generally, if you're going through a stressful period, it's best to post a hiatus with a beginning and and end. (I do know that's hard to predict) but if you can just post at least once a month after that to let people know you're there, that will keep people from losing track of you entirely.

November 19, 2013 at 10:12 AM  
Blogger Shah Wharton said...

I LOVE this post. It has pulled me up by my booties. I have met all of these no-marks a some point or another. My in-laws are good people but stuck in a time-warp and think I must be a vain creature because I self-publish stories about the supernatural. No worthy writers do such things. Grr! I try to move past it. It is doable, but I do so wish I didn't have to explain myself all the time. Unlike letdown friends, I cannot walk away from or even 'correct' my dear old delusional in-laws without them taking offence. Fortunate then that I don't see them too often. :)


November 20, 2013 at 1:54 AM  
Blogger Kittie Howard said...

I keep saying this, but it's true: Another great post! Since I'm a bit late to the party, I read through comments that included cousins of people I know. :) Note that I used the past tense! Research indicates friendships last 5-7 years. So it wasn't just the writing thing; it was an all-around jealousy thing that Did Not Work for me. Negaholics drain one's mental energy and so on. However, my husband is amazingly supportive. My family's in Louisiana/Texas and blissfully unaware Kittie Howard exists as Howard is a pen name. Life is good!

November 20, 2013 at 4:52 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Shah--Unfortunately, a lot of people do live in "time warps". I know people who are so stuck in the 1980s, they still wear the big hair and the shoulder pads. You're wise to see there's no way to communicate with these people. It's as if they really are separated from us by 30 years of time. And if you try to tell them people don't wear shoulder pads any more, they will be hugely offended. Their entire worldview is based on the premise that time stands still. The only thing to do is keep your sense of humor. After all, they're the ones who are absurd.

Kittie--"Negaholics"--What a great word!! I used to know more of them than I do now, but some linger. I'm fascinated by your statistic that friendships usually last 5-7 years. I'm sure that's right for me. But I always feel so guilty when I back away from a friendship. I guess I shouldn't. I've had to surgically remove some crazymakers from my life, which was painful, but I knew I could not succeed in this tough business with self-involved drama queens dominating my life.

November 20, 2013 at 9:41 AM  
Blogger Nina Badzin said...

I SO needed this four years ago. Sigh.

November 25, 2013 at 3:03 PM  

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