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
, 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.
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.
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 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
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.
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.
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.
Labels: beta readers, Crazy-Makers, critique groups, Dream-smashers, GalleyCat, Holli Moncrieff, Julia Cameron, Kristen Lamb, NaNoWriMo, SLO Nightwriters