Welcome to the Writer’s Guide to Surviving your Non-Writer Family! Maybe your family has known about your passion and savvy ways with words for years, or perhaps you have only recently stepped from the shadows where you were once a closet writer. Either way, it is safe to say that non-writers do not always understand the strange ways of the writer. Herein, we will address the most common frustrations and pet peeves from writers and authors from all around the world, because, trust me, you are not alone.
Most Common Frustration #1:
Can you take a look at this short story/novel/resume/love letter for me? I just want it to be perfect. You know, just make sure everything’s spelled right, is all. Oh, and if you see something you think should be changed, you can do that too. But, I still need it to sound like me, though.
Now that you have “come out” to your family that you are a writer, you will be inadvertently placed in a different caliber of people among your family. Just as the lawyer in your family is always being asked for legal advice, or the veterinarian in your family is always being asked to diagnose the family pet’s medical problems, you will now be asked about anything and everything that has to do with the English language.
I had someone I barely know want me to edit a 5 page love letter for them. It was a little awkward. I was actually in the middle of working on Book 2 of my current series when the Facebook Messenger bubble popped up with my friend’s plea for help. It was heartbreaking, so I stopped everything that I was doing, editing her letter, and was unable to get back into the right frame of mind to continue with my own work.
Be Honest. Don’t allow yourself to get walked on. As a writer, you know how valuable your time is – your family might not. It is important to educate them about it while still bearing in mind that you may need to sugar coat things down to non-writer terms.
“I would be happy to! With my current work load, I can probably get to that by Tuesday and have that done by Thursday. Does that work for you?”
“I am already in the middle of a paid editing job. I likely won’t have time for any big projects until this job is wrapped up next month.”
If your family member continues to push, remind them that you value their work as much as your own – which I’m sure you do. You want to do a great job, and you don’t feel right taking on the project if you can’t give it your best. When all else fails, try recommending someone else. This could be another writer in your family, a student who needs practice in editing and writing, or even a professional editor.
“I’m really sorry, Aunt Linda, but I just don’t have the time to dedicate to doing this the right way. Have you thought about letting Josie look at it? She’s in a college English class right now, so she could probably use the practice.”
Most Common Frustration #2:
“Now, I want your honest feedback on this. Tell me what you really think.”
“Okay, well, I think you could have a stronger opening if you moved this paragraph up here. And you seem to use this side character as an easy way for your main character to get the information they need. I’ve brainstormed a few alternative ideas that I think might add some depth to things. Also, you need to be careful of your purple prose. It can be a bit jarring, and with your main writing style, it feels a little off. I have put in a few recommendations of how to change the wording.”
“Well you don’t have to be so RUDE about it! I worked really hard on this, you know! You don’t have to be so mean!”
Asking for advice and either not taking it or getting extremely offended is not just a fault of those family members who are less dedicated to the art of writing as you are, it is a fault of several professional authors everywhere. Writers are sensitive beings by nature. We take any form of criticism very harshly, even if it was never intended to be that way.
However, it can be very frustrating no matter what end of it you are on. You put a lot of time and effort into helping your friend or family member only for them to get upset about it.
Make a critique sandwich.
Find as many good things as you possibly can about their work, and strategically think about how you want to present it to them. Always start off with something good to say. Then, talk about something you feel could use some improvement, suggest a change, etc., but always tell them that it is their decision in the end. After all, this is their work.
Lastly, follow up with something else that was really good about their short story / novel / poem, etc. Your favorite character, your favorite scene, a favorite line. Always end on a good note. While this is no guarantee that they still won’t get offended, it can help lessen the blow, you’ll know you truly put forth an effort to be as nice as possible (you can have a clear conscious that their attitude is not your fault), and it may help to save your relationship.
Most Common Frustration #3:
Oh, my God! You have to make me a character in your book!
There seems to be an allure to the average person of being made a character in a book. Like somehow, once the book takes off, it’s a guaranteed rocket ship to stardom. For others, it’s the idea of seeing themselves in a role they never would be able to fill in real life. And for some, it’s a way to see what the author really thinks of them. No matter what the person’s reasoning, take heart in knowing they mean no harm in their asking. But, if you are one of a number of writers out there, putting people you know into your stories (or at least, not so you can kill them off to release your frustration) can be very difficult.
Writers understand amongst each other that our characters are like real people to us. We slave over their appearance and back stories. We figure out their dreams and fears and career ambitions. Even if they only have one line in the entire book. To put a friend or family member smack in the middle of your Chesapeake Bay romance novel, or parallel universe Steampunk mystery can be even more daunting than coming up with your major plot points.
There are a plethora of ways to get around this one. Think of a number that appeal to you, and practice keeping them at the ready when this situation arises. Here are a few recommendations:
- Ask the person how they see themselves fitting into your book. They might have a good idea for a one-off or side character you could use as filler. If they have no idea, then be honest and tell them you also are not sure how they could fit in.
- As recommended by another author, tell them you already have put them in your novel, but don’t tell them which one. Even if you haven’t, this is a good way to get them excited about your book, and get them to read your book. However, be prepared once they finish your book and begin asking you which character it is to answer them. You’ll either need to make something up, or stick to your guns about not telling them.
- Be honest and tell them you have all of your characters already worked out for your current work in progress, but you will think about it and might be able to think of something for a novel in the future.
Most Common Frustration #4:
Can I read what you’re working on? Can I be one of your beta readers? Can you give me a copy of your book so I can read it?
Oh, I haven’t gotten around to reading it yet, so I can’t give you any feedback.
Nothing is worse than a family member who constantly pesters you about wanting to read your stuff, but never gets back to you about it when you do get it to them. Don’t worry, this is a family member who is trying to be supportive. They likely don’t understand how to do it effectively for you. They may not have the time to read your work, or it’s not a genre that is of particular interest to them. They mean well, and that is what matters the most.
If you take your writing seriously, you understand that this is like a second job to you. And, as the old adage goes, never mix family with business. The same goes for your writing. If your family would like to read your work, feel honored that they are wanting to support you to that degree. But do not rely on them for the feedback that you would expect from a beta reader or an editor. When you are ready to seek outside advice for your writing, your family and non-writer friends should never even be on your list of people to ask.
Oh, so you’re a writer? A fantasy writer? So, you write about magic and dragons and stuff? Aren’t you a little old for that kind of thing? Oh, it’s a fantasy romance? What, does the dragon fall in love with the princess? How would that even work? You know, them having kids and stuff? Where do you go to learn about dragon anatomy? Is there some nerd website out there for it?
If you are among the unlucky 99% of writers in the world, you have that family member that seems to go out of their way to tease you about your writing. It doesn’t matter what you say, what you are working on, or even if they were the ones who asked what seemed like a reasonable question first. Just as there are those who are ignorant to other people’s religions, there are those who are ignorant to the vast majority of hobbies that they do not practice themselves.
As mentioned before, writers are extremely sensitive. Writers need to understand their characters on every level in order to write them believably. This leads to a person who feels everything very deeply, and looks for the hidden messages in every line of dialogue spoken at the dinner table.
While it takes time, understand there is little you can do change these people. They are who they are. The best advice is to not talk to these people about your projects if at all possible. If they ask questions, give them the shortest responses possible. Avoid talking about it as much as you can.
Then, when all is said and done, after the dinner is over, and you’re on your way back home, allow yourself to wallow just a little bit in that anger, sadness and frustration. Call it character development research. Once you have hit the point where you find yourself replaying what you wish you could have said for about the third time, it’s time to move on. Throw on your favorite music, watch your favorite movie, meditate, spoil yourself and stop by the specialty chocolate shop.
You cannot push the emotions you feel down forever. You need to allow yourself to feel them, but you need to do so in a safe environment, aka: AWAY from the teasing relative. You also cannot allow yourself to be filled with these emotions forever. It’s important to learn to let them go. In the end, the only person’s opinion of your work is your own, and if you are enjoying writing, then that’s all that matters.