Writing is typically a solitary activity. But all writers are very dependent on family and friends for support– financially, emotionally, and logistically. It is hard when that support isn’t there the way we want it to be.
There are a lot of ways we can feel unsupported as authors. One of the big ways is a lack of verbal feedback, be it encouragement, interest, and of course, reviews and feedback! This happens even if our books aren’t published yet. For example, if I send a chapter to a friend to see if what I’ve written is interesting so far, it’s hard to hear back that she’s not interested or worse, that she never found time to read it at all.
We want people to say, “Hey, you’re writing a book, and it’s awesome. I love all your ideas. Keep going!” But sometimes they don’t say that. Our heads jump into, “They don’t love me, they don’t like my book, I should just drop it and go back to doing nothing.” That’s probably not the case. Let me tell you about some possible reasons why they’re “unsupportive”.
They might not know how to support you.
Several years ago, I had just gotten a haircut— and it was a pretty drastic haircut. I went from really long hair to a haircut just above my shoulders, so this was no trim. I came inside to find two of my boys home at the time. They were probably 7 and 9 at the time. I said, “Look! I got a haircut!” They looked at me, said nothing, and went back to their game.
I realized they might need some help on what’s socially appropriate here, so I said, “You know, when someone gets a haircut, the nice thing to say is, I like your hair.” Their faces dropped. They knew exactly where this was going, and they hated it already. But they still didn’t say anything. So I paused their game and said, “I’m going to wait until you can say something nice about my hair.”
Finally, one of my sons took a deep breath and mumbled, “You have brown hair.”
This makes me laugh every time I remember it. But it provided a lot of insight into getting compliments and why, sometimes, those we love stay silent.
They don’t know they should be complimenting you.
It is possible, even likely, that most people don’t know how difficult it is to write a book. Even if they do, maybe they don’t know that you’re seriously writing a book, that it’s more than just a cute little idea of something you’re going to do for a few months. When someone says, “I’m training for a 5K”. I tend to say, “Hey! That’s fun! Good for you!” But I don’t typically ask for updates, follow-up, or comment on posts about it on Facebook, because lots of people run 5ks, and lots of people do it who aren’t particularly good.
Now if someone broke a record and went on to the Olympics or got a sponsorship, I’d be like, “Whoa! Wait a second. That’s super cool!” Because at that point I would recognize that they were doing something that very few other people can do.
There might be some ignorance on their part about what it means to write a book– the time involved, the work, the vulnerability. But ignorance is not the same as active discouragement.
Some people are uncomfortable giving compliments.
Just like my boys were terrified when they could sense what I was going to make them compliment my hair, others are like that as well. When you say, “Hey! I’m writing a book!” I’m sure they’re proud to know you and admire all the imagination and dedication that you have, and I’m sure many of them wish they could write a book as well– but the actual words of, “This so awesome, and I’m proud of you, and keep me posted on your progress,” can be very difficult for people to say. But again. This isn’t a problem with you or with your book. This is a problem with the emotional capacity of those around you.
There is a quote I love and I share it often:
“Just because someone doesn’t love you the way that you want, doesn’t mean they don’t love you with all that they have.”
Let’s use an analogy here about something that feels less personal than our writing. If I were in a financial bind and needed $1000, there are certain family members I would not ask– not because I don’t love them or they don’t love me, but because I know that these people don’t have $1000 to give me. And if I were to say, “Hey I’m in a bind, and they don’t cough up the dough, I’m not hurt, because I recognize they don’t have the money. It’s not that they don’t want to or they’re judging me or they think I’m stupid for getting myself into debt– they just don’t have the money.
People have emotional limits as well. Some people are very good listeners, they’re very supportive, they’re involved, they’re very open about the way they express love– and others aren’t. Just because your father has never said the words “How is your book coming along?” doesn’t mean he doesn’t like it. He may be unable to express his love or his support in that way or at that level.
Some people are very bad at giving compliments.
I laugh at this story, but I had an elderly neighbor who I enjoyed visiting with. A lot of the time she got confused. We had talked about my book, and I had shared updates with her. One afternoon, we were chatting and she said, “Are you done with your book yet?” And I said “No, I’m still working.” And she said, “Didn’t you say that last time I talked to you?”
She had a great point, and I was not at all offended, because like I said, she was old and often confused. But I recognized that she was showing interest in my interests and her asking me about them was her showing support, even if her response was different than I would have liked or different than I would have offered to someone in my shoes.
Your husband might say, “How’s your little book?” and your instinct might be to find offense at that statement because it’s not a “little” book. And how can he be insensitive? This is a novel, and I don’t see him trying to write a book.
My question is: was your friend or family member being rude and dismissive? Was that his or her intention? Or are they just really bad at giving compliments?
I’m curious how many questions or opinions about our books are not at all intended to be offensive, and instead are meant as, “Hey I know that you’re working on a really fun project, but I don’t understand how big of a project it is or what I should say about it.” Especially because writing a book and getting it published can be such a long journey. And the longer we are on this journey, the more rejections and setbacks and disappointments we see, and that can be hard for people to know how to respond to as well.
If this is the case with any of your friends or family members, there are a couple options for how to deal with it. And you can decide what to do about it– you might choose to educate them. For example:
“Hey, this is a big deal, and I’ve been working on it for months, and I have big goals, and I’d love for you to be a part of this.”
Or: “When I get a rejection, I would love it if you could remind me how special my story is rather than sharing the bleak statistics about publishing.” Or, “Hey, I just hit 50,000 words and this is a big milestone, do you want to celebrate with me?”
If you don’t want to educate them, you might choose to say to yourself- my mom, spouse, or best friend doesn’t understand how incredible this project is, and that’s ok. I love them anyway. I know that what feels like a lack of support and love is really just a lack of understanding on their part about what I’m doing.
If your support group isn’t very supportive about your writing, you can expand your support group. Go find writer friends! One of the best things about writing a book and stepping into the author world is the windows it opens so you can meet new people. These people can be a great support on your writing journey. It is not the job of your family and friends to keep you motivated to write. If they can, great! If not, go find that motivation elsewhere, either with friends who write, or find it within yourself.
However, sometimes people don’t like our books, and they’re very vocal about that. Someone might even say, “Your book is stupid and you shouldn’t write.”
Here are three questions to consider-
1. Is this feedback from your ideal audience or an industry professional?
If not, disregard it. This is a ‘thanks, but no thanks’ situation. If your mother doesn’t like your story because it’s a bloody thriller and she’s used to historical fiction, disregard her comments. If your friend is shocked about how much you spent on your cover, and “Are you even going to get that money back?” but she doesn’t know anything about buying a cover- disregard it.
We tend to be very black-and-white in situations like this. We think if these people don’t like our book, then what we’re writing is bad and nobody else will like it either. That is not the case. Let me introduce you to five powerful words. She’s not my ideal audience. You can be writing a really good book AND your sister refuses to read it. Thanks, but no thanks. That feedback isn’t relevant to me, move on.
2. Do they have a valid point?
I hear this a lot from authors who complain about their spouses ‘not being supportive’. An author’s spouse may say, “I don’t think it’s a good idea to pay for an editor right now.” And we may take this to mean that they’re not supportive of our writing. But maybe this isn’t about your writing. Maybe it’s more about the budget, and right now an editor doesn’t fit in that budget.
Maybe he’s got a valid point
Another example is a spouse who says, “You know, this writing business isn’t earning money and we’re behind on bills, so maybe it’s time for a real job.” And we think this means that he doesn’t believe in us, and he thinks this isn’t real, and he’s not supportive. But that’s not what he meant. What he meant is that a stable income is your family’s priority right now, and until that need is met, writing might need to take a step back a little bit.
3: Do they offer support in other ways?
Sometimes our spouse and friends don’t like our books, and that’s ok. Maybe your spouse doesn’t want to read your paranormal romance. He can love you and support you in a million ways to let you make progress on your story without him actually reading it.
Sometimes we might want help brainstorming from our spouse and they just don’t know, or just don’t care. They don’t know what the villain used to poison the princess or what a realistic reason would be for a teen to run away from home. Maybe they don’t like talking about it because it’s not interesting to them, or they’re tired, or they have their own hobbies and interests they want to use their brain power on.
That’s ok. Maybe they tuck the kids in bed so you can write, or help you update your laptop, or brag about you to their friends when you’re not around. When our family and friends fall short in their support of us, it doesn’t mean they don’t like our books. It might mean that they’re supporting us in other ways that we can’t see right now.
It is human nature for one of our default responses to be defensiveness. This is magnified when we’re involved in something that leaves us so vulnerable, like writing, but most people aren’t as awful as our brain makes them out to be.
When you are feeling like those closest to you aren’t supporting your writing, my challenge for you is to determine why you’re feeling that way. What expectations are you placing on your family and friends in terms of their involvement in your goals– and if they’re not meeting your expectations, is there a valid reason why?
For those of you who need a little extra encouragement today– keep going! Every author in the world has struggled through bad first drafts and overwhelming rewrites and tons of rejections. If that’s where you are, you’re in an elite group of people striving to reach their goals. But this phase doesn’t last forever. Keep moving forward. Your story is powerful, and there’s a place for it in this world, and I for one, am excited to read it.