The responses people give when we tell them we write run the gamut from being impressed to thinking it's something any monkey with a typewriter can accomplish. Some of my favorites are...
"So people, like, pay you for that? I could write novels if someone paid me to do it."
"What, like that 50 Shades of Grey thing?"
"I'm writing a novel, too! I've been working on it for nineteen years and it's five hundred thousand words long. Can you read it for me and tell me how much money I can make on it?"
"I wrote a story about my dog dying when I was in the third grade. My mom thought it was the best thing she ever read."
"Woah! Do you know J.K. Rowling?"
Yes. She comes over for tea every Sunday and we paint our nails together.
Hopefully, though, the people we live with and love have a better idea of what being a writer actually means.
Well, that's what we hope...
But it doesn't always work out that way. Why? Because it's true: anybody can be a writer. That doesn't mean they take it seriously. Or treat their writing as a profession.
If you're reading this, you're probably someone who does aspire to write professionally, if you're not doing so already. So you know what it means to be a writer. But unless they're also involved in some sort of creative trade, a lot of the time our family and friends have no clue what that means. And because we live and breathe in entire worlds that exist only in our minds, it's sometimes hard to explain not only what we do and how we do it, but how it impacts us as people. There's a lot of truth in them there memes.
So how do we make our VIPeeps understand what the heck this is we do when we space out in front of our computers for hours at a time? We use the biggest writing lesson of all.
Show. Don't. Tell.
Here are ten ways we can show our friends and families what it means to be a writer.
1. Be serious about your writing time. In my last All the Feels post we talked about writerly time management. One of the things I mentioned was that it's important to make good use of your writer time. If your husband thinks you're writing but when he looks over your shoulder he sees you're chatting it up on twitter, he's going to think "writing" is code for dicking around with social media. If every time your girlfriend suggests you have dinner with her parents, you suddenly have a writing deadline to meet, then writing becomes code for "avoiding things my girlfriend wants me to do with her." Show your peeps you're serious about your writing time by taking it seriously.
2. Perfect your elevator pitch. Not only is this something you should be doing anyway, but it's natural for people to be curious as to what you're writing when you tell them you're a writer. Giving them a serious answer to the infamous "what do you write about?" question shows them it's something you take seriously and professionally.
3. Engage them in your creative process. My husband is an extremely reluctant beta reader. And by extremely reluctant I mean that if I ask him to read something I've written, his response is something like
My books are not the kind of thing he would ever pick up in the bookstore. So asking him to read my writing and tell me what he thinks is more likely going to send him running for the hills than actually help me in any way.
But writing is a job just like any other. There things about it that stress me out, relationships I build with CPs, agents, editors, etc, deadlines to meet, things I want to achieve, and things I accomplish. So when we debrief at the end of a workday, I make sure to debrief him on my work as well as listen to his. And I find ways I can relate to the things he shares. Especially if the significant people in your life work a VERY different job from writing, they may not know how to support you because they have no clue what "work" means to you.
4. Consider your family a source of inspiration. If there's somebody at hubby's job who's a couple fries short of a happy meal, who knows? They may make an awesome character for a future story. My dad did two tours in Italy in the U.S. Navy, and I've never been to Italy, so if I want to set a chapter there, he'd be a good person to consult. And kids? Kids are the most amazing resource a writer can have. Their creativity knows no boundaries, is not weighed down by reality the way an adult's is, and is almost always outside the box.
5. Keep a calendar/poster/dry erase board/massive collection of sticky notes related to your writing goals where your family can see them. This is visible proof that what you're doing isn't some nebulous fluffy puff nonsense but actual work. Not only that, but it gives you a sense of accountability. If you're counting down to a writing deadline that isn't just something you set for yourself but something you have to answer to, you're more likely to achieve it. And when you meet those goals, let your family and friends share in your victory.
6. Remember that jobs have working hours and nonworking hours and writers do, too. Setting boundaries for writing time is important not only for your family members but for you, too. You can't have relationships with real people if you're constantly focused on fictional people. So set yourself limits for the amount of time you spend on your writing. If you're the kind of person who writes when the mood strikes rather than on a set schedule, clue your family and friends into what that means, but make sure that time has a beginning and an end.
7. Be consistent about your boundaries and expectations. If you want your writing time to go uninterrupted, don't let yourself be interrupted. You can't tell your family not to bother you when you're writing, then answer any text message that pings your phone during that time. Let them know up front what boundaries you'd like (an hour of quiet where Dad plays outside with the kids, Sunday afternoons after family breakfast where everyone else does chores, that time when your main squeeze wants time with his buddies and you've got less than no interest in watching baseball with them.) If you have a hard time sticking to boundaries at home, take your writing someplace else. I have a semi-weekly standing date with my favorite Starbucks barista. I'm pretty sure she knows more about Skylar, my main character in IMPERFECTLY FINE, than my husband does. And that's okay.
8. Nip sources of writerly stress in the bud before it becomes a real conflict. If your family or friends aren't taking your writing seriously, let them know that you are. And if you feel like your writing isn't being respected, say something about it. Otherwise, you can't be pissed off when your husband blasts Melt Banana at full volume when you're trying to write. If they act clueless it's most likely because they are. And being irritated that your writing boundaries aren't being respected is not going to help your writing.
9. Don't forget that whole positive reinforcement thing. If your family respects your writing time and space, make sure they know you appreciate that. Thank the kids for playing quietly while you write for half an hour. Bring a frappaccino home to hubby as thanks for letting you get out of the house and work your writer brain for a couple hours. Take Fido on that long, exhausting walk he's been resisting the urge to beg for while you sit at your computer ignoring him. Turn off your machine and let Kitty keep it warm for a while.
10. Above all else, remember the golden rule. Because so much of our job happens in our heads, we get stuck there sometimes. We forget that our family and friends have their own work ish they may need support to deal with. And we forget that they need the most important thing of all.
Respect comes from respect, love from love, time from patience. Be sure you're giving your loved ones what they need, too.
What do you do to help the people in your life empathize with your writing needs?