Delighted that Anne R. Allen accepted my invitation to be a guest during the run up to Christmas. As writers, we don’t always get the feedback we expect from family and friends, and Anne shares some of the ways it might sabotage our efforts.
How Well-Intentioned Loved Ones Can Sabotage Your Writing Career
Learning to write well is tough. Getting published is tougher. And selling your published books is tougher still.
Nevertheless, we persist. Most writers feel compelled to write, and usually nothing can stop us.
But we can be waylaid, distracted, and seriously discouraged. Some of us can’t write for years because of devastating “creativity wounds” and body-blows to our self-esteem. Misguided and untrained beta readers and critique groups can also kill a writer’s creativity.
Others quit writing after horrific experiences with scam publishing companies and bogus agents. I have written often about the publishing scammers who lie in wait for newbie writers. Do check out my posts on scams, and always check Writer Beware. Scammers can break your heart as well as emptying your bank account.
I’ve also heard from several authors who put their writing on hiatus after sadistic troll attacks derailed a fledgling writing career. (We had some great advice on how to fight online attacks from Chris Syme last week. Attacks like this were the inspiration for my novel So Much for Buckingham, which is now on sale)
But sometimes the writer’s most dangerous enemies are closer to home.
Here’s the problem: having a writer in the family can be threatening to loved ones on many levels. Suddenly that WIP gets the attention the family used to enjoy. Children resent not having access to a parent. Old friends feel miffed when you say you’d rather finish up that chapter than go for a beer or catch a movie.
Loved ones may not consciously acknowledge their resentment, but it may slip out in negative comments and actions.
Or they may be 100% genuine in their enthusiasm for your work, but their misconceptions about what it takes to write and how the industry works can push you to making bad decisions.
Loved Ones can Pressure Writers to Launch a Writing Career Too Soon
Even totally supportive family members can sabotage your writing career by pressuring you to publish before you’re ready.
Most publishing professionals agree that the #1 reason for publishing failures is the rush to publish too soon
And the #1 reason writers publish too soon is pressure from family members who don’t understand the publishing business.
I am amazed how many non-writers think writing a novel is the same as typing. They constantly ask why writing a novel takes so long.
Then they assume a completed first draft is ready to publish.
The latter can be forgiven. Every movie or TV show about a writer, ever, shows them writing “the end” and immediately sending the book off to a publisher.
But as we know, that never happens in real life. Or it shouldn’t.
Unfortunately some family members may be such believers in this delusion that they’ll send the manuscript off to an agent without the writer’s consent. These people (often doting moms) send howlingly clueless queries to agents, thinking the writer is simply afraid to publish. (BTW, no agent will ever accept a query from a third party.)
Do explain the reality of the situation to your family before you have to hide your name tag whenever you meet an agent at a conference.
Condescension and Dismissive Behavior can be as Dangerous as Outright Hostility
A spouse, child, or sibling may say they’re cool with your writing ambitions, and appear to applaud your efforts, but they sabotage you by not respecting your boundaries or making condescending remarks. Maybe they tell themselves they’re “protecting you from disappointment” by nudging you to diminish your goals.
The interrupters are the most infuriating. They say they support your writing, but somehow they don’t treat your writing as “work” so they’ll walk in on you every fifteen minutes for frivolous reasons. Or expect you to chauffeur them during your writing time, or babysit, fix the sink, or cook.
I knew one woman who invariably phoned me between 9 AM and 1 PM–which she knew was my writing time.
She’d ask “whatcha doin’?”
“Writing. It’s 10 AM.” I’d say though gritted teeth.
“I’m not doing anything either,” she’d say.
We did not remain friends.
The belittlers will call your work “scribbling” or laugh about the idea of your “hobby” developing into a writing career. Family members who haven’t read any fiction since their college days may talk as if writing novels is mindless and silly.
Or they’ll make fun of the fact you haven’t made much money yet, even though you’ve placed stories in dozens of journals.
“So are you going to buy a yacht with that big check you got from The Idaho Review?” they’ll ask.
You try to laugh. You’re afraid you’ll be considered a “bad sport” if you don’t take it.
But it’s not funny. You placed a story in a prestigious journal, which is an excellent step up the ladder of publishing success. You deserve congratulations, not derision.
It’s hard enough to live with the constant rejection we have to deal with in this industry. So when you’re disrespected in your personal life, it can feel like a double-whammy.
This stuff can hurt your writing and your health. You might want to show them this post.
Constant Negativity Stifles your Writing Career and Weakens your Health.
Here’s the thing. Negativity is toxic. It’s dangerous to your writing career and hazardous to your health. Research has shown that even a small amount of negative brain activity can lead to a weakened immune system, making you more prone to illness. Negativity compromises the effectiveness of the neurons in the hippocampus — the area of the brain responsible for reasoning and memory.
This means living with a negative person can literally sabotage your writing.
It happened to me this year. I rented my finished garage to an impoverished student with a sob story. For lowered rent, he was supposed to help me with heavy lifting and other things I couldn’t do because of an injury. He turned out to be more like Michael Keaton in Pacific Heights. He trashed the room and hung around all day, utterly useless, constantly making nasty remarks.
When he found me crying after one of my friends died suddenly, he said, “Everybody dies. Get over it.”
When my blogging book hit #1 on Amazon, he said, “I saw you bragging about that on Facebook. You should delete the post. That was just embarrassing.”
I kept reminding myself his opinion meant nothing to me. His lease would be up soon. I’d use his cruel zingers as hilarious dialogue when I skewered him in my next book.
But his negativity was slowly poisoning my life.
I lost all momentum on my new novel. My medical condition got worse. I came down with an endless case of bronchitis. The guy wouldn’t leave. Even after I discovered him stealing the silver, it took the whole neighborhood to finally evict the creep.
Negativity is a toxin. And it’s more powerful than we think.
“Poisonous Playmates” can Threaten your Writing Career
I’d also been dealing with a friend of a friend who professed to be a writer and asked for my help. He said he’d tried a critique group, and it wasn’t for him. He needed the advice of a professional author.
Or so he said. He’d invite me out for coffee on the spur of the moment, insisting it was urgent, then blabber about everything but writing.
Often he’d leave me twiddling my thumbs at the table when he worked the room at the coffeehouse, talking to everybody but me. At first I thought maybe he was extraordinarily shy about discussing his work.
But pretty soon I realized there was no work. This guy had never written more than a few unfinished stories. Writing was on his agenda for “someday.”
So why was he so eager to take up my time, only to waste it? Finally it dawned on me: The guy is what creativity guru Julia Cameron calls a “Poisonous Playmate.”
These are frustrated creatives who don’t have the discipline to make their own art, so they keep other people from creating. 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 art instead of them.
Writers are magnets for these people because we tend to be good listeners.
We need to erect strict boundaries and protect ourselves from their sabotage.
Those Friends Who Won’t Read Your Book
Then there are the friends and family who act supportive until you finally make it and publish that book. They may even ask for an autographed copy (which they often expect to be free.) But they never manage to get around to reading it.
Even if you’re well known, many friends and family members will refuse to read a word you write.
Recently a relative asked me to recommend a good mystery—something lighthearted and fun—like Janet Evanovich. I reminded her that I happen to write mysteries rather like that, but she immediately changed the subject. She made it clear she’d rather read a Klingon phone book than anything that came from my pen.
Sometimes family and friends fear they’ll see themselves in your work, but mostly they fear they’ll hate it and they won’t know what to say. They don’t think it can be any good if you wrote it.
My name for these people is “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 assume your work is terrible because it was written by somebody they know. No amount of success will convince them you’re any good.
I heard an interview with a famous film maker recently who said his father steadfastly refuses to see any of his films. You could tell he was sad about it and said he didn’t know why. But it seemed obvious to me that the dad was a Groucho Marxist.
How To Keep Your Creativity Alive in a Hostile Environment.
So what do we do? As you can see, we can find our creativity blocked by this stuff at any stage of a writing career. I thought I was enough of a pro that some medical setbacks and a couple of Donnie Downers couldn’t stop my productivity.
But I was dead wrong. For the first time in 25 years, the well went dry.
So what do you do if you’re fighting major negativity?
I’m not sure I would have made it through this tough time without this blog. Our commenters here have become friends. And newbies always have something helpful to offer as well. I love the positive energy you bring.
Also my in-person writing group has been a major source of strength during this time.
I think it’s vitally important for us—at any stage of a writing career—to seek out a supportive group of fellow writers. This can be online or in person. The group doesn’t have to critique or share work. You just need to have each others’ backs and be sympathetic to the ups and downs of this industry.
An online group I recommend wholeheartedly is the Insecure Writers Support Group. It’s free to join and they’re great people who can help with all aspects of becoming a published author.
As Ruth Harris wrote here a few years ago, a writer needs to develop a ‘rhino hide’ to get through the horrors of submissions and reviews, but when you’re a fledgling writer—or one dealing with toxic negativity—you also need a little help from your friends.
© Anne R. Allen (@annerallen) September 22, 2019
What about you, scriveners? Anne would love to know if you have you run into negativity from family or friends? Have you felt pushed to publish by people who don’t understand what it takes to launch a writing career?
About Anne R. Allen
Anne R. Allen is the author of ten comic novels. THE GATSBY GAME, FOOD OF LOVE, and THE LADY OF THE LAKEWOOD DINER are available singly or in a boxed set called BOOMER WOMEN. She’s also the author of the hilarious Camilla Randall mysteries: THE BEST REVENGE, GHOSTWRITERS IN THE SKY, SHERWOOD, LTD., NO PLACE LIKE HOME, SO MUCH FOR BUCKINGHAM, THE QUEEN OF STAVES, and GOOGLING OLD BOYFRIENDS. She is currently published by Kotu Beach Press.
She also has a collection of short stories and verses called WHY GRANDMA BOUGHT THAT CAR.
She’s the co-author of HOW TO BE A WRITER IN THE E-AGE…A SELF-HELP GUIDE, written with Amazon #1 seller, Catherine Ryan Hyde.
Her latest nonfiction book is THE AUTHOR BLOG: EASY BLOGGING FOR BUSY AUTHORS.
Writer’s Digest named “Anne R. Allen’s Blog…with Ruth Harris” one of the “Best 101 Websites for Writers”, and the blog made The Write Life’s list of the Best 100 Websites for Writers for 2017.
Anne is a graduate of Bryn Mawr College and spent twenty-five years in the theater–acting and directing–before taking up fiction writing. She is the former artistic director of the Patio Playhouse in Escondido, CA and now lives on the foggy Central Coast of California with an imaginary cat and a lot of fictional people.
Camilla Randall Mystery series book 7 – Googling Old Boyfriends.
About the book
“Okay, ’fess up.” Mickie McCormack’s eyes twinkled as she plunked a book on the counter. “If you’re that distracted by the Internet you’re either looking at porn or you’re Googling old boyfriends.”I felt my cheeks heat up. “Um, I’m guilty of the latter, I’m afraid. I’ve just run into an old boyfriend and he’s invited me to dinner, but…”The bell on the door jingled. There he was. Captain Maverick Jesus Zukowski, six foot, three inches of tall, dark, and the-one-who-got-away. ***The Camilla Randall mysteries are a laugh-out-loud mashup of crime fiction, rom-com, and satire. Morro Bay bookshop owner Camilla Randall is a magnet for murder, mayhem, and Mr. Wrong. But she always defeats the bad guys in her quirky, but oh-so-polite way.In this stand-alone 7th episode, Camilla befriends socialite Mickie McCormack—a sexy, mysterious older woman who’s going through a painful divorce.
Mickie has been Googling her old boyfriends to reconnect and “remember who she used to be.” Unfortunately every one of those boyfriends soon ends up dead. Is the serial killer Camilla’s old boyfriend Dr. Bob? Or one of Mickie’s old boyfriends? And can Camilla’s old boyfriend Captain Rick protect her and her cat Buckingham from being fed to the sharks before she solves the mystery?
One of the recent reviews for the book on Goodreads
A small selection of other books by Anne R. Allen
Read the reviews and buy the books: Amazon US
And: Amazon UK
Find more reviews and follow Anne on: Goodreads
Connect to Anne R. Allen
Book blog: http://annerallensbooks.blogspot.com/
Facebook Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/annerallenauthor/
Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/annerallen1
My thanks to Anne for sharing this with us today and it would be great to hear your perspective on the subject in the comments.. thanks Sally.