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Monday, July 17, 2017

How to Deal with People Who Don't Support Your Writing


Last week I outlined some reasons why people may not support your writing and promised that this week I'd have another writer tell us about how to deal with, work with, or communicate with those people. The writer asked to remain anonymous for reasons you'll understand in the post. And without further ado:





When somebody is critical and unsupportive of your writing, it’s important to open an appropriate channel of communication. Communication is NOT arguing your side of a disagreement, getting your point in, or making a home run comment that shuts down opposition. Communication must occur two ways. Real communication, and thus real results, won’t occur unless you speak and, more importantly, listen. Good communicators listen. Great communicators listen more than they talk.
“We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” –Epictetus

Ask yourself three questions:

1)    Do they matter?
2)    Are they addressing the real concerns they have with your writing?
3)    What is more important, your writing or your relationship with this person?

Because criticism can come from so many people, you should ask yourself if this is somebody that you really need to exert a lot of energy explaining yourself. If this is an old classmate, coworker, or a distant relative, then maybe their opinion on your life decisions aren’t really that important in the grand scheme of things.

If their opinions don’t matter, I’d probably ask them to clarify, make a quick argument, and then just move on.

For instance, I’ve had conversations where people will say I shouldn’t waste time writing. When I ask them why, they usually explain that writing doesn’t pay because nobody reads anymore, give the same reason they gave when I wanted to be a professional baseball player (“Only one in a million people with that dream find success”), that it doesn’t contribute to society (“Don’t be a dreamer, be a doer”), that the world doesn’t need another English teacher, or something like that.

I’ll usually make a quick case, like explaining that it is an activity that fulfills me or point out that, for me, writing isn’t plan A . . . that I’ve got a career that puts food on the table. Or I’ll say sarcastically, “It keeps me out of trouble, there’s worst things I could be doing.” I’d say it as a joke, but it is probably more true than I’d care to admit.

If they continue with their criticism, especially if what I’ve said didn’t seem to make any impression on them, I’ll usually just seek to end the conversation. It depends on who they are. For some, I’ll just say something like, “I appreciate your input. It’s given me something to think about.” It gives them the validation they were seeking and changing topics is pretty easy at this point. Some people I’ll be straight-up honest with and say, “Well, luckily I don’t need your approval on my choices in life. I appreciate the feedback, but this is important to me.” Then I’d just excuse myself.

This might even be somebody you are dating. If concerns over writing come up early in the relationship, then ending a relationship with somebody that isn’t interested in your happiness early can be the best thing for you.

However, concerns over your decision to write may come from people who actually DO matter to you. These people are usually dependent on you in one way or another. For instance, a boss, a spouse, a child, a close family member, and possibly others. In which case, the second and third question come more into play.

Communication is a funny thing. I’ve found that people will often say one thing but mean something else. It isn’t usually malicious or even done on purpose; it’s just one of those human nature things. Sometimes, when they start expressing unsupport, their concerns started from another point of view and matured to a solution which they think will resolve the problem. Then they’ll start there. If an aspect of writing causes them concern, they might just start with asking that writing be sacrificed for the good of the relationship.

For instance, I experienced this from my own spouse (and why I asked to keep this anonymous). I had told her when we first met that I wanted to be a writer, but since I was making my education and career my first priority and writing here and there as a second priority, she wasn’t too concerned with this desire. Plus we were horny, idealistic teenagers who thought petty concerns like this would be easily resolved.

After getting my degree and finding the type of job I was looking for, I started spending more time writing. It wasn’t just the writing, it was the writing groups, workshops, and more. Two months before my first book was getting published, with my second book only a month after that, I told her that with the deadlines, I was going to devote a lot of time to make sure things were as perfect as I could get it. Then I promised we’d take a break.



For two months, whenever I got home from work, I slaved away behind my keyboard. After my first book was published, we took off to Hawaii to celebrate for a week. During the flight, I finished my final edits on my second book, and emailed them to my publisher right after landing. Then I put away the laptop and basked in the sun for a week while I recovered from all the extra work.

When we got home, she said that she didn’t think I should write anymore. I was dumbstruck! I thought she knew how important this was to me. I wasn’t planning on dropping my job to write or anything, my primary occupation was supportive and this just meant a little extra money.

It took a few attempts at communication before we reached the real roots of her concerns. When I asked why, she expressed how much money I was spending on travel, writing conferences, and writing retreats, saying that it was money I should be spending on our own traveling. I was a little confused because financially we were doing great. I explained that most conferences were free since I was a guest. I often carpooled with somebody and had roommates to keep hotel prices low. Some conferences I came out ahead after speaking fees and book signings. I was down a couple hundred bucks at the end of the year. Not very much, and I even wrote them off my taxes.

I thought the case was closed, but later she again began insisting that I stop writing.

Okay, money wasn’t the issue, so I started probing more. Communicating. Asking deeper and clarifying questions. Listening. And then found out the real issue: time.

My writing was getting time-consuming. I would often spend 2-3 hours once a week doing critique sessions with other writers—either over the Internet or in person. When inspired to write, I’d usually disappear into my RV and with the words flowing, I’d write for about five straight hours after work. Writing conferences took me out of town three to six weekends a year.  This was all time I could be spending with her, traveling, or I could be tackling certain projects around the house.

Okay, now we were really communicating. I committed to cutting back on some of the writing conferences and timing my writing activities around Wednesdays, the night she was working and gone anyway. I even found other non-writing activities to cut to alleviate these concerns. While I can’t say this fixed everything, her cries to give up on writing have gone away. And it would have not gone this far if not for active communication—and a desire to find a compromise that will satisfy both of our needs.

This is just an example. It could also be a boss who is concerned that an employee is taking too much time off for writing, late night writing sessions are impacting their work, concerns that an employee may write when they are on the clock, or something similar. Taking the time to communicate that your responsibility to him or her will not be impacted by writing may be helpful.

Shoot for open, trusted communication. Shoot for understanding each other, not just making sure your voice is heard. Shoot for patience. Shoot for a win-win compromise, because if you’ve got a passion for writing, then the people close to you will ultimately want to support you.

But sometimes they don’t. Which comes to the last question, having to choose between writing and somebody important in your life. Communication can help most of the time. I’d even say in 99% of the cases. But what if you are the 1%?

Not easy.

While I believe that the important people in your life should come before all else, I can understand that there will be circumstances where some people in your life—even close, important people—can be a negative influence on you. I’d bet people like this are attempting to take away more than your writing desire, but other aspects of your life. They’ll also be poisoning other interests, hobbies, friendships, desires to improve one-self, and maybe even your relationship with your family.

If you’ve done all you can to understand each other, then before cutting somebody that means a lot to you out of your life, I would still urge you to visit with a professional, unbiased third party. I’m talking about a counselor or psychologist first. Hopefully, he or she can see things from another perspective and provide insight or helpful suggestions.

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