Go to any sort of online writers forum and you are sure to find at least one reference to how the people in a writers life don’t really understand what they’re going through. This isn’t because their friends and loved ones don’t care, but the world of writing and publishing has it’s own set of vocabulary, rules, and patterns that you just don’t know about if you aren’t a writer yourself. It is with this idea in mind that I’ll be writing this series of blog posts to, hopefully, be used as a reference point for non-writers to understand what their writing loved ones are going through and how they can best support them.
The first post in this series: When Someone You Love Is a Writer
Someone you care about has just informed you that they are writing a book. First off, congratulations. For many writers, admitting to anyone that they are pursuing anything as ambitious as writing and publishing a book takes a lot of courage and they obviously feel safe divulging this dream to you. You must be a pretty awesome person.
So what are they doing?
This is probably the easiest part of writing to understand.
Your friend is writing. Duh! But it probably doesn’t always look like you imagine. They are carving out any spare time that they can just to get in a few words. Or maybe they spend all day Saturday camped in front of their computer. But even when they’re not writing, they’re still writing.
If you catch your loved one with a silly grin on their face? Chances are one of the characters in their head just said something funny. If your friend scrambles for a piece of paper, they just had major inspiration about a plot problem that’s been plaguing them.
Your writing friend will be more “in the moment’ because every moment is full of possibilities and real life material always makes writing more authentic. Being a writer makes a person more interested in the stories around them. But they might also always be a little removed. Especially when they are working on a story, a writers brain is always using a little bit of brain power to work out plot problems, listen to characters, and daydream about future Newbery’s. 😉
They will probably be on a roller coaster of self doubt and excitement. One moment their book feels like the best story ever! The next, they’ll be convinced it’s a pile of poo. They might hit a road block and get cranky. Then they’ll figure it out and everything is good again.
So How Can I Best Support the Writer in my Life Right Now?
At this point in a writers journey, before they’ve started querying, get an agent, etc (and we’ll go through all of those in later posts) the best thing you can do is ask questions. Your friend is still figuring things out, experimenting, and learning, but chances are good, if you aren’t a writer, they know a whole lot more about the process and what they want out of it than you. The last thing they want is you telling them that they should self publish when they are pursuing traditional publishing.Or that they should focus on trilogies because those make all the money, when they write contemporary women’s fiction.
However, they’d probably love to tell you about what they’re working on, why writing makes them excited, and what they hope to do with their writing.
Encouragement is also always welcome. I can’t begin to tell you the number of time your friend will wonder if what they are doing is stupid or crazy. To hear from someone they love and trust that you think what they are doing is really neat, would mean a lot to them. If you haven’t read their work, don’t tell them they’re a great writer. It’s an empty compliment and doesn’t mean anything. But be genuine. Tell them you admire them for having and pursuing big dreams.
Things NOT to Say
I wish I had the luxury to write every day. (This makes it sound like your friend has nothing else to do with their time. This isn’t true. They’ve simply prioritized their life because writing is important to them. Chances are they’ve sacrificed something for that “luxurious” writing time.)
I have this great idea for a book. Will you write it? (Seriously, where’s the fun in that for the writer? It’s YOUR story. You write it.)
Is that realistic? (No, it’s not. It’s a big, crazy dream and everyone should be allowed to have one.)
Is that the best use of your time? (Translation: I don’t value creativity or art unless large sums of money are involved.)
You should write a children’s book. Those are easy. (No. No, they’re not.)
Can I Read What They Write?
The answer to this question will vary with every writer. Some are okay sharing with their family and friends. Others want to keep everything under wraps. Whatever their attitude, don’t be offended. Your friend feels very vulnerable. It’s not that they don’t trust you, they are just trying to protect this new, little baby book and their own fragile hearts.
If your friend does let you read what they’ve written, get clear guidelines on what they want out of you reading it. If they just want to share something they are proud of with you. If they’ve polished and revised and feel like they have a finished product, don’t read with the idea of giving critique. Don’t try to give advice on how to make it better. Your friend is probably working with critique partners who give them hard feedback all the time, but hearing it from you is especially painful for some reason. Your best bet is a sincere compliment. Try to be specific, “I loved this character.” Or, “It was such an interesting setting.”
Other Ways to Support the Writer in Your Life
Talk about great books you’ve both read and get their opinion on them.
Again, ask about their writing and how it’s going.
Ask for book recommendations!
Bring snacks! Writers need fuel too.
Understand when they say they can’t hang out tonight because they are writing. This is important to them.
If you’re looking for a gift, all of these are well-loved books in the writing community and a great way to say, “I think you are awesome. Keep going.”
BIRD BY BIRD by Anne Lamott
BIG MAGIC by Elizabeth Gilbert
ON WRITING by Stephen King
Stay tuned for the next post in this series. “When Someone You Love is Querying.”
I’d love to hear your thoughts. What else would you want the non-writers in your life to know about the writing process?