Every writer knows that getting the attention and respect of editors, publishers, agents, and readers can be hard. It take a lot of work, a lot of patience, and a lot of heart. But what about from the people you’re close to? Your friends, people you work with, or even your own family? Sometimes those who should support us most look at us as if we’re alien creatures when we say that we’re writers and need private time, alone time, quiet time to gather all that silly wool we spin into words.
My sister-in-law once told me that if she’d been writing as long as I had, and hadn’t published at least a few novels, that she’d have given up. Never mind that this same person also once said that writing is something you do for life. My mother told me not to bother writing if it was frustrating me so much. My mother-in-law seemed to think I shouldn’t stay home and write, because that was too depressing. When I explained that for me, working and writing was really hard to pull off, she practically rolled her eyes.
Then there are the comments from well-meaning strangers. At a party someone came up to me and asked politely what I did. For years I said, “Well, I’m doing a little writing.” Getting to the point where I could, with confidence, call myself a “writer” was still down the road. Then I was asked what I wrote, and if I’d published anything. When I said I hadn’t, my interviewer almost always lost interest and excused himself.
Things weren’t much better in the respect department after I found the courage to call myself a writer. The same question about publications came up again and again. What people wanted to know, too, was “what else” I did with my time. A lot of folks were a bit put off that I wasn’t working a full-time job and writing in my spare time. This notion must have appealed to their concept of the struggling artist, feeding his body with unfulfilling paid labor, and his soul when he could. When my children were young, before they went into daycare, I got a little more sympathy with having to juggle managing them and churning out stories that weren’t finding a home.
And then one did. YAY! In the Virginia Quarterly Review! A top-tier literary magazine. The trouble was that no one outside of the tiny writing world of literary short fiction had ever heard of it. So I was back to getting blank stares. I learned to stop caring what people thought about me as a writer, and to focus only on what they thought of my writing.
How surprised I was when someone came along who said they thought it was just great that I was a writer, and how much they wished they could be one, too! From scorn to adulation. Quite a change. And it happened again from time to time, so I had to conclude that people put their own spin on what you do, and maybe assume it’s a bit more glamorous than it really is.
Which is fine, I say. As long as you’re not getting put down, considered a lazy slacker, or a loser with nothing but too much free time on your hands. In other words, as long as you get the basic level of respect you deserve for the very hard work you’ve taken on.