Equipping Writers for Success
The Writing Life
The Writing Life
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by Dawn Copeman
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Some of you, like Annette Snyder, are lucky in that you seem to be surrounded by people who are interested in your work. "Most ask me what I'm working on now. The people around me are very interested in my work. If I know they have the Internet, I just hand them a bookmark with my web addy on it and tell them they should check it out. Seems to work."
But for most of you, getting recognition for your work is far from easy.
"When people ask, 'So, you're still writing, then? How's that going?' I usually offer up a standard reply. 'Oh, yes, uh-huh. It's going pretty well. I've been keeping busy.' And I leave it at that. Usually, so do they. There are only one or two friends that are genuinely interested in a real update. (We all know who they are, don't we?) I've stopped trying to 'gently educate' the rest. They just don't get it, or just don't care." --Michele Deppe.
"Moira was right in her column: Only other writers can really appreciate what we do all day. Most people seem to think we get paid to just sit here and pretend to work. Neighbors routinely call and ask favors since they know I'm home. At one neighborhood association meeting a board member actually scolded me for not doing something for the group, pointing out that I had time since I was home all day. I gritted my teeth and very calmly and sternly replied, 'I work from home. My work day is generally 9:00 AM to 7:00 PM, depending on which coast the people I need to speak with are located. So while I may be home, it doesn't mean I'm available.'" --Paula Hendrickson "I've tried different tactics, but here's a few that seem to work. I always include my family members on my newsletter so that they're aware of my happenings. When I get exciting news, I always share it with them and try to include them especially in large book signings or media events. Of course if they get real cynical, I think about what is driving it. Do they hate their jobs, their pay, and/or their bosses? This usually eases my frustration and helps shed a different light on the subject. All in all, it's usually envy or their lack of commitment in chasing their own dreams that instigates their wickedness. If all else fails, I simply smile, shake my head, and walk away. I think it makes the person at least think about their ignorance and why I don't waste my breath discussing it." --Drew Silver, Author of "The Vampire Within" Trilogy
Some of you say we should definitely boast about our successes, like Pamela Toler: "When people ask about my writing, I say: 'right now I have articles in three magazines that you can find at your local Borders' and I smile. You'd be surprised how many times they write down the names, go buy the magazine (or more likely, stand at the rack and skim the article), and tell me how much they enjoy it."
"When people ask me if I'm still doing my writing thing, I usually tell them about my most recent sales. I do try to inject a tad bit of humility, but I don't mind bragging a little bit. I'm proud of what I do and if others wish to be condescending about it that's their problem, not mine!" --Vicki Kennedy "As for close family -- like parents! -- I think it would help to mention how much you earn (in a good month!). Money usually creates respect, so they can go, 'Oh my, I always picture her in her blue pajamas, but look at the money she's making today, and doing something she enjoys, too!' At least, maybe, that's what they'll tell each other and friends/family and not you." --Hasmita Chander
Finally, if you think it's just us relative newcomers who have these problems, think again. Here's Patricia Fry: "I've been writing for publication for over 30 years. Writing has been my full-time career for the last 20 years. I've certainly dealt with the issues you describe. And I've managed them in different ways over the years.
"At first, I had to train family and friends to at least respect my space when they were accustomed to my being ever-available to go shopping or lunch. They didn't exactly know what I was doing and why I needed all this time in order to do it, but they did eventually abide by my requests.
"At first, it really bothered me that I just couldn't make people understand my work and the process. And then I realized that it didn't matter if they understood. I must say that it took time to make this internal transition. But when I stopped trying to explain the writing profession to non-writers, communication actually became easier. Now, when someone asks me what I'm working on, how the writing is going or 'exactly what do you do?' I share a recent experience or credit or accomplishment.
"My aunt still doesn't understand that I am the force behind my Web site, Matilija Press. My mother is always surprised by the invitations I get to speak or to conduct workshops all over the globe. What she doesn't seem to understand is that I put in a lot of hours seeking out, soliciting and auditioning for these gigs.
So my advice to other writers who are trying to converse about their work to non-writers is, share the highlights--the interesting tidbits--about your career. You might even write them down as they occur so you won't forget them the next time someone asks you to explain what you do. And lower your expectations when it comes to educating the non-writing masses. They'll never get it. Think about it, is the reality of this career exactly as you expected? I think not."
Read on for more responses...
"I'm learning that usually people just want to be socially appropriate with small talk and they don't really care. Thus, what does it matter how such a superficial question is answered. With the people that really matter to us, and we know who they are, we can either unfurl our current quagmire or latest brilliant accomplishment as we see fit in the moment." --Lisa Guest
"Well, I sort of got around the questions by getting a 'real job' as a newspaper reporter. When people see your byline daily (or almost) they know you're a writer. What they still don't understand it that writing takes time. I often cover what I call the "meeting beat," so I attend a one- to two-hour meeting in the morning, then have to get it written up for that afternoon's paper with a deadline of noon! Non-writers seems to think that 'typing' up the meeting should take less time than the meeting did. Sometimes it does, especially if not much went on in the meeting except blathering, but often it takes as long or longer than the meeting to sort out what comments go together, who said what in reply to what said by whom, etc., not to mention coming up with a lead (or lede) for the story. And if I don't make deadline for one reason or another or my meeting is bumped by more timely news, then the article doesn't get in the paper until the next day or two. Those who spoke at the meeting also don't seem to understand that I cannot include every comment made by every person. I also co-authored a book. I did the writing of a friend's story, for the recounting of which I did use a tape recorder (What an awful sentence!). She, too, doesn't appreciate the time and effort required to complete the book and make it publishable. She still thinks she wrote it, too, because occasionally she changed a sentence or two. I let her think so. She is not a writer. A book, even if it's not a best-seller, does give a writer more 'cred.' I'll keep at it -- glory or no. It seems to be a compulsion, kind of like the thousands of photographs I take a year. When they're hanging in a gallery and people are looking at them, I've heard the words many a time, 'I could do that.' It's the same with writing. It's just putting words together, isn't it? 'I could do that.' Only we writers know better!" --Mary Alice Murphy
"I think you should feel free to give the full details, even if it sounds like boasting, because it is what you do and you have a right to be proud. That said, you also need to be aware of who you're telling this to. Does the person really care, or is her question asked as a formality, like the grocery-store clerk who asks how your day is going and really only wants to hear 'fine' and not 'Well, I've got this hernia thing happening...' Too often I've tried to explain details to friends who don't really listen or care. As a result, each time I see them, they ask over and over about the same dead project that I haven't worked on in four years. One thing sticks in their minds and they don't bother to really pay attention. So I say share your successes with the people who will care and listen and remember, and give the 'fine, thanks' answer to everyone else." --Alaina Smith
"I have a friend who informed me that she reads a lot of books, but she does not consider writing a job, but a hobby. After all, these authors must be writing the novels she reads in their spare time. I told her that I am very glad that they have time to work a full time job, raise a family and write novels full time as a hobby. These writers are definitely and inspiration to us all. We all know how hard writing can be. She also told me that I am too old to try to write anything now and get published. I should have started years ago and this includes school. I am 42 yrs old. I am certainly not dead. I told her that writing means a lot to me and I am going to do it. My own mother thinks I am wasting my time. When I tell them I have published something, I am treated with a 'pat on the head' and told 'that is good dear'. I hate to be patronized. So I have decided that when they ask how my 'hobby' is going, I tell them fine. I don't elaborate at all. I only toot my own horn when I actually publish something and yes, I have to say it feels great to rub it in their faces. This is exactly why writers spend so much time alone. Only other writers can understand not being taken seriously.
"If they're asking, give them a worthy answer. It's not boasting unless you're embellishing the truth. One thing I run into a lot is people who drone on and on about their office jobs and co-workers I've never met, but the second I mention my work they don't even feign interest. I write about television, which most people watch at least occasionally whether they care to admit it or not; I don't initiate discussions about my work because I don't want to come across as a name dropper. If someone asks me, I'll say I just wrote a piece on Lost or Veronica Mars or whatever I just covered (it might also be a non-TV topic like dogs or bungalows). It's astounding how often the same people who asked about my work will dismiss it with a quick, 'Oh, I wouldn't know since I don't watch TV,' or 'I only watch PBS,' then launch right into a detailed account of how their co-worker screwed up the paperwork again! Truthfully, I think these reactions stem from people who hate their own jobs (and co-workers, apparently) and are envious that I love what I do for a living. Sure, they get all the perks and benefits, but at least my co-workers' mistakes aren't the highlight of my day." --Paula Hendrickson
"Go with the 'I'm writing two books, etc.' Go ahead and tell them. I go ahead and tell them I recently won an award (commendation, actually) in a poetry contest and had a poem accepted for a college literary journal. If their eyes glaze over, continue until they walk away. Most people just don't understand what we do, so just say what makes you feel best." --Elaine Winkler
"Yes, blow your own horn! If you've published a book or anything else, blow that horn! And if you've published a book, that's a great opportunity to promote it. I've been blowing my horn a lot lately, since my first picture book, The Legend of Papa Noel, was just released on September first. See, that's how you blow your horn!" --Terri Hoover Dunham
"I live in rural New Zealand and although I have been writing for more than seven years, self-published four books so far plus numerous articles for online content and print magazines, my husband's family in particular don't even bother to ask me how my writing is going. They know I sit at my computer and they know that I am always working on "something" but none of them have ever read anything that I have written.
"On the odd occassion when an aunt or similar may ask me about my writing I do tell them about my recent achievements -- I can tell by their facial expression that they zone out after the first few words, but I figure if I just keep on plugging one of these days my family may feel that I am doing something worthwhile.
"Meanwhile I take that much pleasure in my lifestyle, the fact that I can write in my night wear if I want to, and that I do get checks every now and again, I have stopped worrying about what the people around me think. They are tied in jobs they don't like and living a lifestyle that doesn't stimulate them in any way. If I want any encouragement I read writing newsletters and I remind myself that I am part of a global community that does understand what I do and why I enjoy it so much.
So blow your own trumpet, sing your own praises and if the people around you get you down just pop back online and appreciate being part of a group of people who do know exactly how you feel. " --Lisa Oliver
"This doesn't quite answer your question, but I finally found an anser to 'Should I have heard of you?' I say, 'Not yet.' Sometimes I add, 'But I'm working on it.'" --Sheila Crosby
"If you don't blow your trumpet, who will? Blow your own trumpet, girl! And let the world hear! If you aren't proud of what you do, who will be? I know how disrespectful family can be (not my immediate family; they are, without a doubt, very supportive). My in-laws, friends, and extended family think I do nothing but sit home watching T.V. and knitting all day. Wish they could sit in front of this blank screen for just one day and try to come up with something creative! They wouldn't have the guts. So blow your horn and let everyone hear!" --Vicki H Nelson
"The 'are you still doing the writing thing' question enters my life more frequently now than ever before, for I have met another artist. However, he is a guitarist/musician who does not realize that writing a story is not the same as writing a song. As an author, we must experience the event that we are trying to portray to our readers, as well as, read, read, read and more reading. He thinks we should just sit at our computers and write pages without realizing that many of us also have jobs that require that we perform the same duties for 9 hours per day." --jtmjournal
"I too have encountered friends who ask if I'm still doing 'that writing thing' ... amazing how people think isn't it?
"Although I once was meek about my writing, I have broken away from that state. I make a point of being upbeat, positive and highly enthusiastic when people ask me if I'm 'still writing'. I answer, 'Yes! absolutely.' When asked 'how it's going' my response remains as enthusiastic as if I was an architect who just landed a major building contract. After all, I am successful with my writing, I treat it like a business, and I promote my skills in the same way a salesman, engineer, or designer would promote themselves. I'm proud of what I do and I take every opportunity to let people know that I write.
"Yes, we should blow our own trumpet. Some may not be comfortable blowing that trumpet too loudly and that's fine. What is important, is that we make some noise about what we do and that we're demonstrative about how much it means to us to be a writer and to have the skills we do. My massage therapist is a reader and she still can barely get over the fact that she 'knows' someone who writes. She thinks it's like knowing a public personality. Well, I may not be that but it sure feels good that someone appreciates what I do.
"Ring those bells, blow those trumpets!" --Diane Schuller
Dawn Copeman is a UK-based freelance writer and educator who has published over 300 articles on the topics of travel, cookery, history, health and writing. An experienced commercial freelancer, Dawn contributed several chapters on commercial writing to Moira Allen's Starting Your Career as a Freelance Writer (2nd Edition).