Coping with Unsupportive Support

broken heartI think we’ve all had days in this writing business when it seems easier to just throw in the towel. The words aren’t coming, or the story’s not hanging together, or the sales aren’t happening, and you wonder whether it’s worth all the time and effort you put into it.

If you’re very, very lucky, you have a cheering section to keep you going. For some of us, it’s our fans; for others, it’s family members or friends. A kind or encouraging word from one of them is often enough to keep us plugging away.

But what if you don’t have a cheering section? Then what do you do?

I’m one of the lucky ones. My family – well, selected members of my family – are supportive. And I have a group of non-writer friends who routinely pester me for the next book in whatever series I’m working on at the time. That works pretty well to keep my spirits up.

But not every indie author is that lucky. And even for those of us who are, sometimes the non-supporters can bring us down.

We can group these non-supporters into three camps: the Clueless, the Condescending, and the Loyal Opposition.

The Clueless are the friends and family members who have never read a book that wasn’t assigned by a teacher, who haven’t written a word since leaving school, and who have zero interest in anything having to do with literature. They’re the ones who give you the deer-in-the-headlights look when you tell them you’re a writer. I once worked with someone who, upon learning that I was amassing a home library, looked stunned for a moment. Then she said, and I quote, “Books make a room feel warmer.”

Don’t waste your time trying to convince these people of the worth of what you’re doing. Just smile and nod, and talk about the weather.

The Condescending are the ones who ask you how your writing is going – as if you were into knitting or stamp collecting. They’re the ones who pat you on the head, either literally or figuratively, when you mention your WIP or your latest book signing or the writers’ conference you’re going to attend. To them, writing is either a frivolous pastime that can’t possibly net you any real income, or a far too serious pursuit for the likes of you. These are the folks who will nail you with a gimlet eye and ask you who your publisher is, or even how much you’ve earned on your latest novel. They are not interested in a conversation about the sorry state of traditional publishing, and they have no intention of standing still long enough for an explanation of your planned career trajectory.

For these boorish individuals, your best response to their nosy questions is a single word, delivered with a shocked expression: “Wow.” Then change the subject.

The Loyal Opposition is the toughest nut to crack. They are often those closest to you: your spouse, your kids, your parents. They see first-hand the hours you spend writing, editing, and marketing your work, and they really wish you would spend that time on them, instead. After all, any time you spend on this writing thing is time spent not attending to their needs. And they need you. Oh, how they need you. All. The. Time.

Sometimes a parent or spouse will begrudge you the time away if you’re bringing in some cash. But if you’re not, they want to know, then why are you doing it?

You know, nobody expects a restaurant owner to bring in a living wage during the first few years the restaurant is in business. Why don’t writers get the same level of understanding?

If you find yourself in this situation, the only solution I can suggest is to talk it out. Obviously kids get first priority, no matter how desperately you want to get back to your WIP. But adults can sometimes be reasoned with. You may be able to come to a compromise on your writing hours and/or the impact of editing and marketing costs on the family budget – with the understanding that if you hold up your end of the bargain, the other party is required to shut up about it.

Good luck. And let us know if you have any other useful strategies.

Author: Lynne Cantwell

Lynne Cantwell grew up on the shores of Lake Michigan. She worked as a broadcast journalist for many years; she has written for CNN, the late lamented Mutual/NBC Radio News, and a bunch of radio and TV news outlets you have probably never heard of, including a defunct wire service called Zapnews. But she began as a fantasy writer (in the second grade), and is back at it today. She currently lives near Washington, DC. Learn more about Lynne at her blog and at her Amazon author page.

65 thoughts on “Coping with Unsupportive Support”

  1. Thanks Lynne for your post. It’s so true the closest can be the ones who have ‘no clue’. Family – ya gotta love em 🙂 no matter what they say.

  2. Lynne, good roundup of the usual suspects we’ve all run into. What I get, too, is not necessarily unsupportive reactions as unrealistic ones. When I was still working at my day job and a co-worker found out I wrote novels, I was invariably asked, “Why are you still working here?” Oh, because of course I was actually a millionaire, right? I think the bulk of the unsupportive comments we get come from a lack of understanding, either of the work involved, the commitment we feel or the payoff we receive. But you’re right–many don’t want or don’t care to hear how it really is for us. Time to smile and move on.

  3. I hate that “How’s your writing going?” question. It’s usually followed up with them wanting to know how much I’m making. When I admit that I’m not waist-deep in money, that smug little smirk makes me want to smack them.

    1. I hear that! My non-favorite is “how’s your book doing?” like it’s a hobby or something. I always respond with a blank look and “Which one? I have 25.”

    2. I use the “Which one?” line, too. 🙂 And I think that anyone who asks how much you’re making at this deserves a “Wow.” Or better yet, do the woman-of-mystery thing and say, “I’m sorry, but I’m not at liberty to discuss it.” Make ’em wonder what you’re really up to! 😀

      1. Ooh, you’ve given me an idea, Lynne. Maybe next time I should say – “You’ve read them all, right? Which one was your favorite?” BAH!

  4. Great piece, Lynne.
    I grew up in a family that never understood my artistic endeavors in acting, in music, or in writing. I didn’t know what it was like to have someone back me up until I met my wife about a decade ago. And, wouldn’t you know it, that was about the same time I began taking myself seriously.

  5. I tend to get a bit of snark because I write in so many genres. Somehow people think that makes me “dumb” because I’m not “branding” myself and exploiting the market the way “real writers” do.

    I don’t let any of it bother me. Writing stories I love is my reward. Everything else is icing.

  6. To those three categories, I’d like to add a fourth: The Apathetic. Be they family or friends, they couldn’t care less one way or the other. They ignore your posts on FB and never offer a single “Congrats,” much less acknowledge that you’ve written a book. These unsupportive, uncaring individuals hurt me the most.

    1. Yes! The Apathetic can suck all joy out of accomplishment, like an echo chamber that eats your voice instead of reflecting it back. I cut my FB friend list by 2/3 this winter while fighting off an infestation of depression. Blazing stupidity, from a professional/promotion standpoint, but emotionally necessary.

      1. In defense of the apathetic, they may literally not being seeing your posts. Those who don’t interact with you regularly don’t necessarily see much of anything you put on FB, especially if they’re only checking their notifications.

        There’s also the possibility that some of your otherwise good friends are actually seething with painful, private envy that you’ve followed your dream and they haven’t. That’s hardly your fault, but it can make it hard for them to show any enthusiasm.

  7. Lynn! I almost didn’t comment on this post because I have so much empathy for it. I have been exactly where you talk about and am now. Shoot! Even the cats deserted me today! I am a part of the indie author community, yet the writers I most would enjoy visiting with live in another country or a 1000 miles away and an email is not the same as sharing a coffee at Starbucks. My family is busy in their own lives. I had a promo that went well a couple of weeks ago and I wanted to chat about it. But! To Whom? Nobody! So I lit a sparkler for my fireworks and then had my nails done. I would’ve gone to Bingo–but I forgot what day it was. Now, I’m back in my writing cave. Sans the cats. And the dog. Laffin’.
    Jackie Weger

    1. Cats are the worst. It’s always, “Yeah, yeah, you’re magnificent — where are my treats?” 😀

      Thanks, Jackie. We’re always here for you. 🙂

  8. Books do make a room feel warmer btw…can’t argue with that…and I’ve long ago gave up the idea of family understanding…my parents, for instance, seem to have a rather different slant on life and it would be a senseless waste of time on my part to try to get them to understand…you just have to accept that, and if you have readers that are supportive…well, what else really matters?


  9. Eh, if there’s anything I’ve learned in this first year, the people you assume will be your biggest supporters often aren’t, while others you didn’t even know ever read might amaze you with their enthusiasm. (My next door neighbor falls into that category, bless her.) I think it’s best to take any help you get as a wonderful surprise, but literally EXPECT NOTHING. Existing relationships are much more important than this single aspect of our lives, and as time goes by you’ll make writing friends who know exactly what you’re going through.

    Jackie, I’m glad you found a way to celebrate your success on your own. We need to celebrate our milestones, even if it’s a solitary celebration. (I took a picture of my feet up on the deck to celebrate the last class of the semester today.)

    1. But did you post the pic on Facebook? 😀

      I do find that I have fans in the most surprising places. I’ve also had RL friends apologize for not reading any of my books (I cut them slack — at least they feel bad about it!). But I also have RL friends to whom I’ve *given* copies of my books and have heard nothing back from them, which I can only assume means they couldn’t be bothered to read ’em. Sigh.

  10. Lovely, lovely post, Lynne. I have no real-world support for my writing, which makes every book a terrific grind. On the rare occasions someone in the real world does ask me anything connected with them, they’re likely to get silence and a very dark look

    Thanks for writing this post, Lynne

    1. You’re welcome, Chris. But please, for me: next time someone asks about your work, ask ’em which book they want to know about. And whether they’ve read it. And then let us know what they say. 😀

  11. My spouse’s stepmother, and by default, his father because he defers to her ALL the time, has never congratulated me on my books. Whenever I try to mention my writing she automatically goes into raptures about the memoir that a member of her congregation wrote. Not ONE word about mine.

    I also get the deer in headlights and puzzled response. These folks just don’t get it and no amount of talking will help them understand. I ignore them and change the subject. Then I seek out the company of those who do offer a modicum of respect.

    1. I hear you, Yvonne. My brother chose our mother’s wake as the place to give me a critique on one of my short stories.

      You’re right — there’s nothing you can do but smile and nod.

  12. I have been lucky to have many family members support me in my writing, but also have had some that feel my time could be better spent. I get the, “Couldn’t you do something else to make you money?” My answer, “It’s not about the money, I write because I enjoy it.” My kids are all grown now. But my biggest support I have found come from the family members that are there for me day after day, people that I have never met and soon make great friends. Other authors have also been a great lifter for me to keep pushing on. I have been at that point where I think, “Am I really going to improve, am I really going to be able to become a writer?” But I am a writer!! The more I write, the more I notice it improves. It’s a skill that needs to be nurtured so that it can grow. I know that I will get there. Thank you so much for posting this. Now I know that I am not alone in this.

  13. When I first started writing it was a stress reliever for me. When most people might sit down for an evening cocktail or go have a few, I would disappear into my little cubbyhole and write. My children would occasionally ask what I was writing when I was not with them in garage/office. My wife at the time asked me once what I was writing, after I told her, she wasn’t interested. My wife I am currently married to pushed me to publish after reading some of my work. She is my greatest supporter and critic all rolled into one. Most of our children never mention my writing, except some think I am getting rich off it and not sharing with them. After I retired and wrote all day long, my wife made it clear that I was not to spend all my time writing or blogging, but allot her some time as well. I try to do that. Living in a small town, half of them think I am a rich writer hiding my wealth, the others think I write nothing but erotica since the first book I published contained a lot of sex scenes. If I want to change the subject about how much I am earning off book sales, I say. “Have you heard about my latest book? and then start talking about it. The conversation gets switched quickly to something else.

  14. Great thoughts on a a topic that often goes unexplored. So many facets to the issue. So many different strategies and coping mechanisms.

  15. I’m not sure that most of my family have ever really read my books. I know they all have copies, and they occasionally ask how sales are going or about events I have attended. And they’ve mostly come along to support my book launches – well, everyone loves a good party, don’t they? But I’ve had almost no comments or questions about the books’ content. Perhaps when my granddaughters get old enough to read, one of them might take an interest…?

    One’s friends are another factor. So many of them say they loved the book and so much enjoyed reading it. How about writing a review of it then? Yes,I’ll do that. But they never do. When I asked one why not, the reply I got was: “I don’t know what to write.” – This was from someone with and MA in English Literature! Perhaps I need to make friends with some rocket scientists if that’s what it takes.

    But out there in the big, bad world a few people, most of whom I’ve never heard of or met, have written some very nice things about my books, and not just banal comments either. These give me a tremendous lift, because if strangers and other authors think these things enough to put them in print and publish their comments, I must be getting something right. This is a great incentive to keep going, knowing there ARE enthusiasts out there, somewhere.

  16. Great post, Lynne, which clearly resonates with so many of us. I’m going to try your ‘Wow’ response. I get so sick of people asking me how much I’m earning. They wouldn’t ask a plumber, would they? As for the people who tell me they would write a really good book (obviously much better then my shoddy efforts) if only they had the time (in other words I must be a lazy so and so who doesn’t have a proper job and neglects her family.)
    Phew! Feel better now, thanks.

    1. LOL, Mary! I just shake my head at the people who say they’ll write a great book “someday”. The proof is in the pudding, baby — show me your links on Amazon and then we’ll talk about whose book is better. 😀

  17. Great post, Lynne. We’ve all had a few of those characters in our lives from each category. Trying to say this in the most positive way, my Mom falls into the apathetic category. With my book released at the beginning of the year, I cautiously asked about it, her response, “No I didn’t read it, it’s not my kind of book.”

    Mind you, this was a warm, uplifting holiday story, not some dystopian horror story. Oh well, you’ll never win over everyone. The key is to love what you do and do what you love!

  18. Great post, and one that calls to mind the first ‘friend’ who showed me what I was in for. I brought up at a dinner party that I had written a book and he said with a condescending tone and an almost angry expression on his face, “You know, Lois, no publisher is going to talk to you unless you can promise them you’ll sell 5000 copies!” I was so shocked. I, uncharacteristically, had nothing to say. The woman next to me was my witness, and we both stared at him. Is this jealousy? Perhaps. I’m not one to let other people tell me what to do, and I took that comment the opposite way he intended. I forged ahead and see small successes every week. He inspired me, because his lack of support confirmed that I was doing something worthwhile.
    Success is not linear. The comments above further convince me that this noble profession requires an inner fire, a fire that must burn despite the surrounding weather. 🙂

    1. You’re right, Lois. It’s not about numbers. Every sale to an interested reader is a triumph. Enjoy each one individually and you’ll feel very rewarded. It reinforces your faith in your work.

    2. That’s exactly right, Lois. And yes, I think your angry acquaintance was jealous. Anyway, who says you want a publisher? Indies make better money per sale. 😉

  19. Lovely post, Lynne, I can relate to everything you’ve said and to every comment in response.

    How about this one: an old friend, from back in the old country, who I email every few weeks (he’s also on my list of people whom I inform when I’ve been interviewed or something) was talking to another old friend I contact in a similar fashion; except that the first old friend is not very computer savvy or worldly wise ‒ it was after a time when I’d had several interviews in a row, on the various blogs of people living around the world ‒ and you know how the interviewer might begin with, “Thank you, TD, for coming here straight from the airport.” My first old friend was taking this as real, and he was a bit miffed, saying to the second old friend, “What do you make of old Mac, jet setting around the world and doesn’t even take the time to drop off and visit his old friends!”

  20. It took nerves of steel the first time I said aloud: I’ve been writing. I was warmed by my friends’ reactions (I don’t have family). Initially, they all were interested and asked questions; however, since then, they’ve been a wee bit disappointed, I think, that I haven’t published novels or stories in print magazines. They aren’t really interested, for the most part, in reading my blog. Such are their busy lives. So…I suppose my support could be termed “supportive and waiting with high expectations”.

  21. Big Al’s guidelines are very useful to the willing but I don’t think they would be much use with the sort of people I was talking about. They behave like the horses you cant take to water – they still won’t drink. Perhaps it’s fear of making themselves loo silly?

  22. Fantastic post, Lynne! I love my Real Life friends and family, but they really don’t want to know, so why flog a dead horse? I’m just glad I have my online F&F to talk to. 🙂

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