When They Don't Understand

Photo credit: Majicdolphin on Flickr
I've noticed an interesting phenomenon. Maybe it’s just me, but I have a sneaking suspicion it’s not. When you tell people that you’re a writer, their reactions (in my experience) tend to vary depending on how well they know you.

It goes a little bit like this:

Strangers: Oh wow! That’s great, what do you write? Have you been published?

Friends: Cool! I’ll definitely buy a copy when you get published!

Best Friends: Oh nice, how’s that going?

Family: Right, right, but you have a job, don’t you?

To further illustrate this phenomenon, I drew a little graph (I did it on Paint, don’t judge):

(Noooo it’s not a triangle, it’s a graph. SEE?)

Ok, so artistic merit aside, I think you get the point.

It’s not that your family thinks less of you than a stranger you happen to talk to at Starbucks, it’s not that they’re selfish, or insecure or don’t want to see you succeed. It’s the opposite, actually.

The problem is the more that people know you, the more that they care. A stranger on the street can be excited about your career and never see you again. They aren’t worse for the wear if things don’t work out, if you can’t pay the bills, if, in the end, your dream doesn’t turn out so dreamy after all.

But your close friends, your family, they don’t want to see that happen to you.

When your family asks about your job, about how you’re going to pay the bills, they’re not trying to crush your dreams; they’re trying to be realistic. It doesn’t mean they don’t believe in you, it doesn’t mean they think you’re a loser, it means they want the best for you. They want you to be able to pay the bills at the end of the month and live a healthy lifestyle.

Until writing starts to bring in some income, they don’t equate writing with job. They think hobby. And let’s be honest, that type of reaction is perfectly natural. Because they don’t understand.

They don’t know that writing is a job long before you make a penny off of it. They don’t know that the time you take to build your platform, the connection you make with future readers, with other writers, the work you put into every page, every paragraph, every word to make it as good as you possibly can is invaluable.

They don’t understand that if you keep improving your craft, and you don’t give up, and you write and edit and read and write, then one day all that effort and time you put into it might just pay off.

They don’t understand and that’s ok. They love you, don’t forget it.

And when your hard work does pays off, they’ll be happy for you and though I hope you don’t say it, you’ll be able to smile and think I told you so. Because you did.

Am I the only one who’s encountered this trend? Have you faced something similar? Share your thoughts! 


Carissa Andrews said...

You mean, it's not just me????! Really??

Gabe (Ava Jae) said...

Of course it's not just you! Loads of writers go through this. LOADS!

Anonymous said...

Great post! It makes perfect sense....now I don't feel so bitter towards my family who don't seem all that supportive to me and make me feel my writing goals are just fluffy dreams.

Francesca Zappia said...

Oh my gosh, this. THIS.
1.) I'm putting that chart up in my room.
2.) I love my family and my friends, and I know that most of the time when they say "You're rewriting it AGAIN?!" they're just poking fun and they really do support me and take it seriously. But then there are times when they wonder why I spend so much time writing, why I have notebooks and notebooks full of research and outlines, and I realize that they don't really understand why I do it.

(My friends actually laughed at me once when I pulled out the five-page age chart I made for the 50+ characters in my trilogy. I thought it was normal. They thought it was...strange.)

Gabe (Ava Jae) said...


I'm so glad to hear it! It's hard to deal with discouragement from family, but rest assured, they really do have the best intentions. :)


Lol! Charts for multiple characters is TOTALLY normal...for a writer. I've never revealed my piles of notebooks and maps and index cards to my friends. I can just imagine what they'd say. :D

Joseph said...

Great post! And I decided that I was a writer way back in high school much like you Francesca and my friend also thought that it was weird that I planned so much. I don't think people know how much blood, sweat, and tears go into writing a novel.

My family doesn't approve, but they accept it and they see how much hard work that I put into writing--they've seen my now 1,000+ likes and 100 followers and that I'm going to university especially to study it. So now I think that they've calmed down on the whole "you need to find PROPER profession" or "how are you going to get money" rants :D

Again, great post, Ava!


Michele Garber said...

Great article, I can definitely relate! I was ABD for a doctorate in psychology when I realized I was doing it for everyone else, not myself, and hated my life. I said, "The heck with that!" and quit. Family panicked, friends gaped, acquaintances were puzzled.

People have started to come around now that I've been published in an anthology and had other nibbles for my short stories, but I doubt things will change significantly until I get that first book deal. They simply don't understand how much work is involved before you ever approach publication! I touched on that today in my blog, so it was kind of cool to see someone else addressing a similar topic.

@Francesca: I don't think that's weird at all, I actually sat down and created psychological profiles of a sort on all my characters--needs, desires, conflicts, etc. Helped immensely!

Gabe (Ava Jae) said...

Once people start to see something they consider productive come out of your writing (whether publishing or social media prowess...what-have-you)they tend to come around.


Good luck at school (Creative Writing degree, right?). Sounds like a lot of fun! ^_^


It looks like your degree in psychology helped your writing, right? At least in character development (since you made psychological profiles of your characters). Have you found other uses for it?

Alivia said...

Ava, I think you read my mind when you posted this. Because as of late, I've been going through the same thing. My parents don't see the work I put into my writing, they just think, "Well, are you going go college or ever going to make something of yourself? How about a real job?" And all I do is fume, because it feels like they don't care! How dare they downsize my working accomplishments into a compartment smaller than carry-on for a plane ride?

My friends are the same. Most nod and say it's cool, but when it comes to talking about it, forget it. They're off in their own worlds, and it hurts. Some have even told me flat out, "You're not going to make it. Just go get a degree and hit the work force like the rest of us." How depressing!

But this, this made me smile. I don't feel alone. Thank you.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

First, I absolutely love graphs, so thank you for that. And I think you're absolutely right! I even posted about how hard it is to support the dreams of your kids (who you care about more than your very soul), when you're afraid of them taking the risky path. But it's because you love them so very much.

Gabe (Ava Jae) said...


You're never alone, there is always always someone out there who knows exactly what you're going through. :)


I saw your post and I think that's exactly it. Sometimes when we're dealing with discouragement from people we care about we forget about what it must be like for them looking at us. It's not an easy thing to do, but it helps tremendously, especially if it's starting to get to you.

S.P. Sipal said...

Ava, you've described (and graphed!) this perfectly! It IS because they care for us, or with spouses, have to live with us and share our income (or lack of it).

I love this post lots.

Also, I believe some personality types are more comfortable w/ taking these risks than others. We should honor both types.

Becca Puglisi said...

Luckily, my husband and I are in a good spot because his income is sufficient for us, so there isn't any pressure for me to sell, sell, sell. Thank goodness, lol. But as the family circle extends outward, though they're very supportive, I do think they see my writing as more of a hobby--probably because I'm not published. Clearly, if I was SERIOUS about writing, I would have achieved results by now, right? Instead of just piddling around with it. You're right, Ava. To whatever extent, non-writers just don't understand.

Becca @ The Bookshelf Muse

The East Coaster said...

The truth? It was just drawn in this post.

Anonymous said...

LOL that is so true! :D

Then again, I can't complain 'cause my family (especially my dad, my sister and my boyfriend) are still very encouraging. Like, they'd never condone my leaving my job or dropping out of university to "just write", but I know they believe in my writing ability and they see the hard work I put in.

I mentioned Lisa Kleypas's story to my dad (her parents financed her for a couple of months after she graduated, during which time she wrote a novel and managed to get a publishing deal on it, and that was the beginning of her successful writing career). He said he could imagine doing that for me... But I'm just not that self-confident. Yet.

I'm also not that desperate. I know that I want to write novels and I hope I will someday get published, but in a way, it's only one of the many things I want to do in my life. If I achieve my dream when I'm over 30, or even 40, it will still be exactly that: the realization of a dream. And I'm sure whatever I've done before will not feel like a sacrifice then, but like valuable experience.

Anonymous said...

This post sums up my entire weekend!
I had some family over and they kind of skirted around the subject of my writing, until I found my "in" to talk about my book.
I told them it was coming out later this year.
Step-mom says, "Oh, you got PUBLISHED?!"
I say, "Well, I'm self-publishing."
Her face drops and she says, "Oh, right. The self-publishing thing."


:D Great post!

Jacquelyn said...

OMG, so true!

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