Your Friends & Family Are Wrong

Time for a little tough love.

To all those writers who say:

  • My family has encouraged me to write this story
  • I had this idea while talking with friends, and they thought it was brilliant
  • My [insert close friend or family member name here] absolutely love my stories
  • I read my work to my students, and they think I should get it published

You need to ignore what these people are telling you.

You need to write because you can’t do anything else. Because you would suffer if you didn’t.

Your motivation to write has to come from within.

Don’t write (only) because you were given validation or permission by someone close to you. What you really need (require) is your own inner conviction.

When I was a kid, my mother wrote a middle-grade fantasy novel. I read it many times. I absolutely loved it.

I remember her blue-gray electric typewriter that weighed a million pounds sitting on the dining room table. It had a very loud mechanical hum and the table vibrated and shook during periods of vigorous typing.

My mom consulted Writer’s Market at the town library and sent her manuscript to dozens of publishers. She received all rejections, though some were encouraging and personalized. Eventually the typewriter was packed away in a closet.

Flash forward 20 years. The old manuscript is dusted off, brought into Microsoft Word, tweaked, and … everyone knows what’s next.

I read my mother’s book once again, not as a young daughter, but as a publishing professional who gives advice to writers.

I bet you’re all wishing you had a family member in publishing to help you out, right?

It can be a curse rather than a blessing.

Family members are supposed to encourage and support you—act as cheerleaders during the long periods of rejecton.

There are some unusual cases where your family/friends can offer critical feedback as insightful and careful readers, and you can make excellent use of it.

But for most writers, you must not and cannot rely on your family and friends to give you this feedback, even if they are your target audience. And you especially can’t rely on them to tell you that your work deserves publication (or to give you ANY kind of business-of-publishing advice).

Unless, of course, your daughter works in publishing and has a job that specializes in giving advice to writers.

Mom’s story read very differently to me as a grown-up. I gave her feedback on how to revise it for today’s market.

The manuscript is back in the proverbial closet.

But in the years to come, I know I will treasure and cherish her work more than any publisher could.

Photo credit: Pliable Trade

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5 thoughts on “Your Friends & Family Are Wrong

  1. Jane Friedman

    Dave: Have to love the Carver quote. Thank you so much for sharing. (Boy, you’ve had that 1986 anthology for some time. Must be a good one.)

    Debra: Always helpful to know that I’m hitting on the reality lessons, rather than the grumpy-negative-burnt-out publishing lessons!

    Always a question of what is enough. That is the struggle …

  2. Debra Marrs

    Jane, I always appreciate your candor and tough love messages because they are spot on reality. I think there’s something to be said for the act of creating, for women (and men) like your mother, to write whatever’s on their heart, and get it done. And that should be enough… that whatever it was that the creative Muse called them to write, they can say they did it.

    What comes next–the possibility–of publishing… well, that’s another long, winding journey as we both know. But at least the story no longer weighs down their creative heart and it’s out there.

    What a kinesthetic joy it must have been for your mother as she pounded out those pages on that lovely blue-gray typewriter. I wonder if that can sometimes be enough.

  3. dave malone

    Love it, Jane. Can we hear an Amen? Reminded me of the Carver quote.

    “Writers write, and they write, and they go on writing, in some cases long after wisdom and even common sense have told them to quit….But once in a great while lightning strikes, and occasionally it strikes early in the writer’s life. Sometimes it comes later, after years of work. And sometimes, most often, of course, it never happens at all….But it will never, never happen to those who don’t work hard at it and who don’t consider the act of writing as very nearly the most important thing in their lives, right up there next to breath, and food, and shelter, and love, and God.”
    –Raymond Carver (from the Introduction, Best American Short Stories 1986)