Kulikov Family at the table 1938
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How to cope with unsupportive family and friends.

Some people have families who hear that they are trying to start a writing career–whether freelance or in books–and are nothing but encouraging, saying things like, “You have always been such a great writer, I think that’s a great idea.”  They cheer you on when you’re in a slump; they celebrate even the smallest successes with genuine happiness for you.

If you are one of those people, that’s terrific.  I applaud and envy you your supportive family.  This post is not for you.  Feel free to move on to the next one.

For those of you still here, read on and see if any of this sounds familiar to you.

My Big Fat Writing Career

I started trying to write professionally after losing my day job in September, 2009.  I initially began looking for another job in the banking field, but was somewhat relieved to find that there is little available in my area.  I hated my job, and not just a bit.  It was the kind of job at the kind of soul-crushing company that made just getting out of bed in the morning seem like a monumentally bad idea, and actually going to work a daily act of self-flagellation.  I loved my co-workers at my particular branch, but even that didn’t make up for the time spent there dealing with the rest of the company.  When I realized I couldn’t find a job, and didn’t want anything for which I was qualified based on my professional experience, I took my husband’s advice and thought long and hard about what I wanted to do with my life.

I realized that I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life stuck in jobs that I hated.  I love writing.  I have my whole life, yet it had genuinely never occurred to me to pursue it as a profession.  Even when a co-worker left the bank for job at a newspaper, it never occurred to me to do something similar, I just respected and envied her for doing it.  I finally realized that writing, in almost any form, was what I wanted to do, and that it was in fact something that I could do.

As I began looking for, and taking, freelance jobs I had no illusions about it being a quick road to riches.  I knew that I might always have to be happy with just part-time money unless I was one of those persistent (and possibly lucky) few who actually make it.  I published on sites that pay-per-click just to get my name out there and to have published material to link to when asked for samples of my work.  I began writing my blog on a more frequent basis and narrowed its focus a bit.  I learned to navigate the job boards and avoid jobs that averaged only $2 per hour once I did the math.  With each small step, I gained some confidence that I made the right decision.

My husband mentioned to my father that I had written a novel during Nanowrimo (although he didn’t mention the event by name), much to my embarrassment because I knew how my father would react. I somewhat sheepishly explained that I was trying to start doing some freelance work.

My dad’s question, pretty regularly, is “Can you really make money at that?”  He asks this in a doubtful tone, and I know his real question is, “When are you getting a real job?”  In his case, he tries not to be unsupportive, but he can’t really help it.  He thinks of this as something good to do while I’m looking for work, not as a career choice.

My mother, however, ignores my attempt at a freelance career entirely, as if it doesn’t exist at all.  If in the course of conversation I mention, in my ever hopeful way, a new job or a new article I’ve published, she keeps talking.  About something unrelated.  The only comment she ever made directly in regard to my writing was to shake her head with a doubtful smirk on her face as she said, “I hope you know what you’re doing.”

My family sucks.  Now what?

So, how do we deal with it when our parents are less than supportive?  When our spouses think that because we are working from home we are suddenly available for their needs, no matter how trivial, full-time?  When our siblings openly mock us?

Although your first reaction may be to stick your fingers in your ears and sing, “La la la la, I can’t hear you,” until they go away, this is not a great solution, and makes it difficult to eat at family dinners.

One thing you can do is minimize contact with the negative people in your life, even if they’re your family.  This doesn’t mean that you need to cut them out, just that when you are down and in need of some encouragement, this is not the group of people to call.  They’re probably not the ones to call for praise either, unless you’ve just signed a three-book deal with Random House.  And in some families, instead of praise for even that, you might be asked, “Why couldn’t you get a FIVE-book deal?”

When you do have to be around your family, whether it’s just for holidays or if your family is close-knit and sees each other more often, you can reduce the number of opportunities you give them to question or belittle your career choice.  If asked how “that writing thing” is going, just smile and say that it is going just fine.  Then steer the conversation quickly to your cousin’s recent sex change operation, and you won’t have to say another word.

“Friends are the family you choose.”

Another thing that is absolutely necessary when you don’t get support from your family is to find a group of people who are supportive and encouraging, and talk to them often enough that their voices drown out the ones of your family in your head.  This can be one or more close friends, a writing group, an online group with similar interests, or any other people who can be happy for you when you succeed and sympathetic when you don’t.  Having a group of people to lean on, and whom you can support in their endeavors, is invaluable and can make up for a lot.

Keep track of your accomplishments

We all have a tendency to dwell on the negative.  I think it’s just human nature.  I know a number of people who keep “gratitude journals” or some variation where they write down something good that has happened in their day or something for which they are grateful.  While I don’t do this, I do keep a list of every positive step I’ve taken in my writing career so that on those days when I think I have accomplished nothing, when I feel like I’m just wasting my time and this will never go anywhere, I can look back and see that, yes, I have in fact made a lot of progress since the days when I was doing nothing at all.

You also need to be realistic about what you put on the list.   I said above that I include every positive step I take, and I did mean everything positive.  What I don’t put are any negative things. The point is for me to map out the steps I have taken, not the ones I haven’t taken yet or the missteps.  Yes, I can learn from those, but not here.  This is just for the good stuff.

Do Not Disturb

Another thing you can do, and this is especially important if you live with the person who is unsupportive, is to carve out some time to write every day, and make it clear that during that time you are unavailable to all.  If your husband can’t find the mustard and is trying to make a sandwich, he’s out of luck.  If the toddler needs a drink and there is another adult home, she can go to them.  If your oldest comes home from school and is missing a permission slip that she was supposed to get today but didn’t, and it’s due tomorrow or her life is in ruins, you’ll have to deal with that eventually but it’s not a drop-everything kind of problem.  Your time to write is your work time.  If it’s not something they would have called you at your day job about, or something that you would call your husband/mother/father/whoever about if the situation were reversed, it can wait.

They still won’t shut up about it.

There are families where everyone, or more likely just one person, can’t leave it alone.  They can’t just accept that if they aren’t going to be supportive they can just as easily be quiet.  They think you’re making a big mistake and it’s they’re personal mission to convince you that they’re right.  At this point, sometimes you just have to take a stand.  You need to be firm and let that person, and everyone else in your life, know that whether they think it’s a pipe dream or not, writing is important to you and that should be all that matters to them.

Barring all of that, well, you could always stick your fingers in your ears and sing “La la la la” until they all go away.