by Carly Berg
Invitation into your inner world is an honor. Reserve it for those who deserve it.
Who would have thought writing required more forethought about handling people than anything else you decided to do? It can certainly cause friction, for such a solitary, quiet, and low-cost activity. Those of us who have gone before, with our big faces hanging out unawares, can attest to that. Here are some tips to bring your writing habit out in the open smoothly.
The Nearest and Dearest
The practical considerations count with those who share your space and obligations. Since you have responsibilities together, such as a house or children, you may want to come up with a writing schedule and get your spouse’s blessing.
If you’re like me, people talking, walking into the room, television noise, all yank me out of my writing trance. It’s as jarring as if they had jerked me from my sleep. I hate it. Non-writers do not understand this unless they’re told. More than once. Tell them. Make a deal. Craft a “please do not disturb” sign to hang on the door when you’re writing.
Friends and Relatives
Family and friends are easier because your lives don’t overlap as with those in your household. Emotionally, they can still provide a boost or pack a wallop, though. How much should you reveal?
Most of us have a “sharing” regret tale. Our stories are our creations. We’re sensitive about them. Having them rebuffed or ignored hurts.
Some people love us to death and understand writing means a lot to us. Yet, it’s not their thing. That’s okay, right? That’s why we’ll join a forum or group and get to know other writers.
And certain people aren’t to be trusted with your writing or your feelings, even if their title is “relative” or “friend.”
Remember, you can always take the cat out of the bag, but you can’t put it back in.
Consider letting people in step by step. Drop a hint, or ask the other person if they want to read something you’ve written. Phrase it in a light way that leaves them an easy out. If they’re interested, show them one short story, chapter, or poem. A sample, not everything.
Do not reveal your pen name if you use one. After all, how will you feel if you expose all, and they: (1) never mention it again, (2) say something like “I didn’t really see the point,” or “Are you all right?,” (3) make a few copies and hand them out without your permission?
In offering only a small portion, you have taken only a small risk.
Closely related to how much you share is what you share. Some non-writers do not realize that you and your main character are not the same person. Or, they may inaccurately read themselves into your story as well. It doesn’t hurt to keep this in mind when you consider which piece to let them read.
You may get that rare find, an interested, supportive, non-writer friend. Woohoo for you!
If you’re like most of us and have already done this wrong, at least you know who not to trust again. We go on.
When I worked with children in foster care, one of the things we did was help them formulate a “cover story.” This isn’t a “lie,” as the term often means elsewhere. It’s a blanket of surface-only answers, to preserve the child’s dignity. Who do you live with? Mrs. Jones. Oh really? Is she your aunt? No. She’s just Mrs. Jones. Where are your parents? They can’t take care of me right now. Oh, dear. Are they sick? They just can’t take care of me right now, so I’m with Mrs. Jones. Note the polite repetition of nonspecific answers to those with no need to know. This shields the child against having personal details trotted out before the general public.
Many writers could also use cover stories. In our society (or maybe every society, what do I know?) we understand paid employment. We understand hobbies.
We don’t have as solid a grasp of that other thing. The writer may be insulted to hear their writing labeled a (mere) “hobby.” And, the writing may or may not bring in money.
So, we can name it a “calling.” But then, many non-writers still believe such a “calling” fits somewhere between a “hobby” and a “career.” The writer, in sharp contrast, may value writing above both hobby and career. It causes trouble.
If you tell people you write, they often promptly say the wrong thing. It goes like this:
NWA (Non-Writing Acquaintance): So, I hear you write.
NWA: What do you write?
You: Oh, different things. Stories. And I’m working on a novel.
NWA: So then, you want to be a writer.
You: Um, no, but I—
NWA: Do you get paid for your stories?
You: Um, mostly not. But I—
NWA: Well, you just keep at it and someday maybe you’ll be a writer.
NWA: Now I’ll tell ya what ya oughta write. How I met my husband. Now, there’s a best seller. I’d write it myself, but I’m too busy with my important business.
NWA wants to know where the product (published work) is, where the pay is. You might have studied the craft for years. Yet, she believes not having the time is all that prevents her from being published. Talent and skill aren’t mentioned.
To you, publication and pay may well be the by-products rather than the goal. NWA has missed it entirely.
Thus, conversations with non-writers can bruise the writer. My suggestion: Don’t engage. They don’t get it, and you don’t have to account for yourself on demand.
How about this instead:
NWA: So, I hear you write.
You: Mmm, a little. That’s a pretty bracelet.
NWA: What do you write?
You: Oh, I don’t talk about it much. Is that bracelet onyx?
NWA: So then, are you published?
You: I don’t really talk about my writing.
NWA: Why not?
You: Meh, I just don’t. Didn’t you just get a new job?
You’ve remained polite, but in spite of her persistence, all she’s gotten is cover story. The trick, I think, is to think it through ahead of time so you‘re not caught off guard.
I’ve learned to involve people in my writing according to their position with me. I owe the most to those in my immediate household. Friends and relatives are considered individually, based on their interest and my trust. Acquaintances are generally kept at a distance. Invitation into your inner world is an honor. Reserve it for those who deserve it.
Carly Berg‘s work has been accepted by publications beginning with every letter of the alphabet except for “K,” the absence of which keeps her up at night. “The Care and Feeding of Non-Writers” is from her book in progress, The 100 Credits Club. She can be found here.