• When Your Family Doesn’t Understand Your Writing Pursuits

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in Strategies     Comments 27 comments

    writing pursuitsWe’ve fielded an awful lot of questions and complaints lately from writers whose families and friends don’t understand their writing pursuits and/or are unwilling to take them seriously.

    Here’s one, drawn from a comment on a recent blog post:

    “I was three chapters into my psychological thriller, and needed feedback and encouragement. I reached out to family and friends, and generally made it known that I was going to achieve my dream, however long it was going to take. I might as well have said I was going to adopt an elephant. Many of [them] believe that writing is an impractical pie-in-the-sky hobby, and my announcement was met with indifference and eye-rolling. … My own mother said she would not read my book even if published because it was not ‘her kind’ of book.”

    It’s a common complaint because it’s a common trait; people often don’t understand interests/passions outside of their own. Think of the overly macho failed-jock dad who forces his kid to attend basketball camp even though the kid really wants to go to space camp.

    You want to go on a writing retreat. Your family says “Get a real job.” It hurts your feelings. What do you do?

    [Tweet “”You want to go on a writing retreat. Your family says ‘Get a real job.'””]


    You Say Ebola, I Say E. Zola

    It can be hurtful when those you love don’t try to understand your passions; and, by extension, you. Because that’s what we’re talking about, right? If you identify as a writer, and those close to you mock your writing pursuits, what they’re really doing is mocking you as a person. They’re saying that who you are is not worthy of serious consideration.

    I say “try to” understand above, because that’s the key.

    A non-writer may never understand the desire to express oneself on the page. And that’s OK. I’ll likely never understand my sister’s desire to wear a lab coat and study microbial bacteria and viruses.

    But if I try to understand, then I’m being supportive. Just because I don’t want to expose myself to Ebola doesn’t mean I shouldn’t ask why that appeals to her. Just because she doesn’t want to write a novel doesn’t mean she shouldn’t ask me about mine.

    I do ask her, and she does ask me. That makes all the difference.

    [Tweet “If your family mocks your writing pursuits, what they’re really doing is mocking you.”]


    What Do Writers Actually Do?

    Our family and friends fall into one of three categories: 1) those who understand our writing pursuits; 2) those who don’t understand but try to; 3) those who don’t understand and don’t try to understand.

    Those in Category 1 are usually writers themselves (or at least heavy pleasure-readers) or have careers in which written communication plays a large role. They get it because they know it.

    My immediate family falls into Category 2. Some of them ask me again and again what it is that I “actually do.” Mostly in regards to WriteByNight, but sometimes just as a writer. Again and again my mother will say to me, “How do I explain to my friends what you do for a living?” And again and again I’ll lay it out for her. Knowing full well that a month later, we’ll have the same conversation.

    I don’t get frustrated with that. It expresses a desire to understand, and that attempt is all I need. I know it’s coming from a place of support.


    Category 3 Storm

    Those in Category 3 are why I’m writing this and why you’re reading it. They are the ones who don’t understand and don’t try to understand. These are the people who will sometimes resort to mockery.

    Because many writers work for themselves and work from home, the conclusion these Category 3ers draw is that we sleep until 11:00, surf the Internet for an hour or two, and then go to the movies. They label writing — and believe it to be — nothing more than a hobby.

    Here’s a list of comments I’ve had thrown at me. Chances are, you’ve heard ’em as well:

    “If you had a real job, you’d [understand my predicament at the office, or whatever].

    “Some of us have to work for a living.”

    “It must be nice to sit around at home all day.”

    Often it’s just a simple, dismissive “Must be nice.”

    [Tweet “Writers: How often does someone in your family say “Some of us have to work for a living”?”]


    Well, Let’s Face It: It Is Nice

    It is nice to work for myself and it is nice to work from home. It is nice to sit on the couch for lunch, or to write a blog post in the park, like I’m doing now. And it is nice to sleep until 11:00 if I want to.

    But when I sleep until 11:00 it’s almost always after working from 7 a.m. until two in the morning on a rush job manuscript or in a mad attempt to hit an unexpected early-morning writing deadline.

    And on the weekends, when these Category 3ers are “sleeping until 11:00, surfing the Internet for an hour or two, and then going to the movies,” I’m usually at home, working.

    And that’s OK. In fact, it’s great. That’s my choice, and I’m happy with it. I love writing, I love my jobs, and I love WriteByNight.

    I feel bad for any of my friends and family who don’t understand what that’s like.


    Jealous Much?

    Chances are that you love writing, and if you’ve made it this far into this post, chances are that your family/community doesn’t try to understand that love. It’s aggravating and frustrating, I know.

    But consider this: in all likelihood, what these people truly don’t understand is having passion.

    Or, even worse, they understand having a passion, but they don’t know how to act on it.

    Pity these people. They’re probably coming at you from a place of envy or jealousy. Be glad, and proud, that you’re not one of them. Try to understand what they’re going through. Doing so will make it a whole lot easier to shrug off, even laugh off, their comments.

    Which is what you should do. In the end, it doesn’t matter what these people say to you; the only thing that really matters is how you deal with it.

    One thing I know: It helps to vent about it in writing.



    What are some mocking comments you have heard from family and/or friends about your writing pursuits? What strategies do you enlist to deal with such comments? In what ways have your friends and/or family tried to understand your writing pursuits?

    Let us know in the comments below. Remember, you can comment anonymously, so don’t be shy. (Yes, it says an email address is required. Leave a fake one. We don’t care.)


    WriteByNight is a writers’ service dedicated to helping you achieve your creative potential and literary goals. We work with writers of all experience levels working in all genres, nationwide and worldwide. If you have a 2016 writing project that you’d like a little help with, take a look at our book coaching, private instruction and writer’s block counseling services. And join our mailing list, over in the right sidebar, for once-per-week writing goodies in your inbox. 

    Linked2WriteByNight co-founder David Duhr is copy editor and fiction editor at the Texas Observer and contributes regularly to the Dallas Morning News, Publishing Perspectives, the Observer and other publications.



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    A. Nonymous

    Two years ago my dad said that he “hated” my book, and that he “wouldn’t read another one.” I was crushed at the time. Now, I couldn’t care less. His loss.

    But I still sympathize with your commentor. It sucks when our families and friend don’t support us. But your right, it’s jealousy, or discomfort, or they’re just assholes.

    Either way, we need to do what we need to do. It can’t bother us.


    My co-workers call me Shakespeare. They don’t even know (or seem to care) what I write, just that I do some writing in my free time. But that’s cool, it’s good natured. My family doesn’t seem to care either, but at least they’re not dicks about it. Sometimes my brother will ask “How’s the writing going?” He doesn’t really listen to the answer, but at least he makes the effort. But writing isn’t my day job, so I guess I’m not susceptible to comments like the ones above about having a “real” job.

    Marie L.

    “It must be nice” is one that I get a lot, too. Must be nice to spend all day in my pajamas. Must be nice to *have the time to* travel so much (I do a lot of travel-related freelancing, but people treat that as if it’s not work). Must be nice not to have someone looking over my shoulder — these people do not know editors! But I learned long ago to brush that stuff off. Much of it is envy. I do, after all, get to see a lot of fascinating places and have all sorts of unique… Read more »

    Mark H******

    This is why nobody in my family knows I write.

    And nobody at work knows I write.

    And none of my friends know I write.

    Except for one, and that’s since we’re in a
    critique group together,

    It IS nice.


    I know I’m late, but I’d personally opt for the grand reveal option. It’d be great to see how they react. Might even be positive.

    William Budd

    I’m with Maria. I can only control how I behave, and how I react to the negative things people say. As writers, we need to be prepared for that kind of criticism anyway. I mean, if we can’t handle it when our mom has something bad to say about our work, what happens when the New Yorks Times has something bad to say about our work? Writers need a thick skin. Starting with your inner circle is a great way to develop that. I have my hobbies, they have theirs. My younger brother likes model trains. He’s 28. I think… Read more »


    “One thing I know. It helps to vent about it in writing.” So true. Love this and your entire post, David. When I was writing my first book, a memoir, I told my family thinking they would be so interested and excited for me. Not! One response was a lack of appreciation that I would write about a particular relationship. Another response was more of a non response, “Oh, hmm.” Tried so hard not to talk about it around certain people. But my passion for writing was so strong, I had to do the best I could, and manage my… Read more »


    For me, I have great respect for my family members, they are “family”, right? But family, particularly from whom reared us, is our beginning place – they gifted us with that point of view – that which and where we came. Our writing, whatever it is that compels us, all of it, is a reflection of what we have learned from then on. What we have learned and can profoundly express through allegory, which is often personal conflict within ourselves for which our family shares. And while we share that “beginning point” it is rare any of us could reflect… Read more »

    David's Mother

    David, clean your room. And stop writing about me!


    Yes! I have had all these comments directed at me, with “get a real job” being on top of the list. Well, I tried. I interviewed with a guy who noticed I hadn’t had work (not for lack of trying) after being downsized some months ago. He asked what I had been doing during that time. I said I was using the time to write a novel. He laughed out loud. “Let me guess, a romance?” (I am a woman, BTW.) I replied that it was a thriller. He laughed harder and said, “that’s nice.” I hear those two words… Read more »


    Yup, it was me. What clued you in, my distinctive voice or my pathetic whining? Let’s just say I am going to smile at the naysayers in line for my book, give humble thanks for their support, sign their books, and TAKE THEIR MONEY AND BUY MYSELF SOMETHING DECADENT AND FRIVOLOUS! BTW, you can have the Chief Toad Counter job. It is a volunteer job with the DNR every year, to count toads and frogs in the swampy areas. It is a census to see how they’re doing. I once told you I was rural. Now you know one of… Read more »


    My family always just shrugged off my interest in writing. That is, until I got published and some suspected, without even reading the work, that I was writing about them. So that’s when I composed this disclaimer: “If you think you see yourself in these pages and you end up looking like a shithead—too fucking bad. The character you’re thinking about might not even be you; maybe you’re just paranoid. But even if the character is you, that’s what you get for being a shithead. Literature is full of shitheads. Literature would be boring without shitheads. Look at it as… Read more »

    Glynis Jolly

    I guess I’m luckier than most. The ones who have an inkling or want to understand are there for me. Sometimes too much there for me. My mother wants to write the book for me, thinking my ideas are good but I don’t know how to execute them. She wants to be my English teacher. No thanks, all the same. I’ve learned to temper what I tell her about any project I work on. My brother is more into the sciences but does love to read. He’ll asking me how the book is coming along, but isn’t interested in details.… Read more »


    That’s all I want, Glynis. Someone to spark me. I will have to settle for the quiet way that ends in fireworks when I see my book on a shelf. It’s gonna happen anyway.

    Thanks for this, Justine and David.


    We’re all over looking a simple solution: If your family doesn’t understand your writing pursuits, get a new family. A family made up of writers, preferably. And if that doesn’t work, get a new family. And if that doesn’t work, get a new family. And if …….


    Thank you for this blog.

    Last edited 2 years ago by Notavictim

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