Chapter Seven - Family And Friends24 August 2010
Family and friends can be tremendously supportive when you’re a young writer starting out in life—but they can also say the most hurtful things you’re ever going to hear!! Some writers never show their work to family and freinds until it gets published—I’m one of them. Others always rely on the help of the people closest to them. It’s a purely individual choice, but you shouldn’t feel bad if, like me, you prefer to hold back your work from the people you love and like most. And you also need to be prepared not to be supported by them at every point if you choose to push ahead with the life of a writer. Here are some of my blog entries about how to deal with FAFs!!!
I received the following email from a teenager called Josh: Just wondered if I could ask my advice about something. I’m 13 and have always wanted to be a writer. I love writing and have mentally planned a few simple story-lines in my head. I would like to write the stories up as practice for my possible future career, (also i just love to write so much it makes me sick). But I am embarrassed that my parents and friends laugh at me. Should I tell them about my love for writing, or just not write at all?
I told Josh I never showed my work to anyone until it was published (and still don’t), no matter how much friends and family bugged me to see it. What most people don’t realise is that every writer starts out awkwardly—writing a story or book is a LONG process, and a first draft is always a lot rougher than the finished product. People who don’t work in the publishing industry will almost always find it difficult to judge the quality of a young writer’s first efforts, since they’ll only be able to compare it to the quality of finished books. I think this means they can’t give a truly objective opinion—they can be supportive and say “This is great!!” or they can be critical and say “This isn’t as good as so-and-so’s book!!” but I don’t think they can offer constructive, useful feedback. So I don’t think any writer should ever worry about not showing their work to others until they’re happy with it. Friends and family won’t always understand, and if you choose to be secretive, many people will probably think you’re only pretending to write, or that your work must be no good if you don’t show it to them. Some of them might even tease you about it!! If so ... DON’T WORRY!!!! I had to endure scepticism and taunts like that myself for many years, and I bet most other writers have gone through exactly the same thing early in their careers. The opinions of your friends and family should never matter to you. Have belief in yourself and in your stories. Work hard on them. Send them to professionals when you feel the time is right. Stay focused on the goal. Then try hard to mask your smile in later years when, having succeeded in getting your work published (and, as I always say, most people who REALLY work at being a writer will succeed—those who fail are usually those who quit when the going gets tought), those same friends and family members beam big and proclaim, “I always knew you were going to make it!!!” Some of them might even try to claim some of your success for themselves!! That’s just the way of the world, people. You can get mad about it ... or you can shrug it off, smile, and just carry on writing.
I got an email from a fan called Amy: So, in my english class, we’ve been writing short stories, which is my favorite thing to do in english class. You are my inspiration for my story. It’s kind of twisty and creepy. Anyway, I am so excited. We did peer review today, and I was very nervous about letting someone read my story. I was afraid that they would think I am wierd. Well, I guess I am. But anyway, this kid read my story and didn’t really show any emotion while he was reading it. I was afraid that he thought it was dumb. Well, when he finished it, he gave an excited sighing noise. He loved it! Then he gave me very useful tips for making it better. The things he told me to do are really good and don’t change anything big. Now I’m super excited about my story and I want everyone to read it! I was wondering if you ever feel nervous when you are about to let someone else read your work. I know that I was terrified to let someone judge my creation, when I am so proud of it.
I don’t normally feel nervous these days when I first show a new book to someone, but I certainly did in the past, and I’m guessing most other writers did too when they were starting out!!! When I was younger I happily showed my stories to my friends—indeed, I’d often mention them in the stories, so a large part of the fun was letting them read what I’d written about them! Then, in my teens, I started taking my stories more seriously. I wanted to do more with them, explore different styles and ideas, go in some very dark directions. I grew more self-conscious, since I was putting a lot more work into my writing—like Amy, I was worried people wouldn’t like them. I did continue showing some of my stories to close friends, but I began holding back more and more. By the time I moved on to write books, I was showing my work to hardly anyone. Although by that stage it wasn’t so much fear that they wouldn’t like what I was writing that made me “hide” my work—rather, I just didn’t think they could contribute much that would be of use to me.
Every writer is different. Some writers need the feedback from friends and family—they show their work in its early form to a close circle of trusted friends (or maybe just one person), invite their comments, rewrite based on what the person/people say. I don’t work that way. The first time any of my friends or family members get the chance to read my books is when they’re published. I’m not interested in showing them the earlier drafts because for me there’s no point. As long as I’m working on a book, it’s a book-in-progress. I think people who are only accustomed to reading finished books find it difficult to read a work-in-progress. When I did show one or two of my early books to a few of my friends, they weren’t able to offer much helpful advice. The books were a lot rougher than anything else they’d ever read. I don’t think they could see the true potential in the stories, because they were used to seeing polished, finished articles. As soon as I realised this, I stopped showing my work-in-progress. I got criticised by some of them for doing that, and I’m sure lots of people who knew me thought in those early years that I was only pretending to write—when they’d ask to read what I was writing, and I said no, I’d catch them smirking and could see they were thinking, “He either hasn’t written anything at all, or it reall stinks and he’s ashamed of it!!!!”
You’re going to encounter a lot of scepticism when you’re starting out as a writer—it’s something you have to learn to ignore and live with. If you want to show your work to friends, to elicit feedback—and many writers do—then by all means do so. But don’t let anyone bully you into showing your work before you feel ready to show it. If you’re nervous, like Amy, or if you just don’t think there’s any point in showing a rough draft to someone who isn’t equipped to deal with it, like me—then don’t show it, and don’t let anyone make you feel bad about that!! It’s YOUR story—you have the right to show it when it suits you, and not a day before!!! Each of us decides for ourselves when we want to show our stories to the world, and to whom we want to show them. Some show them early, to friends. Others work on them for years, then only show them to agents and editors, professionals who are used to dealing with rough manuscripts, who can provide insight and suggestions which most normal readers can’t. no one way is better than the other—it all boils down to what YOU feel comfortable with.
I received the following email from Gabrielle: I am 11 years old and write a lot of horror/thriller books about demons, zombies, vampires and werewolves; a little bit like you. Despite me writing these books I have no confidence - I hate showing people my work. I even hate handing in assessments for school because I am scared of what my teachers will think. I also believe people will think I’m just a hony who copies Darren Shan or R.L.Stine. I’m not because I have my own ideas but use the villains from other people’s creations. I think you are the best author since R.L.Stine. I even think you’re better than J.K.Rowling and I love Harry Potter. I would really appreciate if you got back to me but if you don’t I understand you are a very busy man.
I told Gabrielle not to worry about showing her work to other people. I mean, obviously with school work, you kind of HAVE to show it to your teacher!!! But anything you write at home, for yourself… well, that’s YOURS and you don’t have to show it to a single living soul if you don’t want to!! I went through a long period of my life where I didn’t show my work to any of my family and friends, from my mid teens to early twenties. In fact, I still don’t show work in progress to any of them—they get to read my books when they’re printed, the same as everyone else. You can’t worry about what your friends and family think. It’s hard for people who know you to take you seriously if you say you want to be a writer. Even if they offer you great support, like my parents did, it’s natural that they’re going to doubt your ability to succeed. There will be lots of times along the way when you have to deal with stuff like that, parents saying you need to get a “proper” job, friends getting into a huff if you don’t let them read your stories, friends maybe teasing you and calling you a loser. There’s something that every writer needs to be able to say to all these people, and that’s this: IT’S NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS!!!
You don’t have to say it as bluntly as that—you can be diplomatic if you wish—but you should never be afraid to say it, whether it’s to your parents, teachers, friends, anyone. As I said above—if you create a story, it’s YOURS, and you get to decide who reads it and who doesn’t. If you don’t want people to read it, for any reason whatsoever, then don’t. It might mean having to take some crap from them, but, you know, something I’ve come to realise in life is that most people can be small-minded when it comes to certain matters, even people you love. I think most of us fall into that trap at certain times, with certain people, for certain reasons. You just have to accept it and not let it matter to you. It’s not personal—it’s just people reacting in a specific way when certain buttons are pushed. Keep your head down, ignore anything negative that anyone says about your decisions to keep your work to yourself, and carry on writing and enjoying what you create. When the day comes that you’re ready to show your work to the world (as it almost certainly will if you persevere), I’d advise only letting professionals or other writers read it, i.e. publishers, editors, or people in a writing group if you decide to join one of those. I know many writers like to show their work to friends and family first, and that’s fine if you’re one of those, but I don’t think people who know you on a personal level can be truly objective about your work, and as such I don’t think their opinion counts for much. If you want to know if your story is good or bad, seek the opinion of people who know nothing about you, who don’t care a jot for you, who will read the story in a vacuum and be in a position to give you an honest, unbiased opinion of your work. Although it’s worth bearing in mind that ultimately the opinion which matters most is your own. When twenty publishers turned down Cirque Du Freak, I didn’t let that affect my opinion of the book. I KNEW it was good, and that they were wrong. Sometimes you have to stick to your guns, even in the face of overwhelming criticsm—the professionals aren’t always right!