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What to Do When Our Families Don't Support Our Writing

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

By Jody Hedlund, @JodyHedlund

One of the hardest things for aspiring writers is getting our family's support for our writing, especially before we're published. At least that was one of my struggles.

I remember saying to my husband on many occasions, "No, I'm not making any money on my writing. But yes, I still need time to write." Amidst the busyness of life, with five children, homeschooling, and trying to manage a home, writing was (and still is) very important to my sanity.

For a long time it was a battle to help my family understand that my writing was more than a hobby, that it was something I needed to spend concentrated time doing—especially if I hoped to get published some day.

Over time, I had many conversations—particularly with my husband. Here are just a few of the arguments I used over the years to gradually win his support:

1. We all need time for things we love.

My husband LOVES football. He takes time every week to watch games, check stats, read commentaries, etc. It's important to him. He enjoys the break it gives him from the busy chaos of life.

The fact is, we need things in our lives that rejuvenate us. Football does that for my husband. My writing does that for me. If we're engaging in a mutually respectful relationship, then he should be willing to let me take time for what I love, just as I am for him.

I'm in no way relegating writing to the same level as watching football, because writing is much more than a hobby for most aspiring writers. But the point is, if our family balks at our writing time, we can encourage them that we ALL need time for the things we love.

2. The early years of unpaid writing are simply part of the education process.

If I told my husband I wanted to go to school to become a brain surgeon, he certainly wouldn't begrudge me the years of education and training that are required (even if I could only attend school part time due to other responsibilities).

He'd wait patiently because he'd realize that one day I'll finally reach the point when I'm finally ready for my first brain surgery. But he'd also understand that I can't get to that point without putting in many, many long hours of unpaid study and practice. In fact, he'd even understand if I had to put out the money for school, workshops, conferences, books, etc.

And the same is true of writing. We can't get to a professional point in our career unless we put in the time day after day, year after year. And we may even need to put out a little money for editing, buying writing craft books, or going to conferences.

3. Once we're agented or published, it still takes time to build our small business.

If I opened a cupcake shop, my family wouldn't expect me to be raking in a huge profit the first few years. They'd realize it takes time to get the word out about my cupcake business and to build a loyal base of customers who love me and are willing to rave about my cupcakes to their friends. It may even take some extra marketing dollars to get the word out.

And writers start out much the same, whether we go the traditional route or self-publish. We have to invest capitol (time, energy, and books) into our writing business, often for years before we begin to see a profit or make a living from it. There are no guarantees for small businesses. Perhaps we'll never make anything. Which brings me to the last point . . .

4. We have to support and believe in each other's dreams, even when no one else does.

The bottom line for my husband and I over the years is that we want to support each other's dreams. Whether those dreams ever become a reality or not, we hope to be each other's biggest cheerleaders.

If my husband wanted to pursue something new (i.e. a different career), and if it was really important to him, then whether I understand it or not, I would encourage his efforts. Sure, we would have to dialogue through the difficulties and look for ways to make it workable in our current situation. But I wouldn't want to squash his dreams or desires simply because they're not mine.

And the same is true of my writing. Long before I was published, my husband eventually came to a point of understanding how important my writing was to me. And he wanted to support me and my dreams whether I ever got published or not.

My summary: Although our writing aspirations may not be easy for our families and loved ones to understand, I've learned that it is possible to gently win them over. Don't give up hope!

What about you? Have you experienced a family member or loved one misunderstanding your writing? What are some ways you've worked at gaining their support?

36 comments:

  1. I remember before I got my first book contract, I looked around at all the authors who had been published in my genre in the last five years, and it seemed like 90% of them had grown children. Writing had become a hobby for them after their kids were out of the house or when they just had one left in college or something. And I knew exactly why.

    I understand learning to write and then getting published is a long, hard process for everyone. But I truly think it's hardest on moms with kids at home. It's hard to tell your kid "I can't play right now because I need to write." But you're not earning any money for those hours spent away from your kids, either. I remember feeling terribly guilty when something like that would happen. It's definitely easier to justify the time I spend writing now that I have book contracts.

    But I'll also say that things have mellowed out. I carve time out twice a day to write (one when the kids are asleep and one when they're awake but entertaining themselves). I don't let my busy life take those three hours a day of writing time from me. THEY ARE MINE. But I rarely let writing creep out of those three hour allotments either. That still gives me 21 hours of the day when my family is my top priority and I'm playing and working and teaching and loving and mothering and doing all of the other wonderful things I get to do with my children.

    And now that I've written the longest blog comment in the history of blogs, I'm going. Great post, Jody! It really resonated with me and I'm sure there are others who will be encouraged as well.

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    1. I admire you for fitting in your writing time. I don't have children, (just a husband and a dog) and it seems that there are not enough hours in the day. There are so many moms out there writing and working. I think your kids can bring a lot of richness to your writing. :-)

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  2. My family and friends are supportive in the broad sense, but it can be difficult to explain specific aspects of writing to them. One of my closest friends made a comment that suggested she thought it would be easy for me to write and have stories accepted by women's weekly magazines, despite the fact that I don't write in that style. Her assumption was that I could write stories that are more commercial/less literary than the style that comes naturally to me and earn a living through these stories while working on other projects. She's completely ignorant of the small market for such stories and doesn't consider that it takes more time and effort for me to write in a style I find difficult, let alone the fact that few people make a living this way. I let her comment go, rather than explain, partly because I felt upset that she assumed she knew better than me. But that's part of the nature of writing: the most visible successes are assumed to be the norm by non-writers and because such success is visible, people assume they know far more about writing than other professions. Because they think they know so much, they think they're being supportive when making comments that are, at best, unhelpful.

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  3. I have honestly been blessed that my family has been so supportive of me and my writing. My family believed in that dream more than I did at some points in my life. They are the reason I'm published right now.

    The only problem I have is that, while I don't have any kids yet, my husband serves as my interruptor and distractor. He seems to always have a problem or a question that only I can fix or answer, right about that time when I'm really in the middle of a scene and on a roll.

    I like your paragraph about your husband's love of football and comparing that to your love of writing. Substitute "fishing" - whether during the summer or ice fishing during the winter - and you have my husband.

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  4. Thank you Jody, this is a wonderful post. While my husband and parents have been very supportive of my writing, I cannot say the same for all my friends and family. I've shared this far and wide.

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  5. Jody, you've read my mind...this has been a continuing struggle for me, particularly with my husband. He says he supports my writing dreams and I have explained to him how much time and effort needs to be put in LONG before there is any sign of success, but then I hear comments like, "You put your writing before me," and then the guilt sets in. Honestly, I've put my writing on the back burner after picking up a hobby my husband and I can do together. And I'm discouraged because I think, If I can't even make it work now with my husband, how in the world do you make it work with kids along with husband, job, household, friends, etc? It just seems impossible until your kids are older and you again see yourself having a little extra time for yourself.

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    1. Hi Shelly,

      I personally think that moms with really young children (particularly SAHMs) need times when they get a break from the 24/7 of taking care of their little ones. Otherwise it gets to be very draining. As Gabrielle said below, having another activity (outlet) can add to our life helping to make us a better mom, wife, and friend. While we love our children dearly, they are demanding and draining. We need ways we can fill up our inner tank. One of my ways is through writing.

      All that to say, it IS possible to write with young children. But it will require strategic planning with your partner to carve out that "alone" time for the rejuvenation.

      On the other hand, when my children were really little, I took a hiatus from writing for a number of years. I found other ways to rejuvenate myself during those years. So I think it's also perfectly okay to take breaks when we need to!

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    2. I often get discouraged but then I see moms like yourself and others who make it work and realize it can be done. I also have to remind myself that it is about the journey and not the destination. :)

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    3. Shelly, I'm a homeschooling mom of 3, ages 5, 3, and 7 months. I can relate, but I agree with others that it IS possible. You have to give yourself permission to be "slower" and "less productive" than your single writer friends - or writers friends whose children in school - and it is important to keep your family as your priority when you're a sah parent.

      Jody said it well when she suggested good, open communication with your spouse. It's vital to finding a good balance and getting the support you need.

      Maybe you could consider going to a library on Saturday mornings by yourself to get a couple hours writing in? I work when my two youngest are napping (I insist my oldest take a "quiet time" in her room for an hour each day), and I sometimes get another hour or two in in the evening. It's not ideal. I know someday I'll have more time to devote to writing, but as Jody said: This keeps me sane. As long as I maintain the balance and let my children know each day that they come first, my writing is a GIFT to them and to me, and it's worth investing in.

      -Bethany

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    4. Bethany, Thanks for the encouragement! It is you moms - especially you homeschooling moms! - that give me the most encouragement! I agree, giving yourself that break to do something for yourself is not only a gift to you but your kids as well because it makes you that much better of a person.

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  6. Jody, I relate to every item in this list - especially the one about needing writing time for my sanity. I often tell people (who look at me with bug-eyes and say: "HOW do you find the time to write with FOUR children?!?!") it doesn't subtract from my life - it adds to it. Writing makes me a better wife, mom & friend. I actually need this list for other areas in my life (like MOPS) where I give and give without any potential monetary gain. My husband is very supportive of my writing venture because he does see the possibility of earning money one day - but other pursuits where that's not possible, we butt heads. I have to remind him that those are areas I value - like he values playing basketball - which should make them valuable to him.

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  7. I'm so fortunate to have complete support for my writing, at least with my immediate family. My extended family doesn't always know how to support, primarily because they don't understand the process of work for no or little money. ;)

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  8. I'm blessed to have a husband that supported my writing from the start. However, the same isn't true for other members of our extended families. Some think it's a frivolous pursuit, while others simply have trouble understanding why I put so much effort into something that takes years to yield any form of return. I've come to realize that there will always be people who think they know better for you, but really, you're responsible for your own happiness and wellbeing.

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  9. I love this post, Jody. A mutual respect is so key to a happy, healthy marriage. Because my husband respected my writing dream before there was a chance of fruition, I now support his dream to try a new business venture. We're all happy then! :)

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  10. Loved your honesty, Jody. My husband is very supportive, but I don't always find others get what I'm doing. It's hurtful to go away to a conference and have only a couple of people ask how it went. So far I'm unpublished, but I keep being faithful to the stories on my heart and continue to learn and grow in the craft.

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  11. Your analogies are so helpful. I'm currently in the "cupcake business" phase, where there's more on the line than in the "training phase." My hubby has a PhD, so gets the "investing in training" idea more than he gets entrepreneurial thinking. It's a learning process for us both, I guess.

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  12. Thank you so much for this post. It's hard (even for me) to understand my passion for writin - especially while you are in the cashless stages. It's good to read other people are going through the same issues.

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  13. My husband thinks that I am a talented writer, but since I make a good living as a business owner, he considers my writing a "hobby," something that I will never make money at, so I should give it very little time and attention. It hurts when he says that, but it's not his dream, so he doesn't understand. He is trying to be practical, pay the bills and save for retirement. I am grateful that he is so responsible. I just keep plugging away, now working on my 5th book! I have friends that I can share my writing journey with. I just love it and will always keep writing.

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  14. I think it's really difficult for people to understand the "early unpaid years". I've only been writing for 18 months, yet the people who know I'm writing are impatient for me to make money. They don't seem to understand that if I ever DO make money, it could take years and years. I just think it's hard for people to understand why someone would work for so long for free. (And also shell out for classes, conferences, etc.)

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  15. Great post with sound advice! I'm blessed that my family encourages me in my writing, but I can still keep this in mind when trying to explain to new acquaintances why I choose writing and two part time jobs over going to school. :)

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  16. Really enjoying reading all of your comments today, everyone! This is definitely a common struggle for many of us, perhaps not always with our family, but usually in some format!

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  17. It's not that they aren't supportive. They just don't get it. Most of them anyway. My dad has not a clue - he questioned me profusely when I was about to take one of their vehicles to a writers conference. I remember clearly that he asked just what is this that you're going to? It's a writing conference, Dad. Blank look in return. My mother tries to be supportive (I know she wants to read something I've written). A lot of my friends just don't know what to say when I tell them I write. that's why it is so nice to meet other writers who do get it.

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  18. Like you, I'm a homeschooling mother of young ones. I am fortunate that my husband is so supportive - and also committed to helping me find the right balance and to remember that while writing (unpublished thus far) may be my job, my priority is our young family.

    I confess while I put dedicated time into my work, I am also of the mindset that I will not put in extraordinary amounts of money until I have become published. I self-teach out of books and asking the advice of my published friends, reading blogs, but I have only ever been to one conference and I do not take classes. Many people would tell me this is foolish and I need to invest, but I don't believe formal education is the be-all-and-end-all that we tend to see it as these days. Plenty of the best writers out there were self-taught READERS. It may take me longer, but there you have it.

    I also fix a budget for research with my husband before beginning a project (especially for my historical writing).

    I think the hardest thing for me is getting my children to understand that my writing is important, but what little child isn't a bit dismissive or jealous of the time any parent spends at their job! ;-)

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  19. Yes, those early unpaid years! Still living them...five years into it! It's hard when you're building platform and people WANT to buy your books, and you have nothing to offer them yet. Saying, "I've written three books" should make you feel elated, but instead, you feel defeated if none of those books have been picked up yet.

    That said, I have a hubby who thought I'd be published from DAY ONE (still hasn't read a blessed one of my books). He picks me up every time I'm discouraged. And I have many beloved writer friends who do the same. We will eventually get out of this period of waiting, and yes--our children might be older, we might have a few more white hairs--but it'll be worth all that unrelenting effort (I HOPE!).

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  20. What a wonderful post. I'm still in the early years too...I began submitting my novel to agents yesterday!! But after four years at it, I know my husband is with me. It took a while, but I think he saw how much time I've already invested, and realized how serious I am. Now I have his full support and he actually edited my manuscript before I sent it out. You are so right. Just like anything else, we have to put in the work to learn. So well said, Jody!

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  21. I think it's hard for some people who don't write to understand why writers want to devote themselves to writing because in this country in particular, results (particularly results that occur sooner rather than later) are so important. So if people don't see the "payoff" right away, they question whether it's worth it. But the way that you explained it is very convincing; it's important for people to make time for the things they love. I don't watch football; I don't even know how to play it. So it's hard for me to understand why people can spend hours watching it. But at the same time it's what they're interested in, so I figure, to each his own.

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  22. I'm experiencing a lack of support at the moment from certain family members, but not with regard to my writing. That said, I'm sure there are some who will wonder how I can commit time to writing now that I have two new babies to raise.

    Thankfully, the people closest to me, my wife and friends, have always been completely supportive of my work, so I'm lucky enough that I've never had to justify my writing time to anyone I see regularly.

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  23. I enjoyed this post ALOT, Jodi. I was vacuuming this morning and my mind wandered over to the fact that my husband is supportive but the rest of my family including extended and immediate are not. Sure, they purchased my book when it came out but I would bet money they never read a word. While I can stew on that bummer of a fact, it's made me better at encouraging and inspiring others to continue on their journey, whether our loved ones catch the vision or not shouldn't be my focus. Again, GREAT post!

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    1. Thanks, Joanne! I love the idea of learning to encourage others with the measure that we wish we would have received! Great way to lift each other up! :-)

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  24. I love your arguments, Jody! They are not only true, but fantastic ways to gain support and strengthen the relationship with our loved ones -- instead of allowing that uncomfortable gap between our love for writing and their indifference to it to become a problem.

    I've had to "fight" for my writing "hobby" to be taken seriously too. The biggest problem in the beginning was gain the courage to explain that writing is much more than a hobby, and much more than a fleeting interest. It took patience and yes, my own dedication of writing every day and having my family witness the effort and passion I put into it, to make them realize this was serious. It probably would've been easier if I would've thought of such great arguments as you've mentioned! :D

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  25. So much good info here, both from you Jody, and all of these comments. I actually have a degree in writing, but put writing off for a couple of decades to devote time to family and day jobs (i.e. work that actually pays). I didn't plan it that way; it just worked out like that.

    Now that my kids are 20, 17 and 11, i am finding it much easier to carve out time (not easy, but easiER) to write. A year ago, I used the opportunity of losing my full-time job to take a part time job and fill the remaining hours of my "work week" with writing. On paper at least, this has given me a balance of which I could never have dreamed while in my 20's and 30's.

    Of course, most folks don't see losing your job as being an "opportunity." My wife was no exception. Long story short, the house was very cold for a few months, but I stayed at it. What I think won her over was that she started reading what I was writing. Also, she saw that I was finishing things that I started, continuing to help around the house (actually doing that more) and not neglecting the family. It has taken time, and a lot of patience, but I guess that's the key. You can't rush people understanding why you write any more than you can rush how much money you make from your writing.

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    1. "You can't rush people understanding why you write any more than you can rush how much money you make from your writing."

      Great point!! I certainly didn't win my family's support for my writing overnight. In fact, there are still struggles that crop up. But I still keep trying to help them learn to respect what I do. I think learning to respect other's choices is always a good thing to learn! :-)

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  26. This hits home for both of us. We're full-time elementary school teachers with kids of our own and finding writing time is difficult. When we do and our family seems to resent it, it's way past difficult, but yet we try. Good luck to all of us.
    erica

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  27. This was a huge tension in my marriage when I first stared writing. My husband resented the time I spent working on my novel when I could be "making more money" with my copywriting business. It was horrible to be so unsupported, but I knew this was what I HAD to do and so soldiered on despite the complete lack of support and encouragement (and also running my business and raising two pre-school aged kids). Eventually, one of my friends took my husband aside and gave him a few slaps upside the head (verbal ones ... I think) for not realizing that this was much more than just a frivolous hobby to me. My husband came to me, apologized, and has been much more supportive ever since, even watching the kids for an entire weekend once a month so I can go away and have uninterrupted writing time. And it's SO much easier to write now that I don't have to feel guilty about the time and energy I'm putting into it (working moms have enough to feel guilty about!) The fact that my first book has been published and successful is just the icing on the cake. =)

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    1. Hi Jodi, Thanks for sharing your story. It's a great example of perseverance. Sometimes it does take an outside person to help our families understand that writing is indeed valid! I'm hoping some were able to drag their spouses over to this post and have them read it! :-)

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  28. I couldn't imagine pushing through the rejections and insecurities and lonely work without the support of my wife. Communication is key; Sometimes it's hard for others to understand just how important writing is to a writer.

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