“A writer or any artist can’t expect to be embraced by the people…. You write poetry books that, you know, maybe fifty people read, and you just keep doing your work because you have to because it’s your calling.” Patti Smith
Do your friends and family not read your work? You’re in good company. This is something that many struggling writers deal with. It’s hard when so much passion and hard work is put into crafting poetry, creating a short story, or completing a novel, only to have those who should be supporting us be indifferent more often than not. I know the feeling all too well. Being a writer is lonely and often thankless work.
That’s right! It’s often thankless! It’s thankless like working any day job. For many of us aren’t at cheese and wine parties, looking at art and mingling with the upper class. We’re struggling to get by. Not only do we have to face rejection slip after rejection slip from a myriad of different publishers, but some of our closest friends and family just don’t seem interested, even though they feign interest from the start. “I’ll read your work and offer feedback,” one of my friends tells me. I get excited. Then my hopes are dashed when they never deliver feedback. I ask myself, am I bad writer? And if so, am I such as bad writer that they don’t want to give me their blunt opinion for fear of hurting my feelings? Are they too kind to tell me that I just don’t have what it takes? These feelings can be jarring, making one question their worth as a writer.
When feeling despondent there are some things to consider. Friends and family are often busy people. Most of the time it isn’t because you’re a bad writer, but because they just don’t have the time with work and school filling their schedules. Extracurricular activities or other hobbies may also take up time, which leads to the next point. They may not take you seriously as a writer to begin with. I’ve had experience with both those who are just plain too busy and others who can’t seem to see me as a potential published author with books in bookstores and libraries. There are many who will only see me as the nerd who has eccentric hobbies or the friendly next door neighbor. Others will see me as guy who works at a grocery store bagging groceries and collecting carts. Then others may see me as just the guy who goes to church with them every Sunday. But an author? Hardly! In fact, looking back at my day job I have had people tell me I am an excellent bagger. When I told one that I’m an even better author, I had one say to me, “Well, I don’t know about that, but you are an excellent bagger.” This is a sobering thought. It makes one think about how many Shakespeares, Tolkiens, Rowlings, Crichtons, and so forth are working a day job, who are only looked at as accountants, janitors, office workers, and fast food workers. Think of all the great writers who have never been discovered! It’s disheartening when friends and family won’t offer feedback about our work.
Though those closest may not support a family member’s or friend’s work, there are other ways to find feedback. Writing sites are a good place to publish your writing in order to gain an audience. I remember when I first posted one of my short stories on Booksie.com to get some feedback shortly thereafter. I was ecstatic. It was more than feedback, it was praise from complete strangers. I saw such praise not as mere words, but as vindication that I have what it takes to intrigue an audience. Those words of affirmation over my writing were worth more to me than my next paycheck. Such compliments meant more to me than a pay raise at my job.
However, sites to post writing aren’t always a guarantee for positive feedback or any feedback at all. I’ve had chapters of novels published online that seem to be virtually ignored. It’s a harsh feeling when you feel like crafting some of your best work, only to have it fall into blind eyes.
Thankfully, I have had a few friends who have given feedback and support for my work. To those friends I am very grateful. But I have had many more who don’t even bother to read my work, even when they said they will. If most don’t read our work, or if none at all do, why do we keep writing?
In the end, we write for ourselves. We write because we have no choice but to write. It’s our medicine for our insomnia, our narcotic for our anxiety and our depression. We write as a form of therapy. We write because we’re narcissistic enough that we want to be gods creating our own worlds and people. We write because we want a way to craft our own destiny through our characters. We write because we feel some power that compels us to. In the end, we write to keep our sanity. In the long run, it’s our emotional well being and the joy that we get from writing that matters the most. It’s why I keep writing.
(C) Jonathan Scott Griffin