Writers are subject to any number of stereotypes, both flattering and otherwise. We’re often portrayed as isolated, socially inept hermits who sit in an office from dawn to dusk to dawn and simply hurl words onto a page. Our capacity at this endeavor tends to define us in our public personas. This reputation, while not wholly undeserved, is only one facet of being a writer.
Writers are people, just like everyone else. We have our problems, unexpected triumphs and tragedies, and foibles. We also have families: Spouses, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, children, nieces and nephews, grandchildren. All of these people are important to us, and we try to give our families as much attention as we do our careers.
With this comes a delicate balance that has to be observed and maintained. The job has to come first, because many writers who have reached a certain point in their careers rely on their writing to pay their bills, mortgages, and take care of their families. At the same time, it’s simply not possible for a human being to work all the time without cracking up.
This is where having a supportive family can make or break a writer’s career. Writers fight a great deal of inertia just to get noticed. Bigger names and better-known authors are thick on the ground, and the author who wants to break into publication has to recognize the odds they fight against. Out of all the writers out there, only two percent will see publication with a house. Of that number, only one half of one percent will go on to become self-sustaining authors whose entire living comes solely from their work. This stacks the deck heavily against the author.
To the writer’s family, this can make writing appear to be an utter waste of time and resources. I have been fortunate in this regard: Many authors have to cope with families who don’t understand why we write or the sacrifices writers make in order to become “established” in the literary community. They frequently quarrel with their spouses and children about the disproportionate amount of time writing and all the things that come with it consume.
Tragically, the support or lack thereof a writer encounters is directly linked to a writer’s ability to produce. A writer fights hard enough to set themselves apart from the pack of other hopefuls, all chasing a variation on the same dream. When a writer finds themselves having to explain to friends and family about deadlines and why they matter, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. This is only compounded by the fact that most writers never manage much more than covering their advances.
This in turn leads to a more overarching cultural theme: Western society expects results, and they expect them immediately. Writing doesn’t work that way. It takes time to cultivate a fan base, to get one’s name out there, and to create enough work to get people interested in you and what you’re doing. So if you say, “I’m a writer,” many people will say, “Yeah? How come you’re still working that crap job and driving that car that’s one tire rotation away from falling apart?”
Being a writer is hard work, and often doesn’t pay what people expect. Back when Charles Dickens and Edgar Allen Poe were doing it, writers got paid by the word, so it was worthwhile to delve into “purple prose.” Nowadays, writers are paid to be concise and efficient in their storytelling. This adds another dimension to the paradigm altogether, and as Nathaniel Hawthorne once famously quipped, “Easy reading is damn hard writing.”
Having a supportive family makes all the difference to a writer. The market runs hot and cold, turns on a dime, and there are no guarantees. But a writer who knows they have the support of their family can pull through. If you’ve got one in your family, encourage and nurture them. They just might surprise you down the line.
Until next time,