Writing And The Writer’s Family

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,
Best,
J.S. Wayne
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10 thoughts on “Writing And The Writer’s Family

  1. Hi there, I found this article very interesting and of great help to both the writer and the family surrounding that writer, and their aims to succeed. I have been writing poetry now for some 9/10 years and before that I had tried my hand at writing short stories and had one story published in a magazine together with a few poems along the way. When the poetry came along though, it was through a great truama that had occurred in my life, ie the sudden death of my husband and partner of 23 years. At the time my three children were all young and I was relatively isolated from my extended family, however, my dear late mother always supported my efforts, as had my late husband, and my children did and still do support my need to write both poetry and, as it stands now, my efforts to break into the world of the writer.

    I am currently studying for my English Literature degree through the Open University in Britain, and my children are my greatest support. I have a large entended family being the eldest of six children, and to be frank with you, most of my siblings view me as an upstart, and have the view of ‘how dare I consider myself a writer?’ As you can imagine I have little to do with them these days, although they were never really supportive after losing my hubby anyway. But other members of my extended family, my aunt for instance, support my writing ambitions and always have. I think this is because she herself likes to write, as do other members of my extended family. We are quite an artistic lot, and I think this is one reason that we support each other. I agree with what you say about support being crucial from your family, especially close family, because without that support this writers confidence becomes drained by the sheer struggle for recognition and those that think I am wasting my time. I would say though that such pessimism, I find, makes me more determined to prove them wrong. It makes me angry that my siblings and some of their children cannot find it in their hearts to just accept me for who I am, ie a struggling human being who loves to write. I guess a flash car and masses of consumables defines a great deal of people these days, but not in the eyes of the artistic, who will be following in the footsteps of other artistic types who have lived and died in relative poverty. I write poetry because I love to write poetry. I realised a long time ago that being a poet was never going to give me a living, although it does help me to live!

    Great article

    Smiling at you

    Tai

    • Thank you for your response, Tai!
      Compared to many writers I know, I’m well off in this respect. Oh, the occasional snarky comment slides by, don’t get me wrong, but I really feel for those who have to fight against the doubters and naysaysers day in and day out. Writing can be enough of a grind when everything’s going well; adding in the stress of having to explain for the steenth time why you’re so determined is absolutely exhausting.
      Kudos to you for keeping your head up in the face of all that. I sincerely hope you continue to do so!

  2. aww. good. My children are thrilled, especially my son, he dreams bigger than myself. The husband is the skeptic. My mother is sending me notes in the mail, cool. You know I’m grounded and as long as you keep improving and you feel good about it, that is what matters.

  3. I read this and thought, “whether to write or not to write, that is the question.” Then I saw the spectrum between. When rude words shift thoughts and the words morph into that which was never intended, and make something less, something more, something other, than what initialized a commitment to express. Sometimes that can be artistic, sometimes not, but it can wreak havoc with deadlines. Truly appreciate this writeup. It makes you think.

    Also, to Roberta, keep up your confidence. There’s a lot inside you waiting to get out.

    • Thank you for weighing in, Lawrence!
      When I was writing this, that old saying about the devil being in the details kept running through my mind. It really does take more than just being able to put the words down on paper, and writers tend to be notoriously sensitive when it comes to their craft. I’m glad you enjoyed the post!

  4. I love this, and am sharing with my family. I work in a family business with Mother, Father, Sister, Aunt and I go home to Husband & Daughter. They support my “hobby” (grrrrr!) So I find myself now rising at 5-5:30am. Hubby is off to work, daughter is still sleeping sound, and the real world commitments don’t start till 9! One day I WILL have the last laugh! 🙂

    • Margie Church made a very insightful comment on another thread: “Until it pays the bills, it’s a hobby.” I’m blessed AND cursed that writing is not only my passion, but the source of nearly all my income. (If you wonder how that could be a blessing and a curse, find a male OB-GYN sometime and ask him how he feels about HIS job!) It sounds like you’re pushing hard, and that’s what you’ve got to do. I hope it pays off for you!

  5. Oh so true. If it’s difficult to explain to family how important writing is to the author…try explaining marketing and promotions, networking and blogging, submissions and waiting, dealing with rejections, editing and revising. Writing is so far from a one dimensional craft it’s ridiculous.

    Being an author in the modern era is like trying to be a major league pitcher without a team, coach, scout, and agent. Is it possible? Sure, but it’s extraordinarily difficult.

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