Mistake No. 32: “Look, Mum, I’m a writer!”

Fretting over friends’ and family’s lack of interest in your work, is today’s mistake.

This one seems to affect writers across the board – beginners and established scribes alike. I know a lot of writers who like to moan about it.

I ought to declare that my circle of loved ones took great interest and demonstrated huge pride when I first published. It was really nice. Had they not, I may well have been pissed off.

That faded. I was fine with it. You ought to be fine too. Because they’ll make all the right noises at first, they’ll coo and high-five you and tell their friends and show the neighbours. But after a bit this’ll drift gradually from “Oh wow!” through to “That’s great” and then “Oh right” and all the way down to a polite silent nod and a quick change of subject.

You’ve bored them. And they’ll probably stop asking about what you’re working on, because your new job is not a new job any more. You do a bit of writing now, and they know you do a bit of writing, and … when’s Strictly Come Dancing on again?

Some writers mope about this. I’ve known some to pester their nearest and dearest. Send them scans of their articles, for instance. Email them to alert them to a new story. Call them up to ask what they thought. And absence of enthusiasm irks them. And then they turn to other writers. Or me.

“My family don’t care!” (Aw, they do a bit – just not that much.)

“They’re not interested in my work!” (Correct. My latest article is on prostate health and I can’t expect my mother to digest that with her cuppa and a Rich Tea.)

“My mates don’t understand how hard my job is!” (And you understand how hard nursing is?)

Stop and ask yourself what you want from them. Approval? Compliments? Pats on the back? That’s all well and good – but is this truly satisfying to you when you’re clearly soliciting it? I know it’s lovely to have your team behind you, but unless they’re openly disapproving or negative about your work, does it really matter if they’re a bit so-so about it and don’t leap up and down with joy when you press your latest opus into their hands? Is it not enough that they make you hot cocoa when you’re writing till gone midnight and give you a warm hug when you’ve received the umpteenth rejection to your novel?

Do you know why I think it’s a mistake to fret? Because all the approval and compliments and pats on the back you do get in this way will dilute the pleasure you get from the spontaneous and sincere ones which will one day come your way – from all quarters.

I won’t forget the dietitian who sent me an out-of-the-blue email complimenting a piece of work or a reader’s letter of gratitude for an article which helped her towards a diagnosis. The same applies to the girl I met at a party who was a fan of an old column I used to write or the M&S checkout lady who recognised me from the same magazine.

There are a few others, though not many, and I’ve been doing this for over a decade. I guess the reason I remember them is because they were meaningful at the time, and so they stayed with me. More prolific and better writers get a lot more. But they’re all special. I’ve a friend who has been reduced to tears by a complimentary note from an editor.

They’re great because they’re reminders that you’re read: some writers find this difficult to imagine, someone actually taking in their words. They prove that you make a difference. They inspire you to keep doing what you’re doing. They’re rare little pearls which make it all worthwhile. And I bet they wouldn’t if they were lost in a sea of other little pebbles.

Students – keep thrusting your work under my eyes and nose because I do care. Do the same with editors because they’re the ones who ultimately matter. But don’t thrust them under your loved ones’. Friends don’t want to read your work: they want to talk about X Factor and have a beer with you. Your mum wants to check you’re eating well what with all the time you spend on your computer. Your dad wants to know whether you need any jobs doing around the house what with all the time you spend on your computer.

Isn’t that just great as it is?

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