Dear Writer-Friends,

I've been self-publishing since 2011, and I've shared the knowledge I've gained in two books: the Indie Author Survival Guide, Second Edition, and For Love or Money. I'm not an indie rockstar or a breakout success: I'm one of thousands of solidly midlist indie authors making a living with their works. These books are my way of helping my fellow authors discover the freedom of indie publishing. Write on, writer-friends!

S.K. Quinn, Independent Author of Science Fiction

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Thursday, August 15, 2013

Ch 3.7 Emotional Judo: Lack of Support for Your Writing

(This is an excerpt from my Indie Author Survival Guide, available on Kindle and Nook.)

Ch 3.7 Emotional Judo: Lack of Support for Your Writing
Many creative workers (writers, artists, musicians) are blessed with people who enthusiastically support them in their creative life. Some have spouses, parents, and other well-meaning people who either give tepid non-support to their writing (or other art) - through lack of interest or understanding - or actively undermine, disparage, or attack their work.

When writers thank those who have supported them, they mean every word - because the opposite can be devastating.

Writing As Secret Lover
Sometimes lack of support is really a jealous reaction to the time, energy, passion, heart, and soul you pour into your art. At some level, this jealous reaction is a reasonable response to the time you spend locked away in the fevered grip of your manuscript. The solution can be lots of dialogue about your art, its importance to your well-being, as well as making sure to lavish attention on the jealous lover as well. This kind of reaction will most often come from someone who is not an artist themselves, because...

Writing As Obsession
...artists understand the obsession. Non-artists do not. I will posit that creative work is fundamentally different than non-creative work. Having done both - and having been a certified work-a-holic my entire life - there is nothing quite as obsession-inducing as creative work. It can be all consuming, and history is rife with people who have been consumed by it. When was the last time you heard of an engineer so taken with his work that it drove him mad or sent him into a great depression or brought on thoughts of suicide? (Tesla's the only obsessive engineer I can think of, and I think his madness was quite separate from his love of electricity.) Creative work is a kind of madness, a living outside of reality that we pursue with equal parts terror and delight. Someone who hasn't experienced it can't understand it... unless they actually do, and then...

Writing As Fulfillment
... they become mean. The person who attacks your work, who tells you to get a real job, who tears you down as a lazy dreamer that will never amount to anything... that person knows exactly what your art is: a fulfillment of your potential as a unique, creative person. It's your reason to be on the planet. You were created to create. The angry, mean person who is attacking you is almost certainly someone who feels the harsh sting of jealousy as you fulfill your creative potential (for more on this, see The War of Art). To be fair, they may not consciously be aware of this jealousy, or that they desire a creative life of their own. Most likely, it's a nameless ache inside, a hole that remains unfilled, and that pain gets funneled into anger when they see someone else who is... whole. The response to this is: 1) to see the attack for what it is, which can drain the attacker's slings and arrows of their wounding power, and 2) invite and encourage this unfulfilled person to seek their own creative expression. I have tremendous belief in the power of creative work to transform people. Indeed, it is almost impossible not to be transformed during the act of creation. So gently encourage this detractor to find their own creative work - or simply be the example of a creative life that will continually call to them. Trust me, your existence is hurting them much more than their words can ever hurt you.

What Can I Do?
How can you combat the negative emotional drain that comes from having loved ones who don't support your dreams? First, find people that do support you. Second, if at all possible, be open and honest with your loved ones about the importance of your art to your soul. If that's not possible, use something I call Emotional Judo to minimize the damage to yourself, your loved one, and your relationship.

Emotional Judo

ju·do (the "gentle way") noun
A modern martial art; a method of defending oneself or fighting without the use of weapons, based on jujitsu but differing from it in banning dangerous throws and blows.

Judo is “the gentle way” because it’s about deflecting the strike, not striking back. It’s about not taking the hit, not absorbing the blow, but instead turning it aside, so the energy of the attack throws the attacker off balance while minimizing injury to both parties.

(Spoken like I actually know judo. Which I don’t. And with a nod to Verbal Judo by George Thompson.)

Emotional Judo deflects the emotional attack, so that it doesn’t hurt you or the person attacking. If your mom, dad, spouse, cousin, or nosy next door neighbor makes a disparaging comment about publishing, Emotional Judo allows you to deflect the energy of the attack, throwing the attacker off balance while minimizing injury to yourself, them, and your relationship.

Attack: "Are you making any money at this writing thing yet? Does it justify all that time you've spent?"
Emotional Judo: "Absolutely yes! The money is great, but I get so much more out of it than just that. A sense of accomplishment. Satisfaction. It’s amazing how lucky I am to make money at something I love so much.”

Deflect. Disarm. There’s no comeback to that whatsoever. And you’ve just affirmed the reasons why you love what you do.

Attack: "Why don't you get a real job?"
Emotional Judo: "You know, I've never worked so hard in my life, as I have with my writing. It's amazing what having a real passion for your work can do for your motivation."

Attack: "When are you going to sell/publish that book?"
Emotional Judo: "I absolutely love this book! I took a lot of time writing and revising and getting it just right. It deserves to be published well, so I'm going to take my time to do that right, too."

Attack: "What kind of writer are you?" (With an undertone expectation that whatever you write will not be as good as something else.)
Emotional Judo: "I'm the kind that writes. I usually write with words. *smile* Right now I'm working on (insert genre of current WiP), but I respect writers in every genre: each one has its own unique challenges.  

{Seriously, humor is an awesome Emotional Judo weapon.}

Attack: "Have you published anything I've heard of?"
Emotional Judo: "Probably not. It's really hard for the average person to keep on top of all the awesome books that come out every year. You should see my "to-be-read" list! It's a mile long, and that's the books I already know about! But I usually find the best books the way most people do: by friends who tell me the latest cool thing they've read."

You Don't Need Their Support
You may want your family's support; it may hurt not to have it; but you don't need it. 

In the end, the only support you truly need is your own: no one can stop you from doing your creative work, and you alone are responsible for seeing through the full expression of it.

(This is an excerpt from my Indie Author Survival Guide, available on Kindle and Nook.)


  1. I don't have much support, but then only a few people I know personally even know I write and I doubt they take it seriously. My family didn't like that I did all the time growing up and didn't mind pointing it out. That may explain why I live on the other side of the country from them now.

    I can live without my family and friends supporting me since I've found great resources and encouragement from fellow writers on the web. My problem comes when I join things like the writers groups. They all have so much confidence, so much certainty in their craft. So how can I ask, "How do you know when it's really good?"

    A few people have told me it is, and I am pretty sure I have the skill to write, I just don't know if the subject or style is truly good. As you mention, mine can sometimes be rather dark and graphic in realism, not in blood or sex, that I don't know if anyone would want to bother with it. I just don't know how to discover confidence, in spite of all the suggestions.

    My lack will never stop me from writing, though. As you mentioned, its an obsession. If I can't find an audience for my work, I would still go on writing because it's as much a part of me as breathing.

    By the way, what's a URL? I would put my name in the right place, if I knew how. I love your posts!

    Jerrie Brock

    1. Hi Jerrie! (The URL is just your website address, if you have one - not necessary)

      First, I'm glad you're going to keep writing. Second, the only way to know if people will like your stuff is to put it out there. I encourage you to look at my Seven Questions to Ask Before Indie Publishing, but books are a hugely subjective experience - some people will like what you write, some won't. That doesn't make it "good" or "bad" - it makes it more or less popular.

      I also think confidence comes from experience. Write it; share it; rinse; repeat. If you can't be open in getting feedback from your writer's group, then you need a new writer's group. That's what they're there for.

      Good luck!

  2. The $ answer only works if you've made $, but the rest of the answer works. From my short pieces I've received: a free pen, a check for under $5, a free charm, and $20. From BlogHer and website editing, I've made more.
    My husband has been half-supportive. I go to conferences and am able to make time to write. He gives me praise for my successes. But after all these years WHEN does become a big question. And that's okay because I ask myself the same question multiple times a day.

  3. This is a great post, Susan. Sorry I'm just finding it. Before Dec 2013, I only had the free pen and a $3 check, similar to Theresa. My husband never supported my writing until I sold a story to Highlights in Dec and the check amazed him. He actually got out a calculator to figure out the per-word amount. He said, "Now you can take me out to dinner" and I said, "Excuse me? Did you help me revise this story?" I'm taking my crit group out to lunch instead!

  4. This just has me twitchy.

    "The person who attacks your work, who tells you to get a real job, who tears you down as a lazy dreamer that will never amount to almost certainly someone who feels the harsh sting of jealousy as you fulfill your creative potential..."

    I hate middle school "You're just jealous" logic, and this seems to be just that.

    I make money as a writer NOW, but for a while I was a burden on a very, very understanding parent. A successful author who's making money can tell the haters to get a hobby, but apart from the odd rude mother-in-law or snarky friend-of-a-friend, the not-yet-published writers I've seen on forums complaining that they've been told to get a 'real job' are usually complaining about their parents or their spouse, who's carrying the household financially while they pursue their goal of writing for a living and 'creative fulfillment'.

    Delivery drivers, retail workers, housewives, childcare providers - anyone who works a job that's perceived as easy and which doesn't bring home as much as their spouse gets the "Why don't you get a real job?" question, not because the questioner is jealous of all that fulfillment, but because the questioner feels like they're carrying more of the responsibility and burden in the relationship. "Why don't you get a real job?" means "I'm working 12-hour days while you're sitting at the computer, and I don't see that paying the mortgage."

    They don't need to be told to get a creative outlet, even if they can find time for it; suggesting it just sounds flippant and/or oblivious. They need to be reassured that you ARE working, not just playing video games, that your work IS paying off (if not financially yet, then in terms of experience), and that you realize how much is on their shoulders right now, but it won't be forever.

    1. If a writer is neglecting their financial responsibilities (for themselves, if they're an adult, or their family, if they have one) and depending on someone else to fulfill them, then they should get a job... and write. Stephen King speaks to this many times in his book, On Writing - how he spend many hours and years in grunt-level manual labor jobs, making sure that his family could eat. But he never stopped writing. On the other hand, if you choose to live in relative poverty, with no one but yourself dependent on you, so that you can pursue your writing full-time, then no one has the right to judge that - not even parents (unless, again, you're living off their largess). If you want to have someone else support you financially while your pursue your dream of writing, then yes, you need to get their support for what you're doing. That's part of a marriage (or other partnership, if it's your parents). But I still stand by the statement that people who tear you down like that aren't (for the most part) saying "you're not fulfilling your financial obligations" - at least they're not saying it in a constructive, supportive way. They could say "look, writing is awesome and I want you to pursue your dream, but they're going to shut off the electricity if we don't bring in some money. How about you do both?" That's a far cry from "you need to get a real job" because it acknowledges that the "real job" is writing... the others just pay the bills.


Erudite comments from thoughtful readers