Tuesday, August 23, 2011

How to be Friends with a Writer

A while back, I guest-posted Why I Don’t Tell People I Write on Nathan Bransford's blog. I wrote about the odd things people say when they discover you want to be a writer.

I realize now that the article was somewhat unfair. Being the friend of a novelist isn’t easy, and most people aren’t used to it. For those of you who need help interacting with a writer friend, I present to you the Idiot’s Guide to Being Friends with a Writer.

Be Aware of Disappointments

Even phenomenal writers face disappointments. I’m not talking about “I’m sad this isn’t working out the way I planned” disappointment; I’m talking about “I will never achieve my purpose in life” disappointment.

Writers can question their worth as human beings during the first draft, revisions, querying, being on submission to editors, even while marketing the book and hoping it sells. Your friend might feel like no one understands. Be sensitive.

Get Ready to Listen

Have you ever had friends get in a romantic relationship and that’s all they can think or talk about? That’s what writing a book is like. Being a newlywed with the excitements and frustrations is like revision. Finding an agent is like trying not to get divorced.

In other words, your friend is thinking about her book constantly. You’re going to hear about it a lot.

I don’t mind it when people say (kindly) that they’d like to talk about something else once in a while. But I still need a listening ear from time to time.

Don’t Ask “Are You Published Yet?”

This one gets to me the most. Most people don’t understand how long it takes for a novel to get from start to finish. The professionals often write a book a year, but that’s their job.

Unpublished novelists have to make time between work and family, and they do it without pay. The first novel is the hardest and takes the longest.

Finding an agent can take months if you’re lucky, longer if you’re not. After you find your agent you have to find an editor, which can take anywhere from weeks to a year. Once a book hits the publisher’s desk, it takes at least a year to get to book stores. So even after a book is finished, it could take as long as three years for an unlucky person to get published.

I’ve spent the last five years explaining to my friends why my book isn’t finished, and it’s embarrassing.

Don’t Judge

Even if you’ve read a person’s work, you cannot know a writer’s full talent or potential. I’ve hated stories that everyone else loved. I’ve read chapters that were terrible, but then the second draft was magnificent. Just because you think your friend is a bad writer doesn’t mean she won’t make it.

In the same vein, be aware that just because you think your friend is an amazing writer doesn’t mean agents will feel the same way. Disappointments will still come.

At Least Pretend to Take Them Seriously

It’s easy to tell when someone doesn’t think I’ll get published. If you visibly treat writing as a hobby when it’s the most important thing in your friend’s life, I hope she becomes famous and in the acknowledgments lists everyone she knows except you. No joke.

There are writers I don’t take seriously, but I would never let them know. When people shrug us off, you can’t understand how much it hurts.

If you writers have something you want every friend to know, please add it to the comments!


  1. This post made me realize how amazing and supportive my friends are. They also make me feel like my writing journey is worthwhile and interesting. I need to thank them!

  2. Love this post. Like Heidi, it makes me realize how incredibly supported my family is. However, I do keep the writing thing from my friends lol.

  3. Lori--Funny, I mostly keep the writing thing from my family!

  4. I love this post and this blog. I love reading it.

    Unlike a lot of writers, I never talk about my work, because I long ago got tired of seeing the eye rolls, and the fake interest. It is disheartening.

  5. What a terrific post! Just by writing this, you are being that friend we so desperately need. You've perfectly captured so much of the writer experience here, and I appreciate the empathy your posts always have for folks who may be in some of the earlier, most thankless and grueling stages of the journey..

  6. I love this post. Not many people understand all the effort it takes for a book to be on the shelves.

  7. I never realized how much it irked me when family/friends would ask, "Are you published yet?" until I read this post and agreed with everything you said. Even if they're just jokingly asking the question, I can't help but get a little fired up inside. It's like they're dangling a dream in front of me like an ice cream cone, and they don't realize exactly how much time and effort and thought must be invested into writing a book and then actually getting published.



  8. It's amazing how true this is. I have two friends who are second grade teachers and I love them for honesty and eagerness to help me. On the plus side, they know how to deal with the little nuggets in the classroom, so they understand when I say, "Give me adult criticism but in a way a 7 year old can handle it." So they give me the tough stuff but it's in love. And they "get" that.


I love hearing from my readers!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...