Manage the expectations of a non-writer header

How to manage the expectations of a non-writer (or, why aren’t you a writer yet?)

This week I’m going to talk about one of the most damaging things for writer’s confidence. It can stop you writing in a second, and make you feel absolutely rotten about anything you have already created. The expectations of other, non-writer friends can be sky high, and are usually unrealistic. So it’s important to learn some ways to manage the expectations of a non-writer friend.

The well-meaning friend

I was sitting in a pub talking to some friends about hobbies and football and everything else under the sun. The subject eventually came around to my writing and this blog (which has been going in its current form for almost twelve months now). A friend of mine, as innocent as you like, leant forward with a concerned look on his face and asked me: “So does all this mean you’re a writer now?” I smiled and nodded, and pointed out that I’ve been a writer for over a decade.

“Yeah,” he said, a sad, pitiful look on his face, “but now you’re making money from it, you’re a real writer.”

I pointed out that to date, I’ve made £2.45 from the advertising and affiliate links on the blog.

“So, maybe not a writer yet,” he smiled, “but you’ll get there.”

I was really polite. What I wanted to do was pull out my phone and show him the list of blog posts – once a week, like clockwork – back six months. I wanted to show him the Amazon listing of my book and the dozens of pieces of work that I’d worked on over the last few years. I wanted to rub his nose in all the work I’d done and scream that I was a writer because look at all the writing I’d been doing!

How to deal with a well-meaning friend

I didn’t do any of that. Instead, I pointed out that I didn’t need to make money from writing to be considered a writer. In the past, he’s been pretty big into kayaking, and I pointed out that no one was paying him for that, but he still loved it enough to go out in the cold and the rain at least once a month.

Manage the expectations of non-writers - my kayak friend
Not my friend – but this is what he did. Image from Unsplash.com

I told him that, for me, writing was good fun. I find actually enjoy sitting down in the morning with a half-finished chapter and a plot puzzle to overcome. Or when I have a blog post idea that comes to me in the middle of the pub that I have to get written down as quickly as possible. I really enjoy that sort of thing.

So although I’m not a rich writer, I am a writer. And I’m proud of it.

The exceptions are the newsworthy

It’s not their fault, as a rule. For most people who aren’t writers, and don’t engage in the community, they probably only know of a few writers. That means that, even though they don’t mean any harm, they are subconsciously putting you into the same basket as JK Rowling and Stephen King. They might also have read a newspaper report on a young hot-shot playwright who has had their play staged by the National Theatre in London, despite being only eighteen.

In the contemporary world, these are the stories that make the headlines and there is  always a little bit of an expectation that this is the career path for writers – they either make it big or they give up. There is little media attention given to the day to day writer, sneaking some writing time in during their lunch break and once the kids have gone to bed.

The outliers make the news reports, sure, but the reason they make the news is because of what they are – the exception to the rule. Although it would be great if someone decided to pay me millions for my next book, the chances of this happening are low. Not because my writing is poor quality (hopefully) but because of the sheer quantity of the work already out there. A writer can employ a number of tactics to get noticed, but at the end of the day, there’s no substitution for hard, constant graft.

You need to keep on looking for that big break, but the harder you work, the quicker that will come to you.

Don’t let this stop you being proud of your achievements

Men sitting in a bar
Again, not me. Image from Unsplash.com

People like my friend in the pub aren’t trying to dent your confidence. They are really trying to encourage you, albeit from an uninformed place. So don’t let this stop you announcing when you do something amazing. It might be a blog that does really well, or a book that sees a rush of sales. Or – what about finishing that chapter!

There are so many ways you can talk about your wins (remember my post on creating them?) and you should celebrate them when they happen. If you explain the situation as I have above, most people will understand. If you’re not careful, a well-meaning friend can become as demoralising as a negative letter from an agent or a competition rejection.

Write because you enjoy it

Remember why you started writing? It wasn’t because you wanted to make millions (and if so, I’m afraid you got into it for the wrong reasons). It was because you had a story or two to tell. So remember that, enjoy the stories that you’re putting down on paper. Don’t let other people, even the ones who are trying to help, get you down.

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