Today’s question is from a writer and blogger wondering how to handle a close friend who is dismissive of her work. It may seem like this question and answer is specific to one profession, but it’s really for all people who feel that a close friend or family member is disinterested or even hostile towards an important piece of their lives.
I recently started writing and trying to get my work published in various online and print magazines and newspapers. I’ve had some early success with credible publications–what I call my “small wins.” I’ve wanted to write (outside my previous day job) for years, so this is a huge deal for me.
One of my good friends in town hasn’t been very supportive of my writing. She never asks how it is going, or gives me positive feedback on my work. Any time I have a “small win,” she avoids mentioning it. If someone else brings up my writing in a social situation, she either ignores the conversation, is dismissive, or gives a cursory “oh, yeah?”
On the other hand, since I started writing, I’ve made some amazing online friends, all of whom are supportive and happy for my success. It’s like we share in each other’s accomplishments and happiness, and genuinely support each other. How can it be that people I have never met, except online, encourage and support me, while a great friend of many years, living down the street, does not?
I’m not sure if my friend is upset that she isn’t writing herself, as I know she would like to be. My husband keeps telling me this is about her and her own insecurities, and not about me. Whether that is true or not, it still stings. I’m not sure what to do about it. Do I tell her how I’m feeling, and that her lack of support has been upsetting to me? Or do I leave it alone, and simply carry on with my writing?
At a Loss for Words
Dear At a Loss for Words,
Through my experience as a writer and from years of talking about this type of issue with other writers, I’ve found that family and friends will react in one of five ways to your work.
- THEY WILL BE ENTHUSIASTIC
These are the friends who read your work regularly. They send you occasional texts and emails saying, “Really liked this one,” and they may even be supportive on Facebook as well. To keep these friends, you must never, ever assume they have read anything. You are to be surprised and delighted by anyone who has taken the time to read your work.
I’m going to say right now that to expect enthusiasm from anyone in your life, even your spouse, your sister, or your mother, is asking a lot. It’s rare that anyone can keep up with all the work we writers produce. So when you find these people, make sure to come from a place of deep gratitude and appreciation. There is so much out there to read, and if they read your work in any capacity (weekly, monthly, occasionally), then that is extraordinarily generous. Ask them about their jobs and their families constantly because you owe them tons of enthusiasm in return.
- THEY WILL BE NEUTRALLY INDIFFERENT
These are the family and friends who know you’re a writer and have seen your work here and there. They ask you about it sometimes, but if they don’t, it’s not for any specific reason just like you might not know the gritty details of their jobs. They are neither excited nor threatened by the topics you cover. I suspect that most family and friends fall in this category, and that is not a bad thing. Ultimately to succeed in this business, your audience has to expand beyond family and close friends anyway. Remember, the family and friends who read your work regularly get your surprise and delight every time!
- THEY WILL BE CONFUSED
These folks say things like “I just don’t understand the internet or blogs.” This reaction is genuine and not meant to be hurtful, but starts to feel like passive-aggressive criticism when it goes on for years.
- THEY WILL BE DISINTERESTED
The family and friends in this category do not read your work and they do not ask you about it even if you ask about their jobs or passions. It’s worth mentioning that they may also be the types who are not good at asking questions in a conversation. That is why disinterest can feel personal, but it truly could be a matter of poor social skills.
It’s important to remember that not everybody likes to read, not everybody likes to read online, and nobody will be as interested in our writing as we are. That said, do I think it’s irritating if you’re always asking about someone’s life and she never asks about yours even if she’s not particularly fond of essays or whatever else you write? Yes. It’s especially rude and awkward if you’re supposedly good friends. People do not have to actually read your work to ask about how things are going. It’s called good manners.
- THEY WILL BE DISAPPROVING
These are the people who read your work and see your activity online, but do not like what you are saying and doing. They may openly let you know, or they may choose to act disinterested to avoid letting you know directly. No matter how the message gets across, being on the other end of disapproval never feels good.
So, what about your friend?
It’s hard to know whether your friend falls into “neutrally indifferent” of your work, “disinterested” or “disapproving.” But now I’m going to tell you the hardest truth. You have to force yourself to forget about winning this friend’s interest, support, and approval.
I want you to learn from my mistakes. Until recently I spent far too much time worried about the few people in my life who fall into the disinterested and disapproving categories. I was also too attached to the enthusiastic ones. The peace of mind of not needing so much approval from those giving it and from those withholding it would have been better for my relationships, my confidence, and my writing.
I also want to say that I think we can get overly fixated on changing the mindset of a particular person. You have to ask yourself why this one friend’s lack of support is bothering you so much. Do her doubts mirror your own? Is her refusal to acknowledge your success holding you back from settling into the writing identity?
Bottom line: You do not have to end this friendship, but you have to stop hoping she will like your work or even acknowledge it. I think your husband is right that her inability to show any interest in what you’re doing (even as a friend if not a reader) is her issue to face and not yours.
You asked: “How can it be that people I have never met, except online, encourage and support me, while a great friend of many years, living down the street, does not?
The enthusiasm of fellow writers, even those we’ve never met in person, is impossible to match because we’re members of the same team. We understand the challenges of getting work accepted for publication and the harder challenge of getting eyes on that work.
You also asked: “Do I tell her how I’m feeling, and that her lack of support has been upsetting to me? Or do I leave it alone, and simply carry on with my writing?”
If your friend continues to act as if this important piece of your life does not exist, it’s only logical that you will want to spend less time with her. It’s not like you’re a drug dealer asking for her approval. While I believe it’s unreasonable to expect your friends to read your work, it is reasonable to expect them to acknowledge its place in your life, even if just in casual conversation. If you miss the time you used to spend with your friend, or if she misses you and asks what’s going on, I think it’s only fair to tell her that you want to be able to talk about your writing just as she is able to talk about what matters to her.
Fellow writers, what advice do you have? Should this week’s letter writer confront her friend or let it go? What would YOU do?
Nina is a contributing writer for Tcjewfolk.com, Kveller.com, and Great New Books. Her essays have appeared regularly at Brain, Child Magazine, The Huffington Post, The Jewish Daily Forward, and have been syndicated in The Times of Israel as well as Jewish newspapers across the country. She lives in Minneapolis with her husband and four children. Contact her on Twitter @ninabadzin and on her blog.