Monday, October 13, 2014

This Writing Life 12: Dealing with Nonbelievers

I make a living at this. Most of my earnings are through Ghostwriting and Communications (which reminds me, I have invoices to send out), but still, I make a living. It’s nice.

Lots of folks don’t make a living at this. For a long time I didn’t make a living. And many times, when I said I was trying to do this for a living, I got pushback:

“You won’t be able to take care of your child.”
“But writing is only a hobby.”
“You can’t make a living at this.”
“But what about insurance/benefits/retirement?”
“You already wrote a book. Why would you right a second one?”

What do you do with people like that?

Help me internet, you’re my only hope…

If you Google “how to deal with unsupportive people” the answers you will find are mostly variations “tell them to f*** off and cut them out of your life.”

Which is fine as far as it goes, unless it’s your family. Especially close family. Just saying.  Not that there’s a rather long story in there or anything.

So what to I do?

I use a six step process, and for the most part it works.  Sometimes you need variations on it, and sometimes you have to do other things, but for the most part, this works:

1. If you know they’re going to be negative, don’t bring it up.

Seriously. Don’t. I don’t care how well your book is doing, or that you just sold a short story or that Spielberg has optioned your screenplay.  Don’t talk about it.  Talk about puppies.  Everyone loves puppies.

2. If it’s already been brought up, change the subject.

Everyone loves talking about their hobbies, or their kids, or how smart they are. Get them talking about themselves and suddenly, that will no longer care about you.

3. Tell them to change the subject.

Really, some people won’t give up. So tell them to give up.  “You’ve made your point. Thanks. How is your fanaticism with the local sports franchise going?” “Let’s agree to disagree. How is your fanaticism with the local sports franchise going?” “Drop it already, will you, or I’ll talk about that time in high school where you did that hideously embarrassing thing. How is your fanaticism with the local sports franchise going?”

4. Leave.

Remove yourself from the situation. “Sorry, I have to go now.” “Oh, look, is that the time?” “Drat, I forgot to sacrifice to my evil gods, so I’d better go do that before they destroy the world. See ya!”

Or say, “I’m sorry you feel that way, and I hear what you are saying, but if you can’t drop this, I am going to have to leave.”

Note: That last one is an ultimatum. Don’t use it unless you are willing to go through with it, especially with family, because there’s going to be repercussions. Like your mom asking why you walked out of your cousin’s wedding/bar or bat mitzvah/birthday/funeral (don’t do that last one. It lacks class).

Also, never use any of these while trapped in a moving vehicle. If I have to explain why, you need to go do some thinking.

5. Decide what this relationship is worth to you and act accordingly.

You can’t just tell everyone to f*** off.  You may want to, and when I’m depressed, I come close, but the reality is that not everyone can be cut out of your life.

Co-workers must be tolerated, because you need to eat. Don’t talk to them about your dreams if they won’t be supportive. Just work there until you can say, “I got my million dollar advance and I am OUT OF HERE!!!”

Family must be tolerated to various levels because they are family, or because you share connections you can’t cut (like real estate, investments, or children). Maybe see them less often. Maybe develop a more distant, Facebook-based relationship.

In a worse case scenario put up with them because they have to be a part of your life and you don’t have a choice. Learn to tune them out and think about puppies while they talk. Then smile and nod.  It will irritate them, which is fun.

6. Cut them out of your life.

Yes, I have gone there. No, it is not happy-making. No, I didn’t tell them to f*** off, because someday you may need that bridge. Burning it is stupid.

Those are my words of wisdom, such as they are.

Next Week: Finding Supportive People (because we need them)


Helen Reilly said...

Erik - the words...they are indeed wise. The actions....are actionable....and, all are reasonable. I'm not there yet - in a place where it's real enough to defend, but if - STRIKE THAT - when I get to a place where I'm doing what I love and not losing the house, I'll not soon forget the stepping stones that got me there - the ghost-writer guy who was kind enough to connect over a coffee in a hipster, environmental coffee shop to share inspiration - there and then here. WHEN my ,million dollar cheque arrives, I'll not forgot who cajoled me from one of those first stepping stones - to the next....WRITE ON...and keep calm. it's worth it!

Erik Buchanan said...

You are so sweet! Thank you!

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