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Do your family and friends support your career as a writer?
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Support is a tricky topic for many reasons. Perception plays a huge role in how we determine if we have support or not. That perception is valid. How we feel about the way we are treated comes from the way we are treated! Others can disagree with our perception but, after all, your sense of support is the cornerstone, not theirs.
As much as a friend or family member say they support you, it really comes down to the actions they take to show you they do. Saying is easy. Actually supporting is much more than saying, hey, I support you. If someone just says it, then that’s the equivalent of sending thoughts and prayers. In many ways, this is enough. What it depends on is the vicinity to the person needing support and your role in their life, combined with one’s means to offer support (limitations can exist from monetary to physical).
However, valid feelings aside, just because you know someone in your career path who has a family member with physical limitations who does everything they can to help that colleague, that doesn’t necessarily mean you can expect that from those in your life. No situation is exactly the same. Furthermore, the individual you’re asking support from has to consent to give that support, and they’re welcome to set personal boundaries for any reason. Consent is important to both of you.
Sure, that can be tough when those expected to support you don’t. Instead of feeling angry or sad, try to walk in their shoes. Is it possible for them to do more than they are? Do they realize your expectations for their role? Have you spoken with them? Communication matters. These conversations can be difficult, because they are fraught with emotion, especially on the end of the person seeking support. You have to take care how you word your ask, and you have to be prepared to hear no.
Is it fair to expect others to just know what specific kinds of support are needed? It isn’t. Be realistic. Take, for instance, needing support in our writing world. In a lot of cases, what is needed is financial and opportunity support. What does that look like: Getting rides/transportation help, book signing dates, meeting management/agents, purchasing copies of your work, and spreading the word about the book, donating time/effort/labor. It also could be helping you find beta readers, editors, proofers, designers, or providing those services.
Now, look at those in your circle and ask yourself: does my support system contain people who can and are willing to provide these things to me? My dad is always sending me articles to read. He’s not connected to the publishing world in any way. His support is shown in providing information he believes I will find helpful to my journey. I am a licensed drive with a car, and I work a day job to support myself financially–something he helped ensure came to pass, too.
My mom is an excellent proofreader. She used to work for the State Of New York creating forms, so detail is her skillset. Mom loves to read, but sometimes my work is too much for her–too scary. She’s been a trouper, though! Mom has read everything I’ve put out even when it’s been nightmare fuel. The only thing is, she’s retired and likes to take her time, so while I can hire her to proofread, it may take longer than a more expensive professional on the market. But, Mom feels involved and supportive, and that is important to both of us. Planning your goals and making it clear when deadlines are necessary should always be clear. Don’t set them up to fail!
Many of the other supportive items on my list can’t be provided by family. My brother and I both seek work in film, but are not in a position to lift each other up, other than being an ear and fielding opinions. This year, however, we purchased the updated Final Draft software together. Upgrading was financial support we could both use! It is expensive. Sharing the cost made it possible. I’m blessed to have this in common with him, but a lot of writers don’t have that opportunity.
For a long time, I felt alone in the game. This was because the support I needed wasn’t available through my family, friends, or network. In that time, I was building my future network. That effort takes so much time when you don’t have connections to the industry. This is why a lot writers take jobs in the field. I chose human services for my day job, and that steered me far from who I should have in my network. That made it a lot harder.
Social media proved a great tool to climb that mountain. Since joining online communities, my opportunities have broadened exponentially. If only this happened a decade earlier, I could have saved myself a lot of frustration and, out of that, depression.
For someone with social anxiety from bullying, it wasn’t easy to make the leap. I came a few years late to the party, afraid I’d meet the same issues with the public that I have had in the past: bullies. They were indeed there, too. They make the work of networking a lot more difficult than it needs to be, and that is the purpose they like to fulfill. Instead of letting them push me out of the way, I decided to learn how to face them. A writer needs a thick skin in this business, and I decided to let them teach me how to have resiliency. While we may view their behavior as negative, their support in shaping my will was priceless. I controlled how much and how often (social media can be turned off). I turned their negative energy around on them and benefitted.
Social media has also introduced me to many new friends. I’ve created friendships I never would have had the opportunity to make due to vast distances and/or language barriers. As a child, I dreamed of having pen pals from other countries. The how was the difficult part. My school didn’t provide for the opportunity. My prescient sense was looking ahead to now, when I would have an international support system of amazing people. They include filmmakers, nurses, artists, writers/publishers, administrators, human services people–you name it!
What can all these folks offer to my support system? Some offer their presence, their time, their friendship. That’s enough. Others are providing me services (which I compensate them for appropriately) and we have built friendships out of being colleagues. Some of these relationships garner leads, but the friendship is foremost.
The wisest thing you can go forth with is to not put unreasonable expectations on those in your circle. Just because someone might be connected to someone else who can open a door for you doesn’t mean they must provide that connection. People should always come first. As writers, we do have professional needs, but we cannot put those ahead of others’ needs. This is why consent is important, and being understanding is pivotal.
If a friend buys your book, be grateful. They didn’t have to do that. They really didn’t. Even better if they read it and leave a review. That was going the extra mile. If someone offers you an interview or time with a connection, remember gratefulness and professionalism in this time, too. It might not work out, and that is fine. It was an opportunity. Opportunities aren’t guarantees. Sometimes, those connections will just end as learning opportunities. Take the positive and leave the rest.
To continue on this, remember that your friend or colleague is not responsible or in control of the connection they’re introducing you to. If that individual choses to be gruff, abrupt, painfully honest, or downright nasty that wasn’t your friend’s fault. That behavior was the choice of the contact. This also means, you can’t go off. Professionalism is respected in all industries. When someone treats you poorly, popping off might feel good, but word gets out. That contact will tell others, and they won’t be kind. They already showed you their willingness to be terrible! Why would they allow you to out them without striking back? They have the power to close a lot of doors, and probably the desire, too.
You owe your career and self the forethought to remain professional in all situations. You’re not responsible for other’s behaviors. Unless it was a dangerous situation, keep your cool, thank them, and move on. The connection just wasn’t right. Take the time to regroup and refine your pitch. Then focus on networking and being open for that next opportunity. Above all, don’t make your colleague or friend feel bad about what happened. Thank them, too. Tell them how much you appreciated it and that you learned a lot. Once the feelings of hurt and disappointment subside, you’ll find that is true.
We might get caught up in our feelings in the moment of rejection, but we have to keep in mind that our ability to contain those feelings and act professionally there forward is a necessary skill for this work. Your network is watching. Negative public comments are noted. Although you may feel (and probably are justified) it necessary to air your issue, many people find it off putting. They’re also outside looking in, and may have a good perspective on your situation. If they’re pulling away, you pushed. Complaining to your network, or gossiping, shows negatively on you alone.
This brings me to the important part of any support system: the best friend. That’s who you cry to about all your upsets and frustrations without being judged or pushed away or told you’re wrong. They’re offline in your life in most cases. Meaning that you don’t publicly air grievances. You talk it out at lunch and these people love you no matter what. They’re family. Just remember to lend an ear or other support when they need you. Reciprocity is a necessary element of any system of support.
I’m blessed with an amazing network of family, friends, and colleagues. They came to my rescue this past year to make the Table Read of The Shadow Soul a reality! They came in from all corners, filling the roles and performing like super stars. I could have cried, because I was so touched by this outpouring of support on my behalf, in a moment of dire need (not enough actors had responded to my casting call, almost assuring my failure). We made the table read a success together!
My last pieces of advice: trust me when I say that others can sense when you’re not pulling your weight in a relationship, whether that is in networking or personal times. If you’re insincere in your actions or words, you’ll find it much harder to find the support you need. Using others as stepping stones is never the answer. Human beings deserve better than that, every being does. Be genuine or don’t connect.
A great way to better equip yourself for networking and managing your network, is to learn leadership skills. There’s a ton of available information on the internet. Yes, these skills do translate to personal relationships.
If you have a LinkedIn account, this is a social media resource that can provide connections to training on leadership. Be careful, though! I see a lot of people misuse LinkedIn, which is a professional networking site. The comments and postings that fall below professional standards are harmful to one’s ambitions. Remember when I said your network is watching? This is a great example of it. Be mindful of how your posts and comments portray you to others. When you don’t, that support you seek could be chased off leaving you struggling.
To find out more about support systems and networking as writers, click on the links below to see what the other authors in the hop had to say to this question…