Image: Matthew Loffhagen
My dear fellow writer, have you ever felt your family and friends don’t get you?
They just don’t understand the angst of putting words on paper,
compounded by the problem that your to-do list is bursting at the seams,
made more complicated by your temptation to procrastinate,
further frustrated by the story that is boiling inside you, straining to get out?
It’s the struggle of every artist: the tension of completing a creative work in the midst of the demands and responsibilities of daily life. A lucky few writers may have a spouse, a partner, or a friend who actively supports their work, but more commonly we find ourselves in need of a little practical help with no clue about how to communicate that to others. So, I’ve put together a list of ways that family and friends can support the writer in their lives.
Maybe you’ll print this list and tuck it quietly into a holiday letter to your family or accidentally leave it up on your computer screen for your partner to find or maybe you’ll simply read it, remember you’re not alone in your daily grind, and finally know how to answer your mom when she asks, “What can I do to help you this week?”
Dear friends and family, what follows is a concise list of five practical ways you can support the writer in your life.
- Understand their writing process and support them in it. Some writers need a buddy, some need an empty room—which one is the writer in your life? If the first, then ask them out on a work date (key word being work) and just be present for your friend. If the latter, think of creative ways you can foster that atmosphere for them—that might mean offering to watch their kids for a couple of hours or running errands for them or occasionally making them a meal. As a good friend, partner, or family member, you’ll know best how to take the load off to give your writer friend the much-needed, often-elusive, dedicated writing time he or she needs.
- Ask probing questions and be a good listener. Writing can be equally thrilling and frustrating. These highs and lows take their toll on each writer in different ways. You’ve heard the stereotypes of creative people who don’t eat or shower or do dishes for days at a time … it’s not always that extreme, but there are times when we’re so consumed by our work that we need someone we trust, someone we know has our best interests at heart, to pull us out of that cloud and ground us in reality again. So, from time to time, ask the writer in your life how they’re doing—how they’re really doing—in their work, their daily life, what’s on their mind and in their heart that they need to express to another human being who exists outside of the pages of their story world. Then give them the gift of a listening ear. (If in the course of this conversation your friend expresses a need you might meet, see point 1.)
- Spread the word. In whatever small ways you can think of, share your writer friend’s work with other people in your life. You don’t have to get evangelical or be disingenuous about it, but if you know of someone who would like their work, buy it for them as a gift or point them to the author’s website, share their updates on your social media channels. Basically, offer your writer friend free marketing support in whatever small ways come naturally to you.
- Be a good critic. If you have the kind of relationship with a writer in which you are asked to read and give feedback on their work, I’d like to offer a few words of advice. First, be honest. Yes, we writers wish our every word were perfect the first time, but of course no draft is perfect; that’s why we need a critique! So, please give your writer the most genuine and honest feedback you can. You have a unique perspective as both a reader and an insider into this artist’s mind. If you only ever praise this person’s work, you’ll have made them feel better, of course, but you probably won’t have helped them if you give no advice for improvement. That said, be kind. Don’t go overboard and only give a critical review. We writers are intimately tied to our creative work; we do want to know how to improve our craft, but we also want to know that what we’re writing is meaningful and worthwhile. If you’ll give the writer in your life balanced feedback about their work, you’ll have the unique opportunity to help bring something new and powerful into the world.
- Feed them. Coffee and chocolate. Okay, just kidding—sort of. Snacks are always appreciated for those late-night sessions. But what I really mean is feed their brain, their imagination, their soul—that part of them where ideas are born and nurtured most. Did you hear a good story at work that made you think of your writer friend? Please share it with him or her. Have you read an article or watched a documentary that you can’t stop thinking about, that’s keeping you up at night? Send it to your friend. In our busiest seasons, when we’re facing deadlines and trying to keep all our other plates spinning, we seldom have time to stop for something that ignites our wonder. But that is often the fertile ground where our best ideas are born. So don’t let that good material go to waste; feed your writer friend from time to time.
I hope by now you’ve gotten a little glimpse into the creative life of a writer. It’s not that we’re some special breed that no one else can understand or sympathize with, it’s just that creative work isn’t easy. It is taxing, but writers and artists of all kinds do this work they love so much because they have something to say to the world. Many a writer feels they must get their words onto paper for themselves first, but also for others. What we write, though it originates with us, is meant to resonate with others, to start a conversation, to live a long and meaningful life of its own in the hearts and minds of readers. As a friend, spouse, partner, or family member to the writer in your life, know that no effort is too small. When you take the time, give of yourself, lend a hand, your fingerprints are on that story too. That’s no small thing.5 Ways To Help The Writer In Your LifeClick To Tweet
Writers: What other ways have you received help that made a difference in your writing life? How else might those closest to you support you in your creative work?