• Bridge Ladies

    Bridge Ladies When I set out to learn about my mother's bridge club, the Jewish octogenarians behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, their gen, and the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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You Light Up My Life

What a relief!

When my husband finished his first book, he gave it to a friend to read. When our friend finished the book, he called and said, “Well, it must be good to find out you’re not Shakespeare.” What exactly did he mean? Is anyone  in danger of thinking he is Shakespeare? Was it supposed to be a relief, joining the human race, or being taken down a peg, or a few thousand pegs? Did the book suck, or did it not suck? The only thing I am certain of is the effect of that scorching comment.

Writing is hard!

Just to be clear: I’m not Shakespeare. I’m not Kate Moss. I’m not Johnny Depp. Not Saul Bellow. I’m not Denis Johnson. I’m not Malcolm Gladwell or his agent, sadly. I’m not John Lennon. I’m not Squeaky. I’m not the person I most detest.  Well, that’s a relief.

What is this post about? Random, hurtful remarks not meant to wound that can stay with a writer for years. Or random, hurtful remarks that are meant to eat away at whatever self esteem you cobble togther as you sally forth.

When my memoir was being submitted to publishers, one of my sisters said I had a pair of brass balls to be selling a memoir before I turned forty. That comment stayed with me the whole time I was writing the motherfucker, and as I wrote I often wondered where I got the audacity. Worse was constantly asking: who the hell am I to be writing this.

Got any doozies?

127 Responses

  1. My mother, in regard to a book that took 3 years to write:

    “I’m just so glad you finished your paper.”

    She said the same thing when I was writing my Ph.D. dissertation.

    “I just don’t understand why it takes folks so long to write these papers.”

  2. “Writers are a dime a dozen.”

    A friend’s father said that to me thirty years ago, when I “shared” with him my dream of being a writer.

  3. A small-town magazine editor told me I wasn’t aggressive enough to make it, and completely derailed me for several years. Then I learned how important it was to have the ability to be a good listener.

  4. My sisters played the piano. I played the piano. My sisters were better. Mom’s comment one day when a friend of hers asked if I played the piano – “Yes . . . but not very well!” Gee, thanks for the boost of self-esteem, Mom! Love Ya!

    I truly don’t think people realize the impact of their words. People, for the most part, speak before thinking, when they should actually think before speaking.

    It took years to move away from the comments of childhood to have a small dose of fragile self-esteem.


  5. @HT I laughed at your PhD dissertation comment because I have a similar one of my own. When I finished mine, after seven years, I proudly showed it to my mother and she asked “Did you type all this yourself?” I don’t like talking about my writing with her these days.

  6. At a big writers’ conference, a famous writer, after reading my work, told me never to dumbdown my writing. ” Don’t let them take away the beauty,” he said.
    Now that I am sending to agents, all I get is “the recommendation” that I dumb down my writing. Dumb down, really, dumb down…Shit on a stick …or you’ll never get published.

  7. Jorie Graham told me, “You will never be funny.”

    She was referring to my poetry. It wasn’t meant to be a slight, but it made me really depressed. That’s why I’m not a poet anymore.

    • Jorie Graham the Pulitzer Prize winning poet or Jorie Graham the 3:00 a.m. slot at Caroline’s?

    • Why would you give up poetry just because of what one poet said about your work???
      I sure hope you will go back to poetry — just start by writing some poems about being depressed!

  8. Sometimes it’s the silence that is the most damaging. I’ve been writing and publishing for 15 years; my husband has yet to utter a word about it, praise or scorn.

    • Weird. Is he not even a reader? I’d suggest a great sex romp with a fellow writer at a writers conference, with one of your drafts scattered all over the bedcovers and your naked bodies, etc.

    • Some people are incapable of turning on their ‘internal projector’ and they simply can’t see the story. For them, reading is just a bunch of words on a page that are strung together to make sentences that are then strung together to make paragraphs…

      A friend finally explained this to me after refusing – refusing – to read a novel that I wanted to share with him. I’d thought he’d enjoy it because he enjoyed the movies along the same vein. He always seemed to be reading newspapers, blogs, articles, etc. but he said he would not read anything that required seeing the story. He hated admitting this to me because he thought something was wrong with him and I’d think he was stupid.

      Years later, I actually read a novel that was so poorly written that it seemed to be filled with words on a page that were strung together to makes sentences … it was painful.

      I don’t know about your husband – but it is worth considering that he can’t see a story when he is reading, so he’s unqualified of having an opinion.

      I think more and more people are having this problem.

    • The silence is a truly hurtful reaction. I did finally learn it wasn’t my wriiting that was the problem but the marriage and moved on. Am now living with a poet whom I met at a writers’ conference and feel so much better.

      Keep wriitng your stuff no matter where you are.

    • Anonymous, shame on your husband. Whether a reader or not, as your husband he should be most firmly in your corner with verbal praise. What part of “partner” does he not understand?

      A friend who worked as co-editor on three anthologies with a major publisher was asked by her husband during her work on the third collection when she would be finished working on her little books.

      Passive-aggressive will get you every time. And a backhanded compliment is no compliment at all.

  9. Interesting that so many of them came from the writers’ relatives.

    Someone, in a sincere attempt to wound, said I never would have been published if I weren’t half Mexican. Someone else said it was only because I’m half white. Those haunted me until I realized they illustrate the speakers’ self-loathing.

  10. “This is crrrrrrap.” From the college-level writing instructor. He only succeeded in making me mad enough to keep writing.

    “You think so far outside the box that I’m not sure you even know there is a box!” From a SFF editor. And what was so far outside the box? A main character who could see her guardian angel. Really. Even five years ago, who knew that was so revolutionary?

  11. Keith Kahla said: ” … thanks again for thinking of me.”

  12. 1. Someone referred to my writing as a hobby — and I’m a published freelancer.

    People don’t understand that just because you’re not making your living at something 100% doesn’t mean it’s not your life and heart’s work. Hard work.

    2. Someone else referred to my writing very nice as something to do while I’m waiting to meet a man (I’m in my 40’s mind you, divorced with two kids)

    I think of #2 as the “in the meantime” comment and it irked me most of all. It slammed me as a writer and a woman.

  13. And to Anonymous at 9:34

    Your comment saddens me. Someone omitting acknowledgment can be worse than if he’d bite.

  14. Oh, Amy, your first comment actually reminds me of something that happened recently. I was at a happy hour for my husband, who was leaving his job of seven years to finally pursue what he most enjoyed doing. When he introduced me to one of his former colleagues as a writer, the guy said that he couldn’t imagine treating his writing as anything more than a hobby. Ouch.

  15. When my debut novel received its first review in a national paper, I was excited about the praise and called a friend. Her reply? “No one reads that paper. It goes right in the blue box.”

    I put up with comments like these for a couple of years, then decided I was not being true to myself. I no longer see this person.

  16. Great post about a common problem — the offhand and unintentional can be the worst.

  17. Okay, just so we’re clear? The Shakespeare comment dude? NOT FRIEND. (Or, if, by some chance, he was/is a loooongtime relationship, well, he’s clearly stuffing some shitty resentments that are oozing out at inappropriate times and stinking up the joint.) I usually take the super direct approach in those situations, but I err on the side of more confrontation rather than less. Hilarity often ensues. Okay, hilarity sometimes ensues. Anyway, notfriend. Just saying.

    Let’s see, doozies. Not so much in my writing world, but once, eons ago, on one of the very few occasions I’ve allowed my friends to set me up with a man (who, btw, in this case resembled an overweight Penn Gillette but possessed none of his intellect, wit or charisma), my date spent 20 minutes over coffee detailing his recipe for fat-free lasagna and then said, as he stared longingly at a girl crossing the room in a metallic silver miniskirt, “Now THAT’S the kind of girl I like.” And, worse, when I indignantly recounted the scenario to the girl who thought we’d be perfect for each other, her response was, “that’s weird. I wonder what you did to make him say that.” Sigh. People suck.

  18. My former mother-in-law when I told her I got up early to write: “Oh, [Sue Wickles] got up for years at 5am to write and nothing ever came of it.”

    I’m still writing. My short stories have been published. I guess something came of it.

  19. Oh, and also… I think people get confused about what memoir is and isn’t. Which seems like the root of the sister comment. Here’s a test. When she made the brass balls comment, did she pronounce memoir like Lovey Howell would (mehm-mwahz)? ‘Cause that puts a whole unrealistic expectation on the content.

  20. Yes, those types of comments rise to the surface when self-doubt sets in. You forget all the positives and remember the off-hand remarks. Maybe some of those people hadn’t even read your work, like Betsy’s sister. It ‘s like our brains have a spot for those comments and that spot has a faulty trigger that fires and keeps firing.

    Breathe, Breathe, Breathe.

  21. A professor in a graduate creative writing class told the whole room that my short story was only “fit to be published in ladies’ home journal.”
    Not that there’s anything wrong with ladies’ home journal, but I think he was trying to make a point. Later it was published in a paper that he publishes in, so I felt vindicated.

  22. Relative on my thesis: “It’s just going to gather dust. Nobody reads those things.”

    Relative on my second book: “That’s cool, but it’s not REALLY a book at all, is it?”

    My favorite was last week. My dad was musing on the word “kvetch” and I suddenly realized he hadn’t read last year’s book, which devotes a chapter to the art of complaining.

    I handed him the book, turned to the salient chapter and cocked an eyebrow. And we both laughed. (It was that or primal screaming.)

  23. From my sister recounting conversation around the Thanksgiving table about my autobiographical novel, “everyone said- ‘who wants to read abotu that?!'”

    From my sister in law in the midst of another uncomfortable family gathering, “are you still writing that? It didn’t take JK Rowling this long”

    From my step father when I told him I’d finished the book, “Well, you’re no Steinbeck.”

    From my husband when I told him of each and every slight, “Let them go, let them all go.”

    I did. I have. Keep writing.

    • Well, with a family like that… thank goodness you’ve started another one. Shake the dust from your shoes.

    • I am blessed – my husband and daughter and one son say You can do it- keep writing.
      Most of the rest of the family I just do not mention it to- I decided I would not risk a comment that would discourage me.

  24. Gave novel to trusted reader, aspiring writer, friend.

    “Well, it’s not something I’d seek out in a bookstore– you know, I would, you know, only cause you wrote it.”

  25. Almost twenty years ago, I moved into an asrama, where a high premium was placed not necessarily on conformity, but on acceptance, which I guess is about the same thing. I couldn’t figure out where my writing fit in with my new life, since what I wanted to write was personal narrative, and I couldn’t or wouldn’t write merely to promote the ends of the organization.

    It didn’t help that my spiritual teacher was a writer whose books we dedicated our time and energy to producing; I felt like my writing was somehow competing with his. So nobody said anything, directly, but I got the message. After about six months, I stopped, and didn’t really get started again for many years.

    The truth is, I was confusing dharma (right occupation) with moksha (liberation, or enlightenment). In other words, I used to think literature was salvation, and when I found another path, I didn’t know who or what my writing was for anymore.

    Now I’m working to find my way out of the house of mirrors that reflects my desire to write as a way to get approval and validation. It’s not. It’s just what I do, how I give back, not how I get.

    Easier said than done, of course. I usually believe the lies I tell myself more than the hurtful or indifferent words of others.

  26. I sent my father a short story of mine to read. I asked what he thought and he said he didn’t finsh it because he didn’t like reading that kind of garbage.


    Didn’t write for 10 years after that.

  27. A cousin asked last summer why I hadn’t yet finished revising this novel I’ve been working on now for 5 years.

    “What’s the matter?” she asked, tapping the side of her head with her index finger. “Are you sure the problem isn’t up here?”

    • I not only cracked up when I read this, but I believe I am going to adopt this as my new response to all my clients struggling with their work.

  28. OMG what a great big group of asshole douchbags… This blog post could go on forever it seems.

  29. Rule: never show your work to anyone with whom you are personally involved. It wiil surely damage the relationship. Even if the person says good things about your writing, you’re sure to bug them forever for details, for which they are none because most often they were just being kind or they hadn’t read the whole thing, or they did read it, liked it, but did not stop to take notes!

  30. Rule: never show your work to anyone with whom you are personally involved. It wiil surely damage the relationship. Even if the person says good things about your writing, you’re sure to bug them forever for details, for which they are none because most often they were just being kind or they hadn’t read the whole thing, or they did read it, liked it, but did not stop to take notes!

  31. “That comment stayed with me the whole time I was writing the motherfucker, and as I wrote I often wondered where I got the audacity. Worse was constantly asking: who the hell am I to be writing this.”
    Thank goodness you told yourself to just keep writing!
    I loved Food and Loathing — I’m so glad you did not wait till you were 75 to write it …

  32. Wow, did you open up a big can of Fuck You Too with this post. And much deserved…

  33. Prior to my writing days, I was into art and I was taking a drawing class. One of our assignments was a self-portrait done in pencil. It was by far the best piece of work I’d ever done, and when I proudly showed it to my mother, she was silent for a moment then said: “Do you really see yourself as that pretty?”

  34. What the fuck? I got the same Shakespeare comment from a coworker who repeatedly begged me to show him my novel. People aren’t even clever in their soul crushing.

    I was about one hundred pages into a fantasy novel in Middle School, which I would work on every day at the family computer. One day my dad walked by and said, “What–are you working on the GREAT NOVEL?” I think he was just trying to joke with me about it, but the sarcasm in his voice made me shrivel inside like a dead spider.

    • When my second book was being published in the States, a fellow Irish writer – quite successful – said, “That’s something I can’t take away from you.” Obviously, she was really sorry she couldn’t. No “Congrats” or “Well done”. How mean-spirited. A little generosity and good will goes a long way and doesn’t cost anything, eh?

  35. Okay, I’ll bite. These are less the things people say and more the soul-crushing things they do.

    1. I could draw before I could tie my own shoes, and have at several points since then, seriously considered pursuing a BFA and generally devoting more time to art. My parents have always made this difficult by refusing to pay for any part of an art school education and generally undermining the idea by insisting that “drawing is your HOBBY, okay?”

    2. When I eventually made it to college, I switched majors a few times including a brief flirtation with molecular biology and pre-med before ultimately settling on architecture (a hellish track I have yet to jump). My mom didn’t tell me until after graduation that my dad had been worried I’d never find a husband if I went to medical school.

    3. My boyfriend, voracious reader and prolific [unpublished] writer, has yet to crack the cover on my senior thesis, arguably the best thing I’ve ever written.* It’s the same old “just a college paper” story, but then again there was talk of MFA programs before I ultimately decided (idiot!) to get a job… so I can’t help but feel he might find the thing interesting.

    *this assessment clouded by a general sense of mid-20s failure, may or may not be accurate.

    So, at this point I do as much to undermine this need to write/draw/make as any of my nearest and dearest. Hear something enough times and it becomes the refrain in your head, in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. I am feeling bad for “whining,” AS I TYPE THESE WORDS.

    Moar angst, people! Love the cringes, I mean, comments so far.

  36. A writing friend once said to me, when someone offers a comment that’s not particularly helpful about your writing, be like those people who leave the country on steamers and cruisers. Catch the bouquets that are thrown to you and when you’re far enough out to sea, throw the thing overboard, if it doesn’t suit. Get rid of it.

    I suspect that most of the insidious comments reported here stem from a sort of envy, a trim-the-tall-poppies syndrome.
    It’s all about wanting to destroy the very thing you want but can’t have.

    Most people would love to be able to write well. Some when they recognize the success of another and can’t do it themselves, belittle the other’s work out of envy.

    It helps to be sensitive to this, to be aware of it in ourselves and others. There’s plenty of it trotting around.

  37. My love for romance novels, attendance at romance writers conferences, efforts to write romance novels are favorite topics of condescension at work:

    “Oh, the kind of books they sell in the grocery store?”
    “I never would have guessed that about you….” *said in tones of awe at the depth of my vapidness*
    “Who’s going to do the cover?” *snork* *giggle* *guffaw*

    Because I am sarcasm-impaired, I make a poor target because I answer as if the question were sincere.

  38. A “friend” upon hearing that HarperCollins bought my debut novel: “Call me when you go on Oprah, I’ll read it then.”

    Another “friend” who asks me every single time she sees me ( at least twice a week) so do you have a publication date for that book you wrote? My reply ( every single time) yes, January 5, 2010. Her response: Can I get a free copy? Or just borrow one of yours?

  39. Oh… I forgot this exchange…..

    Supposed Friend: “Are you getting reviewed?”
    Me: “yes.”
    Supposed Friend: “good ones?”
    Me: “uh, actually, yes.”
    Supposed Friend: “Your publisher probably pays for those, right?”

  40. Now that the dam has been broken…

    Upon hearing that my book was going to be published, an acquaintance (most definitely not a friend) later asked my wife, “Is this really going to happen?”

    Another common one: “Oh, you’ve written a book? I’d love to do that someday, if I could just find the time.”

    Still another: “Will it be sold in bookstores?”

    • That last one reminds me of Mitch Hedberg:

      See, this CD is in stores. The only way I could get my old CD into a store is if I were to take one in and leave it. Then the guys says, “Sir, you forgot this!” “No, I did not. That is for sale. Please alphabetize it.”

  41. Upon telling her I intended to be a writer, my Mom — bless her heart — patted my hand and said: “Wouldn’t you do better working retail or at a factory? Other people become writers, hon.”

    She’s conveniently forgotten that now that I have two books out and four more contracted.

    • Had a similar experience when I told a family member that I felt my life was moving out of teaching and in a new direction (namely, writing, but hadn’t said this yet). Got a quizzical look from the family member and was asked, “If you didn’t teach, what else COULD you do?” It motivated me to prove her wrong.

      She’s really supportive now that the novel is being released…one of my biggest cheerleaders. Hmmm…

      • My mother never read my first novel. She claimed that she was ‘afraid’ of what she’d find there!

        And once, when I was short of funds and joked that ‘the wolf was at the door’, she gave me a look and said, “Well, you opened the door and invited the wolf in, didn’t you!”

  42. Upon showing a short story to a well known writer in residence.

    She. Big sigh. “You set this in Hong Kong. Why do you insist on writing about other places? Why don’t you write about what you know? You live on the Prairies.”

    Me: “I did live in Hong Kong. For a couple of years.”

    She: “No. You did not.”

    Hmm. Those two years must be a dream.

    • What a shame you think you used to live in Hong Kong. Aren’t you glad that writer set you straight?


    • I HATE that kind of “write what you know” comment, because what they really mean is “write what you have personally experienced and don’t make anything up – ever.”

  43. I’ve spent nearly a decade writing, rewriting, polishing a novel. Met my spouse’s friend, who was not only a social worker but married to a screenwriter.

    FOH: So what do you do?
    Moi: I’m writing a novel.
    FOH: Oh, I’ve done that!
    Moi (taken aback that spouse forgot to mention that friend was a fellow writer, but pleased to talk shop): Oh, um…I didn’t know. Great!
    FOH: Yeah, for a few months right after college.


  44. My first story was about a wicked mother who was really mean to her beautiful daughter. I was about seven and it seemed to me that the highest form of art was basically to rewrite fairy tales, which isn’t actually such a bad idea. Anyway, I gave it to my mom to read. I honestly thought she’d be thrilled I’d become one of the brothers grimm at such a young age and also that I had such neat handwriting.

    The thing is, she wasn’t thrilled. I remember her standing at the top of a long flight of stairs, in a rage, screaming down at me: “Don’t you ever write about me again!” I was horrified by her reaction, because it was so different from what I’d expected. What’s funny is that I don’t write about family in my fiction, and until this thread, I’ve never even thought about how that came to be.

  45. Hi Betsy…I can’t resist any longer.

    First one: At Sewanee a famous writer who shall remain anonymous and I had a private conference. He was saying a long string of vaguely discouraging things about my writing and finally I said, “Wait. Are you saying I should quit?” He said, “Well, yes. I think that would be best.”

    My first book is coming out next April. My middle finger is raised.

    Second one–which is much worse but, thankfully, doesn’t involve me: I was in a workshop and we were critiquing a man’s story which, admittedly, did have a strangely tortured syntax. The teacher asked him, “Is English your first language?” It was.

  46. When I was 13 I tried 2 enter the School for Creative/Performing Arts in Cincinnati. I had 2 write an essay on cue. A few weeks later they sent me a letter saying that out of a scale of 10 w 10 the highest I had scored a 3. This wrecked me 4 a long time, still hurts when I think about it. I quit writing 4 several years. I write sometimes now but have never had the stomach 2 send anything out 2 publishers, 4 fear they’ll just tell me the same thing the school did. How do u keep believing in urself when everyone else says u have no talent? I honestly don’t know. 😦

  47. Upon getting my first check for my first published article, my mother said, “It would have been nice to see what you could have done with a journalism degree.”

    Twenty years and many, many published (and paid for) articles later, my mother asked me how my writing was going. I told her I couldn’t complain because I had been paid for an awful lot of articles and had never been rejected. Not once. She nodded thoughtfully and said, “You know, you really should think about going back to school for a journalism degree. You’d be a real writer then.”

    I showed admirable restraint in not making the same suggestion to her regarding “mom school.”

  48. Best worst comment from my mom. Me, as a teenager,

    Mom: “I don’t know what you’re doing in there (my room) for so long.”
    Teenaged Me: “Making a poem book!” Finding poems I just LOVE and trying to write my own!
    Mom: “Sounds like a big waste of time.”

    LOL. That just pissed me off and I’m writing my arse off now.

    Love your blog, Betsy!

  49. I’m a Friend of the Library, and I mentioned one day to a librarian that I was writing a novel. She looked down her nose at me and said, “Everyone thinks they can write.” Okay, that’s probably true, but I’ve never forgotten how it took the wind out of my sails.

    Thanks for Tweeting the link to here, Rachelle. And for the record, you’re very pretty.

    • I agree. I have enjoyed reading all these comments and she is very pretty. I know she remembers this and tells her daughters how beautiful they are and how talented.

  50. I wrote before I could read. In fact it’s how I learned to read. I published a family magazine when I was 10. My stories were read my a Scholastic editor when I was 15. My poems were in the yearbooks at school. When I was in my early 20s I was told that fantasy-writing was a waste of time. That I shouldn’t be writing such things. My stories were of the devil. (Not by one person, but by several.) I stopped writing until I was so lost and dejected… well, we know where that path leads. I lost more than five years of my writing life. When I think how much stronger my craft would be now. And when I think of how derailed I was when I’d gotten off to such a great start. I’m angry at them for saying it. And I’m angry at myself for listening. Its at those times I feel old.

    • I’ve gotten comments similar to those. My mother HATES that I write science fiction; she says that it is “misuse of science.”

  51. My darling husband has never read a single word of my novel. Mind you, he’s told people that I’ve written a book, but he refuses to read it. (It’s unpublished and undergoing a major rewrite at this time, but I doubt he’ll even look at it when I finish.)

    • Oh. That breaks my heart. I don’t know what I would do without my husband support. He doesn’t read everything I write, but he believes in me. You are very VERY brave. You must have a lot of faith in your craft. That will be what brings your book to print.

    • Oh, yeah. My husband isn’t a reader at all, and couldn’t care less except for the time he feels it takes from him. When I’m in my office writing, he literally comes in every five minutes to tell me something, even if it’s only about some dumb commercial he just saw on TV. I’ve begged him to stop, but after all these years, I’ve given up hope that he ever will.

      You have my empathy, Sara.

  52. Lots of parents’ referenced above.

    I’m the 69 year old parent -writer who hears the same stuff from my three adult children. Discrediting goes both ways.

    My 43 year old suggested I add more sex to my memoir. My 34 year old has never commented on the manuscript I left with her. My son has no interest. Sigh!

    Two small Aussie publishing houses sent regrets but with scads of supportive commentary.

    I think someone above is correct – don’t share the manuscript with relatives !

  53. I have several quick ones.

    a.) When I was about 10 years old, I gave a story I was writing to a friend to read. She said I would have to edit it before I submitted it anywhere. Even at 10 I knew that, and I had told her it was a rough draft. It stung. But then again, I was only 10.

    b.) During freshmen orientation for college, I was sitting in on a seminar for the English department. The professor asked how many of us wanted to be authors. About 3/4 of the room raised there hand. He said that realistically, he didn’t think more than one of us would ever be published. Realism is great–but not in room full of hopeful 18 years olds you want to fill the ranks of your department.

    c.) Response from another professors, when I told her I wanted to be a novelist: “You know that doesn’t pay any money, right?”

    d.) Had in the prof from anecdote B as my main teacher through school. In poetry, prose, and fiction writing, I did great. I got to my independent study senior year, and he ripped me to shreds. Nothing I wrote seemed to measure up; he called lines in my poetry trite and cliche, he didn’t think the fiction piece I was working closely with him on (as in, accepting and implementing every suggestion he came up with that was reasonable) was going anywhere. It destroyed my confidence entirely, to have a respected mentor turn on me so abruptly.

    Later, I thought it was probably “tough love,” but it still hurt.

    And, vindication: I haven’t published (or really finished) a novel yet, but I work at a magazine as a staff writer now. Victory is mine!

  54. Shortly after I moved from NYC to Florida and took a full time job as a writer at a newspaper, I attended a cocktail party.

    Older Man: So, what do you do?
    Me: I’m a writer.
    OM: Oh, you should move to NYC.
    Me: Well, that would be a long commute, since my writing job is here.
    OM: All the *real* writers live in NYC.
    Me: I lived in NYC and worked at Pottery Barn. Now I live in Florida and work as a writer.
    OM: Writers don’t live in Florida.
    Me: Hemingway did.

    Didn’t matter what I said, this stranger, who had nothing to do with the writing industry, was convinced that no real writers lived in Florida, and no one who wanted to make her living as a writer should be outside Manhattan.

    I’ve now been writing fiction full time for four years. I still don’t live in NYC.

    My list of gems is long. Usually, when people ask me what I do and I say I’m a writer, they assume “aspiring.” My neighbors translate “I work from home” to “Housewife.” My one neighbor, almost a year after I moved in, saw my husband and I heading out in fancy clothes and asked if we were celebrating something special. And we were like “yes, the release of my latest book.” Neighbor: “Wait, you’re a REAL writer?”


  55. Wow great conversation going here! I just first have to say I LOVED your book and glad I found this site…

    Secondly, I think it’s funny that as writers we are already a sensitive bunch but our field makes us vulnerable to the world. Suddenly everyone’s a critic.

    My high school teacher said not only was my writing bad but called me an “air-head.” I had the last laugh, however, cause that same day I won a journalism award for an article I wrote for my school’s newspaper.

    A few other people said I was writing bad on purpose, which made me feel really good since I thought those were my best pieces ever.

    When I told a co-worker that I was leaving corporate world to work as a freelance writer she said, “You do know that writers have experience.” I couldn’t tell if she was saying I was too young or I didn’t have enough writing experience?

  56. This is a very interesting topic, and some of the responses are amazingly hurtful. My (latest) experience is not as bad, but I thought I’d share it anyway.

    A guy who is ‘interested’ in me (and who I was undecided about) asked me one day what I did in my spare time. I told him I write stories online, and mentioned that I’d recently won an award on the site I write on. He responded asking how much I won, and I said it was not for money…to which he responded that I should find better things to do with my time.

    I did.

    I continue to write, but I haven’t spoken to him since. (It’s ‘spare’ time for a reason, arsehole.)

    However, I still get a twinge every time I sit down to write, and I can’t keep away the occasional thought that I’m wasting time.

  57. I’m feeling like there is solidarity in numbers.

    When I was a teenager, I wrote a fake newspaper about the time we spent at my dad’s house following my parents’ divorce. He read it and said, “Wow, I didn’t know you were funny.”

    I think it should have been a compliment, but it wasn’t.

    The comments that rankle me now, are the reactions people have when they find that I am writing novels for children.

    “Oh, ‘just’ a children’s book.”

  58. […] Betsy Lerner’s You Light Up My Life post, she shares a hurtful comment made to her writer-husband and invites readers to share their […]

  59. My wife’s children asked why they had to clean up and I didn’t. My wife told them I was working. Their response was,

    “He’s not working. He’s writing… he likes that.”

  60. Aspiring writer Sister-in-law at Thanksgiving table after a few glasses of wine…….after about an hour or so of learning that I’d 1: written a novel and 2: gotten an agent. Comment out of the blue, unprompted.

    “You know–If I only didn’t have to work. If I just could just stay home all day. THEN, I could write a novel.”

    Needless to say, I saw through this quite easily. Given the fact that I’m a stay-at-home mom.


    Can’t wait for this year.

  61. I told my Dad I was working on a novel and he said, “why bother? You’re in your 40’s. If you were going to write a book you would have done it by now.”

    I have been doing more talking about writing than actually writing, so his comment didn’t anger me as much as it motivated me to prove him wrong.

    I’m doing nanowrimo.org and just hit 40k words. I will finish the first draft of my first novel next week.

    When I do, my Dad is going to be one of the first people I call.

  62. Wonderful post – great comments. I’ve quoted some of them and cited this entry over on my blog.


  63. ok, big Oedipus here. You ready?

    Dad, after reading my first published book: “I am not at all satisfied with this.”
    Flash forward 12 years on, after I delivered my second book to publisher without obviously showing it to daddy. Me, still in a daze, mentioning first reader’s response: “he’s enthusiastic about it. Says there’s a real real writer here.”
    Dad: “Why, did you have any doubt?”

  64. My mother, after I told her the subject of a much-sweated-over book proposal: “That doesn’t sound like something people would want to read about.” And she wonders why I don’t share more.

  65. When I left my position as Lifestyle Editor at the local newspaper, many people asked why. If I told them I was writing freelance articles, they’d ask if it was for the newspaper. When I’d then try to explain I mostly wrote magazine or online articles, they’d look puzzled. But if I dared confess I was writing fiction, their eyes would glaze over and they’d act as if I’d gone mad. Mention of a memoir, and my family goes ballistic, NONE want me to write that!

  66. ‘You need a job.’

    – from a former corporate boss and mentor, when I told him I wanted to write more after leaving the rat race.

    I wrote a post about it last Dec. in ‘Writing? You Need a Job’. http://mysydneyparislife.wordpress.com/2008/12/17/writing-you-need-a-job/

    Cheers, Betsy. Next I’m going to find your memoir

  67. When I was in high school, my English teacher told me that I was ‘too smart to be wasting my time writing.’

  68. When I told my dad that my first book was published, he responded,”Is it like Girl Scout cookies, or your school pictures? Do we have to buy some?”

  69. Reading all of these comments, I remembered more than a few occasions where things family members said really hurt me. But in the intervening years I was blessed with a wonderful mentor who taught me to understand why I had been hurt and then to let it all go.

    Honestly, thinking about all of the harsh criticisms I’ve received from family members, it doesn’t hurt or even sting anymore. I’ve let go of those feelings of anger and self-doubt.

    The funny thing is that now all of my family members are very supportive of my writing, though I did keep it secret from them for years in fear of what they would say. My dad even introduces me to people by saying I’m a writer. He’s very proud to say that.

  70. I remember the first trip I made to visit my parents shortly after self-publishing a book of poetry a few years back. My mother, who, for years, has lived in fear that I would one day write something that would spill the family beans, waited for my father to go to bed before hauling out her copy of my new book (She wouldn’t let my father read it because she thought it’d be too hurtful as I didn’t paint him in the best light — though she failed to recognize that she too came off as a gleaming turd — nor did she send to one of my uncles the second copy of the book she had bought just for him because she was ashamed of all of the curse words littering my work. “Gee, Michael, who taught you to swear like that?” Um, your husband?!). There had to have been 15 or 20 pages she had tagged with a yellow Post-It note. And the first thing she decided to ask me about was a line in one of my poems that read “the whole of my fucked up family.” She turned to me with great seriousness and asked, “You’re not talking about *this* family, are you?”

    This from the same woman who wants to know why I don’t write nice stories anymore like I did back in grade school. She still has the dog-eared one-page essay I wrote circa third grade about how much I loved my wonderful mother (“You got an A+ on that paper!”). This also from the same woman who, when I tried to explain to her that my Jewish girlfriend from college (who would later become my first wife) and, well, Jews in general, don’t believe that Jesus was the son of God, remarked with perfect deadpan delivery, “Oh. Well, *that’s* not good.” Thanks mom!

    • Well, Jewish beats Catholic in my book these days. Here in Ireland we’ve had an unapologetic and contemptuous response to a report which details horrific abuse of vulnerable children by RC pedophile priests in the Dublin Diocese. Bishops who protected the abusers won’t resign – they’re good guys in lots of other ways. Honest. And they used the defence of ‘mental reservation’ i.e. a way of lying to others without really telling a lie. The mind boggles at the mental gymnastics and the sexual incontinence.

      But to get back to family – the darlings – they shy away from telling the truth. That’s what’s at the crux of everything. Live the lie – no naming and shaming. But, there’s also forgiveness, you know. Very empowering.

  71. C. Michael Curtis rejected a story of mine saying, “This one’s a little short on ambition for our taste.” Nearly 20 years ago, that was. Still pisses me off.

  72. I think what runs through my head every time I sit down to write is more hurtful than anything anyone’s ever said to me. But several people have compared my project to books I LOATHE, which makes me wonder if I shouldn’t just give up on it altogether.

    • All comparisons are odious, don’t you know, so don’t let that put you off. It’s either praise by association or a put-down. Each creation is unique. You know what you mean, even if others don’t get it. Just think of weird or hostile reviews of books you liked. Did you change your mind about those books? Of course not!

  73. “If I had it to do all over again, I wouldn’t have kids.” What my mother said when I told her my friend Claudia had decided she didn’t want children.

  74. ha. i’ve got a good one.
    my mother saying, ‘if only you could just get one good idea.’

    • Maybe she was hoping that you’d come up with an absolutely brilliant idea resulting in a book that would storm the book charts and net you a fortune!?

  75. The girls in the stands make fun of cheerleaders who miss a beat, but guess who’s holding the pom-poms?

  76. Your most recent post is not showing up for some reason, I only can access it on rss

  77. “Good teachers are those who know how little they know. Bad teachers are those who think they know more than they don’t know.” — R. Verdi

  78. […] either love you too much and cannot be honest, or they are ambivalent about you and will hurt you. The most popular post on my blog was when I wrote about hurtful things people say to writers. In the comments were the most cruel […]

  79. It’s incredible, I always knew that I was extremely sensitive to comments about my writing, but I thought that it was just one of my peculiarities. I didn’t realize that so many writers go through the exact same thing.

    Luckily I haven’t had too many unpleasant experiences. Mine were along the lines of – The saddening discovery that your best friend really doesn’t give a crap about whether you write or not. And of course, the ‘advice’ that you cannot possibly hope to make any money and should therefor do something else.

    I had even convinced myself for years that writing was impractical and I should focus on another career due to that last one.

    Now here I am – a writer. I even have the business card to prove it. I’m not rich, and I’m still working on the next “Great Novel” but I must say this: If I can do it, so can you!

    And a hundred thousand thank yous to my family who have always supported me no matter how impractical my life plan has been at times. I had absolutely no idea how rare that was.

    • Writing’s a solitary occupation. If the writer doesn’t ‘own’ his/her writing, and feels victimised when family and friends aren’t cheer leaders for them, that’s a problem. My resolution for 2011 is to free up from all that. I’m going to accept family and friends as they are and get on with it!

  80. Well i do not agree with this post.First of all i think every director has choice to make films of his choice.About slums, if you stay in mumbai,if you travel by local train you can see people answering natures call along the railway line.More than half of our population lives on less than a dollar a day.It is not like danny created sets.I do not know if he likes a short film , in the dvd it is well and good.Danny has shoot film in mumbai does that mean he should produce films.

  81. A month after my sister read a published article of mine, she said in an interview, “No one else in my family writes.” When I confronted her about it, she said, “Oh, that was just poetic license.” I don’t think so.

    Now, I write and she can’t. That’s poetic *justice*.

    Thank you for this post, Betsy.

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