My family and friends won't read my book

My family won't read my book

You've spent months, even years, working on your book. You've invested your time, your money and your emotions into your manuscript. It's your baby: at least, you love it nearly as much as your own children.

You send it away to a publisher, or even hit 'publish' yourself, and sit back with a sigh of relief, and a tingling sense of anticipation: what are your family and friends going to think when they read it?

Um, sorry to burst your bubble. Those family and those friends? They almost certainly aren't going to read it.

They'll congratulate you, sure. They'll say, "Oh well done - great work on the book," when they see you at family functions, and then, "So, when's lunch?"

Or they might do this: "So, how's your book going?" Listen for approximately 2.5 seconds and then cut in: "I've been writing something too... let me tell you about it." Or, "I've got plans to write a book one day. I've got the story in my mind. It's going to be really, really good."

Generally, what they won't do is read your book. I've heard it time and time again, and I've experienced it myself. So if you're looking to your family and your friends to be your biggest writing fans, you're going to be sorely disappointed. 

Why won't they read it?

Why is it so very difficult for our friends and family to be keen about our work? There are a few reasons. A simple one may be that they just don't like books or reading, or they don't enjoy the genre you're writing. They might only read a thriller or a sci-fi murder mystery, and never YA romance or memoir, or whatever the style of book is that you've poured your heart into.

A more complicated reason may be that they are nervous. There's a risk involved whenever someone we know does something out of the box. What if we don't like it? What are we going to say then? There's nothing more embarrassing than picking up your friend's book, finding out that they can't write for beans, and then having to pretend to be nice about it.

Even more complicated is getting past the tricky dynamics that make up every relationship and family system. Subconsciously we all know our place in our social setting, and we know the place of the other people in it too. When people do something unexpected, like suddenly excel, or achieve a new level, or come to the forefront of people's attention, it can upset our social balance. We don't know how to manage the new dynamics, and so we find it easier to completely ignore the achievement - or, sometimes, even talk it down.

If you've written a memoir, family and friends might perhaps be more likely to read it, but only because they're curious about what you've said about them. The rest will (probably) be about judging the way you perceive the world.

What are you supposed to do?

If your friends and family don't read your book - and they almost certainly won't - you can waste a lot of energy getting worried about it, becoming bitter and resentful, and creating barriers that don't need to be there.

Simply accepting that the vast majority of your family and acquaintances will never, ever read your book is the smartest and most peaceful way to live your writerly life. You get to focus on your writing rather than picking fights, and when someone does read your work, and tells you they like it, it's like having chocolate cake for breakfast... absolutely fantastic.

Here's the take home message: don't look to the people you know to affirm your writing or your abilities as a writer. They won't. Sometimes, they can't. Instead, accept yourself as a writer, and enjoy it when you find an audience who appreciates your work. (Also, when your writing takes off and people start to read it, your family and friends will quickly jump on that bandwagon, and you'll be able to smugly say in your mind, 'See? You should have read it first.')

 

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How to take care of yourself as you write an emotional or difficult memoir

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A question from one of our memoir writers came in the other day. She's writing about a particularly difficult and emotional time in her life and was feeling totally spent after she'd written a crucial scene.

"Is it always going to be this way?" she asked. "I have to relive the emotion of it all to be able to express it well, but I'm entirely exhausted. Do you have a strategy for how to make this easier?"

Going back into old emotions and recounting former crisis situations is possibly one of the most challenging things we humans can do.  And writing a memoir about those times is definitely going to be hard.

As the only answer I could come up with was 'have copious cups of tea and perhaps cry on the couch' I put the question out to our other memoir writers in our delightfully supportive Facebook group. Back came some wonderful wisdom from two particularly smart ladies, Sarah and Bethany, which I have summarised below:

Tips for staying sane and calm as you write an emotional memoir

1. Manage your expectations

Allow plenty of time and space for writing, expecting it will be emotional. Only do small steps, one at at time.

2. Plan carefully

Plan when you will write about one thing, go through the writing process. It might help to make a list of everything you know you want to write about. When you sit down to write, if there's nothing burning in your brain to put down that day, choose something from the list. If it's a hard day, choose something easier from the list. If you're coping well that day, choose something more difficult to write about.

3. De-brief with someone else

If you have a writing buddy, have a chat with them about what you've done and how you feel. Or you may want to choose a trusted friend, or a professional who knows your story.

4. Affirm yourself

Did you write something hard? Give yourself a pat on the back and tell yourself how well you are doing. Make a list of your achievements that day and give yourself points and positive self talk. Be nice to yourself - it's important.

5. Work it out in your body

When things get really stirred up, it can help to do something physical to dissipate the adrenaline and physiological stress that creates: exercise that involves your whole body is great. Dance, go for a walk, swim, jog, do a hard workout at the gym or dig something in the garden. Fixing or cleaning something around the house can work too, as long as it takes physical energy. When you've used up some energy, then do something soothing and calming like colouring in (it's not just for kids!), listening to music, or watching a favourite movie or TV show... whatever you do that is safe and healthy to calm yourself. 

6. Step away if needed

Most of all, give yourself permission to walk away from the writing until you are feeling settled enough to come back, even if that is days or weeks. Your story matters, but your health and well being are really important too. You will not be able to tell your story if you're not taking care of yourself in the writing. Pay attention to how the writing is affecting you, and make wise choices about continuing or taking a break. 

 

 
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Writing review: Force of Nature by Jane Harper

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A book-loving friend caught me after school a few weeks ago with this beautiful tome in her hand.

I snagged it quickly and brought it home anticipating an excellent read over the Easter weekend. I love a good who-dun-it thriller, and the cover of this book is just exceptional - wouldn't you agree? When I glanced through the first page I was even more excited: the writing was fabulous. Aaahhh, I sighed to myself. A well-written thriller that's also set in Australia (bonus!) and written by a woman (double bonus). The anticipation was high.

Spoiler alert: I was disappointed.

First, the things that didn't disappoint. The writing continued to be superb. The tension built beautifully. The way Harper switched between characters and scenes, from the events of the hike to the events afterwards, were seamless and smooth. I liked the characters - they were well-drawn and realistic for the most part. The action was terrific, and the surroundings of the hike was beautifully done. You could feel the temperature and atmosphere in that forest. 

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Sadly, though, even with all these great things going for this book, I felt let down at the end. I also feel terrible for saying it because I know writers google for reviews of their books (okay, so I google for reviews of my books), and one day Jane Harper may even read this. Jane, if you're reading, I really did think it was great. It's just, well... let me explain.

My issue was with the story.

It started out with the disappearance and presumed death of highflying, middle-aged Alice, out hiking on a teamwork bonding expedition for her work. She is presented to us first up as a whistleblower, exposing organised crime and money laundering done by her very upright financial firm. Later, we see that she's also not a very nice person, and unpopular at work.

The immediate question is: who got rid of Alice? Did the organised crime people find out she was about to expose them and do her in? Did her boss, who had a lot to lose, orchestrate the whole expedition so that it would be easier to knock her off? Did her long-suffering assistant, finally reach her tipping point and teach Alice a lesson? Or was it the assistant's twin sister, with a drug-affected past, trying to get her revenge on the world? Perhaps it was the mysterious son of the serial killer who used to roam the national park twenty years ago? All of these people have motive and opportunity to make Alice disappear, but who was it?

There are hints, allegations and mysteries presented to us all the way through, and the tension built so effectively that I was on the edge of my seat (well, okay, my very comfortable bed) trying to figure it out before the two fictional cops did. 

Finally, it turns out that Alice's death was really just an accident. The whistle blowing had nothing to do with it. The boss wasn't suspicious of her. The assistant didn't get overwhelmed by frustration. Even the mysterious son of the serial killer is found, long dead, in the forest. So it wasn't him either

Basically - and sorry if you haven't read the end yet - the women get lost in the woods, get pretty annoyed with each other, and have a bit of a biff. Alice goes down, and never really gets up again. 

And that's all. Bummer.

So I was disappointed. With all that build up, and all those expectations, I wanted more plot from that story. More conflict, more drama, more secrets. More organised crime and serial killing, basically, is what I wanted.

Students of our memoir course learn that the crisis point of the story is the most important thing. It occurs at about the three-quarter mark, and comes after a good set up and effective build up of tension. The crisis point of a story is made up of a gathering of strength and resources, and a showdown. The questions that have been set up must be answered. 

Technically, I suppose Harper did this. But it was disappointing because with all those options in the set up, and all that build up, we readers expected more than the death simply being an accident. 

The take-home lessons for writers are these: don't promise more than you're going to deliver. And, deliver what you promise. Make your crisis work for you, and give the readers what they've been anticipating.

 

 
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