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Writing Under Attack: What to Do When Someone Takes the Wind Out of Your Sails

It’s not uncommon for a writer to be verbally attacked by someone close to them when they share their writing. Sometimes the attack is subtle, questioning, and other times it can be an all out siege.  I received this letter in my inbox and the author gave me permission to share it, along with my response, in hopes it may help others who have less-than-supportive partners, family members or friends.
I have been involved in relationship with a guy for the last two years. We got together just as I was leaving my teaching job to concentrate on writing (a dream I felt I had been called to for a long time).
I have actually known him for 17 years. I think he had visions of us getting together and being a happy teaching couple with a safe and prosperous joint income etc.
He was dismissive of my writing fwritingrom the word go.
Couldn’t really even talk about it and showed no interest or support.
As time went by he became more and more dismissive.
I then got to the point where I shared my first chapter with you and you were very complimentary. After the call I was very excited and, naturally, shared my excitement with my partner who could barely raise any reaction whatsoever. In fact, he didn’t raise any reaction whatsoever.
I carried on regardless. Disappointed not to have his support but hopeful of ‘winning him around’ at some point.
Eventually, I had my first three chapters ready. I eagerly asked him to read them, sucked in by all those acknowledgements I have read where authors thank their adoring partners for unstinting support and encouragement.
Imagine my shock when he could barely be bothered to stay focused on reading the first chapter and then put it down after the second refusing to read anymore. He was so angry about it all. ( Admittedly the second chapter was quite heavy).
This led to a huge situation where he labelled me as an extreme man-hating feminist ( feminist I am – man hater I’m not!).
He just couldn’t seem to understand it when I tried to explain that I needed to have [a particular scene] at the beginning of this character’s story as the progression of the story is about love overcoming hate and the value of forgiveness – he just wouldn’t accept that that was where I was going to take the story. He seemed convinced that it was about me writing something to show how hateful men are.  From then on, he labelled me as ‘an angry woman.’
It ended up with him screaming, and I mean screaming, right in my face: “I don’t respect you as a writer, I thought the writing was poor and the story is awful. I don’t respect you as a writer.”
It was a vicious attack. And crushed parts of me. It was my dream to have a go at writing something. I have no idea if it will be successful but I felt called to have a go.I wasn’t expecting to meet such venomous negation of my attempts and my creativity especially as you had given me good feedback. I have also had good feedback from an eminent Hollywood screenwriter who has sold scripts to Spielberg.
I put my book writing down a few months ago to launch the website to bring in an audience for it. That has been hard work but I am almost there and I already have a nice following of supportive people – just a small group at the moment but supportive nevertheless.
My partner and I didn’t talk much about my writing after all of that. We got on with having a reasonably nice life together. Until last weekend. I don’t know where it all came from. He has been under huge stress at work so maybe it came from there. But, suddenly, last weekend, it all came up again. In such a vicious way ..how he doesn’t respect me as a writer, how he doesn’t respect the writing…how I have been living a fantasy for the last two years and how people have been lying to me and how I even had to pay some-one to tell me that I am good.
I was shocked, crushed, traumatized. It was as if my whole being was being crushed and squashed by this abusive tirade.
I have ended this ‘relationship’ but thought I’d reach out to you as you might have come across this before with other people and wondered what you thought of it all and how other people have dealt with such hostility.
I also thought I’d reach out to fellow writers for some much needed support and encouragement as I am very tempted, at this moment in time, to wonder if I am living in a fantasy land of hoping that my book will be written and enjoyed by people!
I hope you don’t mind me writing to you. I just felt the need to share this with people who might understand.

My response:

lisa-tener-book-writing-coachI am so sorry you went through this. On the other hand, clearly he is not who you had hoped he was and he showed his true colors–at least one terrible aspect of his personality which is not loving and supportive at all. So, thank goodness you have seen this side of him now.

Even if he believed the writing was awful, there would have been many other ways to address that. That tells me that the attack was not actually about the quality of the writing. I am guessing that he does not allow space for his own creative endeavors or, if he does, he’s afraid that you’ll be more successful than he, ultimately.

Now, is there something there that he is reacting to? (i.e. is there some huge anger and resentment at men that he is sensing and reacting to)?  Is there something deep you need to heal/work with/release/rewrite within you? I have no idea. Perhaps. It’s worth looking at and seeing whether there is.

In terms of the writing–he’s not your target audience. I would be very careful of not giving the book to someone who is not your target audience right now. I would focus on getting feedback from people who are your target audience–probably mostly women. And people you trust to be kind, who will offer helpful, specific feedback.

Many writers go through many, many edits. So, perhaps the book does need more editing. And perhaps there is a heaviness that needs to be balanced with gentle energy. Again, I have no idea without seeing it, but sometimes a super negative response like his is 90% his baggage and 10% that there is actually some kernel of truth worth looking at. Possibly.

One of the lessons here is to be careful who you share your work with. Once someone has proven untrustworthy (i.e. it’s not like he gave you some great feedback that was very specific and helped you improve the book the first time he looked at it), do not trust them with an additional read. Lesson learned.

It sounds like his was also an energetic attack, meant to undermine your creative energy, confidence and success. So, maybe spend some time in nature, do whatever you need to connect to your life-force and rejuvenate your spirit. Envision yourself taking back any life-force energy he may have “taken” with his attack. Don’t dwell on it, though. Reconnect with your strength and from that place, ask what’s next. It may be very helpful to work with a coach or a healer to clear the trauma of this and un-create whatever beliefs about yourself that fed into this attack.

My sense is that when someone has a passion as you do, it’s no accident. You are meant to write this book and all the support you need to make it compelling is available to you as you remain steadfast.

I’d love to hear from blog readers–have you had similar experiences? How did you deal with it? How did you get your Mojo back?

Note: This writer cares about typos. If you find one, click here to be part of the EditMob – it’s anonymous.

Lisa Tener

Lisa Tener is an award-winning book writing coach who assists writers in all aspects of the writing process—from writing a book proposal and getting published to finding one’s creative voice. Her clients have appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show, CBS Early Show, The Montel Williams Show, CNN, Fox News, New Morning and much more. They blog on sites like The Huffington Post, Psychology Today and WebMD.

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Comments

  1. Terri says

    Beautiful answer Lisa! To this author, please don’t give up! Answer the call within you and keep writing! You can do it and you will never regret it!

  2. Grace says

    To Lisa: Thank you for posting this at this time. It is easy to shrug off the subtle attacks and this is a good reminder that they too are fraught with danger (of keeping us from our passion). Thank you too for the tips about who to offer your writing to as a reader! My own hesitation to certain people has been justified. I thought perhaps I was being chicken. Now I know I was being self-protective.

    To Lisa’s writer: If you look for the gift in each situation you will always find one. When I was growing up I was told by my mother never to tolerate physical abuse by anyone. However, she never warned me about mental or emotional or psychic abuse, and so I had to learn about those things on my own. Perhaps as an author writing about abuse you needed this unfortunate situation to educate you. It has, and you moved on. By understanding it and using it for its merits you claim all the energy and more that you lost when he attacked you. And he did attack you. By reclaiming your energy and growing with understanding and compassion you become 20x more powerful than he ever dreamed you were. Leaving him should be a sign that you know you are a good writer and a brilliant person. As painful as it was thank him for the grist he provided.

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