How to Talk About Writing with Non-Writers: Writing Life

Let’s be real for a second. It can be HARD to talk about writing with people who don’t write. Even when people have the best intentions, they don’t always get it. Sometimes they ask the wrong questions, or their eyes glaze over, or they just can’t seem to wrap their minds around what it means to create or write. These conversations can be painful, but they can also be navigated.

Here are five tips to help you talk about writing with non-writers.

1) Assess your audience

Before you do anything, take a second to feel out your audience. If you’re talking to someone who is a reader, is creative, or has an appreciation for books, stories, and art, then you should be in good shape. Even if it turns out they don’t totally grasp everything in your conversation, they’ll most likely have enough context and interest to relate on some level. If the person you’re talking to isn’t any of those things, it could be a painful conversation. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have the conversation–you should. (This person might surprise you!) However, it does mean you should proceed with caution and be prepared to change the subject if necessary. Asking them about what they do is always a good out.

2) Let them take the lead

If you’ve ever had a conversation with someone who doesn’t understand what it means to write, then you know how exhausting it can be when someone just doesn’t get whatever aspect of writing you’re trying to explain. This can lead to a very frustrating conversation for everyone involved. One technique that helps me avoid this situation is to let the person I’m talking to take the lead. I don’t volunteer any information unless the person I’m talking to specifically asks. Early in the conversation, I keep my answers simple, then gradually give more info based on their response. For example, if I’m asked what I write, I only give the genre. If they follow up asking what my book’s about, I’ll give a 1-2 sentence elevator pitch. People who aren’t really interested (and don’t really get writing) rarely ask more than this, so if this is where their questions stop, I’ll steer the conversation in a different direction.

But if they do ask more, then there’s a good chance that they fall into the reader/creative/art appreciant category and we usually end up having a good conversation. But even then, I let them guide the conversation and I only address the subjects they want to know more about. This helps keep their eyes from glazing over.

3) Know that they may not get it

Even if someone does care and support you, they simply may not have the head for what you do. This took me a while to realize. I grew up addicted to stories. Stories and storytelling have always felt like a very fundamental aspect of being human. Even if a person didn’t feel compelled to write, it never occurred to me that the idea of creating a story would be such a foreign concept to some people. But it is. And because of that, some people would ask the wrong questions. It sometimes felt like they were being difficult or challenging my decision to write–as if it were a waste of time. In those situations, I’d often find myself getting defensive. But now I’ve realized they weren’t trying to challenge me. They were trying to understand. Putting tip #2 into practice has really helped cut back on these types of situations, but it’s hard to avoid them completely. Now, I don’t take it personally. I try to be patient, I answer their question as simply and succinctly as I can, and I change the subject as soon as possible.

4) Focus on the joys of writing

Do your best to be as positive about writing as possible, even if you’re struggling with your current project. It’s okay to acknowledge that some days are harder than others, or that you’re going through a tough time, but don’t let that be the focus of the conversation. I’m not suggesting this because I think you should be fake or hide the negative side of writing. I’m suggesting this because if you’re talking to a non-writer, there’s a good chance they are not going to be able to understand or relate to your problems. They may try to offer advice, which will be well intended, but also likely unhelpful. Ultimately, conversations like this tend to be frustrating and uncomfortable for everyone involved.

Additionally, you might find that talking positively about writing to others helps to regularly remind you why you love it. For more on this topic, check on the post on why you should stop talking bad about your writing.

5) Don’t engage

Lastly, remember you under no obligation to talk about writing with someone who is negative, judgmental, or discouraging. If a non-writer ever asks you anything like, “do you really think you’ll make it?” in a way that’s intended to be a discouraging reality check, walk away or change the subject. While supportive, non-writers may ask the wrong question from time to time they mean well. The person asking the question above does not. You aren’t required to explain yourself to someone who is trying to bring you down and honestly, you don’t have time for this kind of negativity in your life. Don’t engage.

I hope this helps you talk about writing with non-writers!

Now it’s your turn: How do you talk about writing with non-writers? Do you have any tips you can share? Tell me about it in the comments!

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