4 min read

Dear Writer: Three reasons people try to make you feel lousy about your writing.

It's not you.

It's hard to fathom. But the moment you finally release your book or song or dance or sculpture or even a child into the world, you'll hear that you did it wrong.

If you write, it doesn't matter how many editors you have, someone is going to tell you that you screwed up your proof editing. You need a comma there. You don't need a comma here. You should never use a (hyphen, semicolon, one sentence paragraph) or whatever their fourth grade English teacher told them they should never use.

Half the time, the copy edit banshees are wrong. So don't be fooled. They're not tell you to help you or correct your copy or make sure you have the best product.

They are informing you of every tiny error you made to make you feel lousy. Period.

If you dance or play the flute or sing or paint or... do anything, your equivalent of the copy edit banshee will arrive the moment you release your art to the world and tell you that you've done it wrong.

This isn't a conscious process on the banshee's part. If you asked most people, they would deny wanting you to feel lousy. In fact, they would say that they're just trying to help. And really, only a few very disturbed people set out to ruin someone else's day.

Why do they do it?

Here's three reasons people try to make you feel lousy about your writing.

1. If you succeed, they lose.

Of course it's absolutely rubbish. The more success in the world, the better it is for everyone. That's just a fact.

But some people believe there's a scarcity of success. If you're doing well, then you're literally stealing success right out from under their noses. They will do anything to make certain that you don't succeed. When they can't stop you from succeeding, they will make certain you don't feel your success.

This type of a relationship is called a "one up, one down" relationship. The idea is that in any relationship, you are either up or down. You are either in control or you are not.

When you feel lousy about your writing you are in the one down position. And the banshee? One up.

People who struggle to be in the "up" position will manifest this struggle in every relationship.

What can you do?


Unless you're willing to spend your time either in a permanent one down position or fighting over who is "right," you cannot change this person's relationship style. These people rarely change or get better because they cannot abide by a therapeutic relationship where they construe themselves to be in a "one down" position.

2. You betray your friends by succeeding.

You are most affected by the five people you spend your time with. Look around. If you're overweight, chances are they are as well. If they drink a lot, you probably drink a lot. If you're trying to write a novel, they're probably trying to write a novel.

The moment you accomplish a goal, you're no longer the same as they are; you are not a part their group.

No matter how genuinely excited they are for you and your accomplishments, you have betrayed the nature of your relationship by no longer writing a novel, but rather publishing a novel. You're now different from them.

In the best cases, they want you to be the same again. They want you to smoke pot like you used to. They want you to eat ice cream with them. They want you to run marathons. They want you to be a part of the group again. Like crabs in a bucket, they will do everything they can to pull you back into the bucket.

But you're not the same anymore. You've now succeeded.

We can go through all the very human reasons they might be upset - you're now a living example of what they haven't done; you've proved that all of their excuses are false - but the truth is you did something. Your friends will feel betrayed.

No, you didn't do it to them. You did something for yourself. You have to take ownership of the fact that the people around you might feel betrayed by your actions.

What can you do? It sometimes works to find something else do with your friends. The bar group can become an exercise group or a cooking group. The writing group can join you in your success. But more times than not, you will need to find new friends.  You had struggling writer friends; you'll now have struggling published author friends. You're having new experiences, so in some regards it makes sense that you'd make new friends.  This said, keep an eye out for the one or two people who want to come along on the ride with you. They will make it worth it.

3. Put you in your place.

For most of human history, we each had a station in life. We were born into serfdom, and we usually died in serfdom. In many places in the world, who we are born to defines our lot in life. When we're born Pushtan in Pakistan or Kurd in Turkey or Untouchable in India, we will live within the context of our tribe and culture.

In the Western World, our station in life is less defined. We are (mostly) allowed to become what we can achieve.

Whether we are consciously aware of it or not, we track people's station in life. Those people are the 1% ers. These guys are working class. Folks around here don't (fill in the blank).

What happens when you jump class?

Let's say you're a writer and you suddenly go from "working on a novel" to "having a manuscript published" or worse - your novel becomes a success?

The people around you will start to tell you that you're too "big for your britches" and they will want to "bring you back to earth."

This is similar to the crabs in a bucket scenario, but more insidious, because at it's most basic level, you're being told that you cannot become successful. You're too old. You're too fat. White people don't live in that neighborhood. Native Americans don't move to the city. Men don't write children's books.

What can you do? Empathy works. People who behave like this are trapped by their own ideas about who they need to be. They are slaves to their idea, and in that way deserve our compassion.

That doesn't mean you have to spend time around them. In fact, the more time you spend with them, the more trapped you will feel. So nod your head, and move on.

Why do you think people want you to feel lousy?