#1049: “Getting talked at by a fellow amateur writer.”

Dear Captain,

I write fiction, mostly fantasy. I admit I can be humorless about it. My friend “Shawn” writes fiction of similar genre. We used to talk about writing and about our ideas a lot, but less so since I got a day job.

Shawn starts projects all the time and most of them never come to a full rough draft, so I know not to get too invested in any particular setting or character concept they tell me about. (OTOH, due to my more limited free time for writing, I’ve just got the one novel I’ve been revising for a few years now.) My issue is that Shawn keeps telling me about all of these ideas, with no context. They’ll text me out of the blue, “I’ve decided that Character X and Character Y are going to date” or “I’m setting my next story in a fantasy version of Tibet” and I have no idea how to react anymore. I’d be happy to read any completed stories that came from these ideas. I’ve read their one completed manuscript and, hell, I’d be happy to hear random thoughts about that setting or those characters, who I already care about. But what on earth do I say to “My new character is a dragon and her favorite soda is Ramune,” especially when I know I’ll never hear about this dragon again?

I wouldn’t mind if I got to talk about my own writing in turn, but they don’t seem interested anymore. They asked to read my manuscript once, and (a year later) have finally stopped pretending they’ll ever get around to it. Recently they asked me a question about my protagonists, and I got excited at this sign that we could resume shop talk like we used to. But after I answered, they just said “Nice” and used it as a springboard to brag about their own great characterization, in the context of another story they had just thought up. I kinda feel like my time and effort are being disrespected here.

Am I being snooty about different approaches to the creative process? Am I being too precious about my own work while judging theirs harder? If not, how can I steer these conversations back to a fun and mutual place, and not a place where I’m getting infodumped on?

A Wiki for a Fictional Multiverse that Doesn’t Yet Exist (they/them)

Dear Reluctant Wiki:

I have a mantra in these situations, would you like to hear it?

“Awesome! You should write that down.” 

Some scenarios:


Rando Cab Driver:I have an idea for a screenplay, can I tell it to you?

Me:Neat! You should write it down.” 

Rando Cab Driver: “But can you tell me if it’s good or not?”

Me:You should write it down. Whether it’s good or not is all in the execution!”


Random Cafe Patron: “You look like you’re really concentrating! And you type so fast! What are you writing?”

Me: “Oh, yeah! Thanks. I’m working on my blog.”

Random Cafe Patron: “Oh, neat. I’ve thought about starting a blog!” 

Me: “Nice! You should totally do that!” 

Random Cafe Patron: Nah, probably no one wants to read about [subject matter].” 

Me: “I’m sure someone is blogging about that right now, but, okay!”

Random Cafe Patron: “But you, maybe you could write about [subject matter]!” [Tells me all about subject matter]

Me: “Nope! I’m good. But you should write that down.” 

:Awkward silence:


Random person:Why aren’t you writing about [newsy topic of the day]?” + 2000 more single-spaced words with no line breaks.

Me: “Huh. Sounds like you want to write about _______. Why don’t you write this up for your website, or pitch it to a paying outlet, and send me a link?

:Awkward silence:


Student Who Missed The Day We Pitched Stories And Who Has Not Handed In The Very Short Screenplay Assignment: “I know I didn’t do the assignment yet, but I want to talk to you about my ideas.” 

Me: “You should write them down.” 

SWWMTDWPSHNHISSA: “But I want to tell them to you, then you can tell me which one to write.” 

Me: “You should write all of them down.” 

SWWMTDWPSHNHISSA: “But can you tell me what you think of them?” 

Me: “I will 100% do that! I can’t wait in fact! But first, pick at least one and write it down.”

SWWMTDWPSHNHISSA:But I’ve never written a screenplay before, what if I tell them to you and you can help me think of how to put them in screenplay format?

Me:Oh, that’s easy. Write the bare bones of the story down in the simplest form – like you were telling it to someone – and THEN translate it into screenplay format.

SWWMTDWPSHNHISSA: “Can I tell you the list of ideas I have, first, though?” 

Me: “You can write all of them down as 2-3 sentence log-lines and I’ll read them.”

Student:Well if you don’t want to hear my stories, FINE.”

Me:I want to READ your stories. Brainstorming is good! Go do your brainstorming with classmates or friends or whatever, and then write something down and give it to me. It’s okay if it’s rough, but it needs to be on a page!

Listen, I totally get it. The student wants to delay the scary, lonely act of writing a little longer. They think they’ll save time by not writing any of the imperfect ideas and skipping straight to the perfect, teacher-approved (or total stranger in the taxi-approved) one.

I had a pretty devastating argument with my grandfather about this not long before he died. He wanted to tell me about a book he wanted to write and get my opinion on whether it was good. He’s a great storyteller who has lived through some pretty incredible history, so I truthfully said “I’m sure it will be great, I’d love to read it, you should write it!” Well, actually, instead he wanted to tell me about it and show me some sketches & notes he had get my opinion on the idea. I said “Well, why don’t you show me what you have, I’d love to see it!!!” He said, no, he didn’t want me to read anything, he wanted to tell me the idea and get my feedback on that, and then he would write. I said “Great, lay it on me! What’s the book about?” He told me it was more complicated than that, a very complicated series of stories, and what he’d really like to do is tell me the stories and then I could turn them into a book. Welp, okay then, there it was. “So, Grampa, can you tell me one of the stories right now? I can record you on my phone and make a transcript as a starting point” and then he yelled at me that I wasn’t hearing him, I didn’t respect him, I didn’t really want to hear his stories or collaborate on this amazing project he was dropping into my lap, and if I didn’t believe in his book why should he? He stormed out of the room in a fury and wouldn’t even say goodbye to me when I left that day.

I was 100% hearing him, between the lines: He was 95 years old, suffering from dementia, he wasn’t ever going to write a book, and it was easier for him to make it all my fault for not believing in him enough vs. blaming time and fear and old age and never getting started in the first place. Those five little words: “Great, you should write it!” or “Great, you should write it” were cruelly & obstinately fucking with his idea of himself as an already-published author.

And yet, they were the truth. I can care about your writing project but I can’t do your caring about it for you.

I’m not immune: I can enthusiastically pitch shit I’m never going to actually write all the livelong day. We all can. It’s fun! It satisfies the creative urge without having to do actual work! We get immediate feedback and that little ping of having created something! It’s not wrong to enjoy this and want to do it. A writer friend took me to lunch earlier this week and yelled at me for an hour about this book project I’m overthinking into the ground and I started telling her about my process and things I was developing and progress I’d made and she looked at me with all the love in the world and said “But you see until it is written down in an actual book proposal and query letter, it is not real, so what will it take for you to get out of your own way and write it down and then send it out the door?” She yelled at me a little more (in the most loving, motivational, encouraging way) and then she made Twitter yell at me to do the thing, already. She is 100% correct and I will do the thing, because I know and she knows and you knows that until the thing is on the page in some fashion – even a messy, first-draft, imperfect fashion – you can’t really DO anything with it.

Now, mutually discussing story ideas and works in progress with a supportive story buddy is great. As in:“Hey Shawn, let’s grab coffee soon and both bring works in progress so we can talk about them.” Or, “Shawn, let’s get together and both pitch 100 fun little snippets and ideas and get them out of our heads. I’ll take notes for you and you can take notes for me, and then we can go write the best ones.” Acting as a one-sided nonconsensual pensieve for your friend’s story ideas that will never get written is not so great, especially when they are not equally invested in your stories. So, I think one strategy you have is to become a broken record with your friend Shawn’s texts. Every time they send you one of these, respond only with some version of “Cool, write it down!” Then give yourself permission to never think about whatever it is again.

My prediction: If you do this, Shawn will be a bit miffed that you do not give these precious brain-jewels as much attention as you used to. Shawn might say “Fine, I won’t bother you then 😦” in an attempt to get you to reassure them and say that it’s okay. This is a win! It is a sign that Shawn is getting the message! Resist the urge to reassure them or do any more emotional labor whatesoever! Shawn will either go and write it down, or not. How they feel about their story, the writing process as a whole, or your boundary about not texting you every stray thought they have about dragons is not your problem. Part of setting boundaries with others is setting boundaries with ourselves, i.e. giving ourselves permission not to fix it if we communicate the boundary and then things get uncomfortable.

Sure, are some mutual, adult conversation to be had, as well, where you tell Shawn what you told me:

Hey Shawn, I’d love to read your finished work when you’ve got something concrete! I simply don’t have the bandwidth to read the real-time snippets and texts anymore, though, so please find another outlet for those.

That’s not a mean thing to say, it’s totally reasonable, and you should probably have that conversation.

There’s also the conversation that cuts deeper:

“Hey, Shawn, I feel like you want me to be really invested in your writing, whether it’s manuscripts or little snippets you text me all the time, but I don’t feel like you’re equally invested in my writing. You haven’t even read my manuscript. I like talking about writing with you, but if we’re going to keep doing that, we need to give equal time to both our projects. And also, I’d prefer to spend my focus on finished work from you rather than blurbs or drabbles, thanks.” 

If you said that, what do you think Shawn would say back? None of what you’d be saying is mean, rude, unreasonable, or untrue. Would it end your friendship if you stopped reflecting endless interest and approval at this person without getting anything in return? Something to think about.

In the meantime, there’s “Neat. Write it down!” It’s what most of us need to hear.


P.S. Letter Writer, you sound like a really considerate friend and a cool writer, and I hope you can find a writers’ group or writing buddy who is going to be as thoughtful and invested about your work as you are in theirs. I don’t think Shawn is it, but that doesn’t mean that person or people isn’t out there.

P.P.S. Happy #NaNoWriMo to all of you beautiful badass persistent people. If you don’t already follow the lovely Story Hospital, I recommend their work most highly.

156 thoughts on “#1049: “Getting talked at by a fellow amateur writer.”

  1. “Part of setting boundaries with others is setting boundaries with ourselves, i.e. giving ourselves permission not to fix it if we communicate the boundary and then things get uncomfortable.”

    One for the ’embroidered on a pillow’ file.

    1. I have been working on this for myself for a couple of years now, and it’s finally starting to sink in, yay! I’m giving up trying to convince the person that my boundaries are valid and that they should respect them, and just letting myself be okay despite their tantrums and passive aggression.

      1. I may have talked about this on here before, but that’s really important. My parents used to always pester me about my weight. They surprise signed me up for Jenny Craig. That was not a good day. As I got older and decided I didn’t have to put up with this, I told them that if they mentioned my weight, directly or indirectly (are you sure you want a second piece? do you need it?), I would leave. Then, I did. I walked out of family meals. Now, I’m known as the over sensitive one or the drama queen, because my family doesn’t do boundaries. But, so worth it. No one mentions my weight. It’s great!

        1. Yes, great! I walked out of a family birthday dinner, after one relative continued haranguing another despite multiple suggestions that the matter should be discussed at another time and in private. It was one of the hardest things I’ve done; and I sat, shaking, in my car for a while before I could drive home.

          Now, the Critic and Nagger Person wants little to do with me (we are polite to each other at the requisite family occasions). The others in the family and I have pleasant relationships. And, when they mention difficulties with the Critic and Nagger, I use the advice of expressing regret at the situation, asking what they think they could do about it, expressing confidence in their abilities and resources (“you are a smart person; you have access to an EAP support”, etc. ) and changing the subject. as gently as possible.

          Setting and keeping boundaries with the Critics and Naggers, etc. is not easy. I still wish that I could have a pleasant and reciprocal relationship with the C&N; and have faced the fact that we are not likely to ever be a good friendship match. You can’t win ’em all – but you can win dignity and freedom.

  2. Thank you, Captain! Splendid advice, and simultaneously encouraging writers to keep at it! I am now particularly keen to check out Story Hospital and see how I might apply it to my own work.

    And speaking as an amateur writer who sometimes needs extra motivation to put butt in seat and fingers on keyboard, the simple encouragement of “I’m happy to read a finished product – keep writing” does tremendous good.

  3. I had a friends breakup a few years ago with someone, where the impetus was related to writing related things. A few months before that, she had the conversation with me about how frustrating it was to hear about all the story ideas I was probably not ever going to get around to writing, and how she would like to stop hearing about anything I wasn’t actively working on at the time. While I’m still very angry with her for some of the stuff she did and said later on, the “you need to stop talking about your stories and start writing them” conversation was very helpful to me in the end. Despite the way things ended between us, I think I’ll always be grateful to her for that (and so, I’m sure, are all my current writing friends, who no longer have to hear about approximately 3 plot bunnies a week, and the same epic length plot bunny ad nauseam).

  4. “I know and she knows and you knows that until the thing is on the page in some fashion – even a messy, first-draft, imperfect fashion – you can’t really DO anything with it.”

    Turns out this applies to data processing, too, and it’s what I really needed to hear today (and yesterday, and last month and last year and and and). Thank you.

    1. Actually this can apply to a lot of subjects, like people who constantly complain about a problem while never fixing the problem. They want to endlessly commiserate about the problem instead. My advice to such friends is always similar, no matter what it is, whether its a friend who is getting on their nerves, a guy they want to stop dating, a relative the’re tired of fighting with, whatever. My advice is “Sh@t or get off the pot.” (Only I like to say it much nicer of course.)

      I tell them they KNOW what it is they need to do, they’re just talking about it to keep from doing it, and think if they talk about it long enough, then the problem will resolve itself. I also tell them “Talkin’ ain’t doing.” Same dynamic.

      1. Also, if they talk about it, it will make them feel as if they’ve done something about it.

        But they haven’t. And they’ll just have to do the “talk about it” think all over again. To you, which is boring.

        And they will have spent way more time and energy talking about it than doing it.

        1. Oh my gosh… this explains my mother’s never-ending bitching about this family member or that friend of hers. Tied in with the Captain’s “setting boundaries with others means setting boundaries with ourselves,” her complaining combined with her inaction makes a lot more sense to me. There’s other aspects to it, but the “talking about it makes them feell like they’ve done something” is defintely a huge part of it.

          1. Asking “What are you going to do about that?” can be powerful. Sometimes both parties get to figure out that the answer is “Nothing except gripe”, and maybe that’s okay when it’s up-front.

            I think a lot of gripe-recipients try to problem-solve when the griper doesn’t actually want a solution, they just want to be heard. If you solve their problem, you haven’t heard them, in a sense. (I’ve experienced this one from both sides.)

          2. When I realized that listening to my mom’s endless venting about my dad, their terrible marriage, and her depression wasn’t just unpleasant for me and unhelpful for her, it was actually serving as a substitute for either talking to my dad or getting a therapist and talking to them. I found this out … by quitting venting to a friend about *my* marriage and realizing that without an outlet, I actually got fed up enough to speak up to my husband about the things I wanted to change. We all do it.

        2. This is a piece of advice I’ve heard a lot around creative endeavours–you get a little rush of accomplishment from talking about the thing without actually having to do the thing, so it’s an easy trap to fall into indefinitely.

    2. Also applies to tech! You got a great *idea* for an iPhone app? Great, write a prototype, or even just mock up a few screens in MS Paint!

      1. What I *love* (not) are the “Hey! That was my idea! They stole it!” commentaries. With most development there are a lot of people who had a similar idea, so what really matters is a) the ability to do the work, b) the ability to do the work well, and c) the ability to convince others that yours works well.

        1. This a zillion times.

          I read a great writing book that pointed out exactly that; there’s what, seven or whatever plots? But HOW it’s done… that make a book you stay up all night to finish.

          Or, not.

  5. As someone who is currently totally failing NaNoWriMo right now, this hits uncomfortably close to home haha.

    1. I fail it literally every year. I think I start somewhere between 1 and 4 novels every year. My google drive, and my blank notebook stash is full of things I have written and never finished.

      Don’t be me, finish!

      1. Quilters have the same problem. I have so many UFOs (unfinished objects) that I’ve had to dedicate a drawer to them.

        1. I also Knit, I have a storage container! ….along with about 10 other hobbies. I think at this point my real hobby is collecting unfinished projects.

          1. lol I have a few knitted projects like that, but TWO drawerfuls of cross-stitch that have been put aside so I can work on something new. The only thing that saves my spinning from joining the UFO pile is the fact that I have limited bobbins for my wheel and HAVE to finish spinning/plying it before I can move on to the next pretty roving! (I also have limited spindles, and those are even harder to take half a skein of singles off of to start a new roving, and.. well. Yeah.)

          2. Is there a a non-invasive, non-Facebook way to make video hangouts happen? I’d be so up for a CA virtual meet-up and UFO-slaying night!

          3. @The Awe Ritual – out of nesting, maybe we could start a thread in the forums to figure out how to make that virtual hangout happen?

        2. I’m not sure it is the same problem. There are some things that should be finished. If you’ve promised someone a finished work of art, if that person is depending on you in either a large or a small way, if they’ve paid you in advance perhaps, if you have a gallery waiting for your work, or if you’ve set yourself a goal, then it is important to get the binding and label on it. But what if you’re having fun? There’s nothing wrong with playing with colors and shapes, cutting and planning, learning a new technique, taking pictures of the ideas and blocks to share with friends, and stopping there. You can think of the enjoyment as the end goal, not the quilt. You got what you wanted out of the time you spent, and you have a drawer of UFOs you can go back to if you want. Nothing wrong with any of that.

          The same can be said for writing. I write every day. It helps me in a hundred ways. I do dream of publishing, and I have polished up some short pieces to the point of sending them in and getting rejection letters from publishers. That’s farther than a lot of people get. I haven’t gone further to write, re-write, edit and polish daily. You could say I have a drawer full of writing UFOs. My heirs will find a computerful of ideas, notes, unfinished drafts, just like they’ll find 3 unfinished quilts for every completed one. I’m okay with that.

          1. I like your thoughts on UFOs and finished pieces. I have more interests and creative leanings than I will ever have time to nurture in one lifetime, so I’ve realized that I need to make peace with my UFOs and decide what I’m going to spend time on and why. I appreciate the concept of a UFO as the product of a creative process where the enjoyment of the process was the important thing, not a finished object. With my own fiction writing — I have a lot of UFOs that have piled up over the years, but when I go back and read some of them, I see that they were more about me processing certain ideas and emotions in a narrative form, and they aren’t necessarily fit to become completed works. But they served their purpose, I am still fond of them, and they might be mined for different bits of creative stuff to use in other works. But unlike LW’s Shawn, I don’t keep talking about them!

          2. > You can think of the enjoyment as the end goal, not the quilt.

            Knitters often talk about process vs product. As in, do you knit in order to knit (enjoyment, learn new things, experiment with new yarn, etc) or do you knit in order to have the finished product at the end? For most of us it’s some of each, of course, and varies over time. Some of my UFO’s are things like baby sweaters that just need to have buttons added, while others of them are essentially swatches that I never bothered to bind off, but just pulled the needles out of. Someday, those things might get finished, or ripped back. Someday.

            The tricky thing with UFO’s of any kind is to not feel burdened by them. I know too many people who have trouble allowing themselves to start a new project because they have all these unfinished ones weighing on their minds. With crafters, the UFO’s are taking up physical space as well as emotional space, so it’s more visible/obvious — is it true for writers as well?

          3. Do unfinished written pieces take up space in a writer’s mind the way unfinished needlework projects can weigh down the needleworker? I think maybe yes, but then while there are similarities between the creative work of writing and the creative work of sewing (knitting, quilting, etc), at some point the comparison doesn’t work. One thing about needlework is that a project that began for one purpose (magnificent art piece for a queensize bed quilt) can usually be turned into something else (colorful cuddly for a baby) if you stick a flannel back on it and stitch it together with sturdy machine stitches. That’s not necessarily true for written work. It sometimes works that the characters developed for a novel can be used in a short story, but more likely not. One useful tip is to take the paragraphs that don’t work for the piece you’re working on and put them in a “good ideas” file. This isn’t so much so you can use the paragraphs somewhere else later– though you’re certainly allowed to. It’s mostly because it’s hard to delete something you worked on and liked just because it’s interfering with the flow of everything else you’ve written. It helps you throw it away if you can tell yourself that you can resurrect it any time you like. The same goes for the other elements of fiction– a good subplot, a character that’s cluttering things up, maybe an explanation that you still like despite 10 readers telling you its boring.

          4. Hear, hear!

            A friend of mine wrote a wonderful song called “Take It Back,” about the right to make art (of any kind) just because one loves to, with total disregard for whether it’s published, whether it’s finished, whether it’s any good or not. Children do it all the time; they draw for fun or sing because they like the song, and nobody tries to tell a three year old that they shouldn’t be doing that because they’re not talented enough. It’s taken for granted that enjoyment is the only reason necessary for doing it. Adults understand the concept when it comes to things like athletics — the summer park softball league which takes everyone, no matter how good or bad at sports, is a community institution. And while a very few high school and college athletes are training for the chance to turn pro someday, the overwhelming majority are supported by their families and communities despite everyone knowing perfectly well that they’ll never be able to do that, or even want to necessarily.

            But somewhere around middle school, people start being told that they shouldn’t be “wasting their time” on singing or dancing or writing or drawing or sculpting if they aren’t both “good enough” and disciplined enough about it to have a shot at being a professional musician/writer/artist someday.

            This is nonsense, and the song has become a community anthem for the tribe of amateur musicians we’re part of, to remind us that the first and foremost purpose of making art is to enjoy the making. If other people get to enjoy the art afterward, that’s cool too, but it’s not mandatory.

          5. Yeah, this is a really good point. I write on and off – I have a project I’ve been chipping away at for the last decade or so that I think will occupy me for the rest of my life, as well as the odd other thing here and there. I’m not as disciplined about it as I could be, and I also have the phases where I gush at writerly friends about ideas and omg what if and either they gush back or they listen and then take a turn gushing about their stuff and I listen and very little of it ever makes it to paper… so I originally read the post squirming with guilt.

            But, you know what? I’m having fun! I have some *great memories* of mutual idea ping-pong, and the fact that the ideas eventually died on the vine doesn’t change that! And as it so happens, I am not writing to get published. All my ideas are fanfic anyway, I have a fulfilling and sought-after full-time career that has nothing to do with writing, from what I’ve heard the life of a professional writer gets really stressful and doesn’t exactly result in oodles of money flowing in – I don’t want to pursue publishing. Nor, honestly, do I care that much about actually “finishing” the random enthusiasms that crop up every now and then, at least not compared to the Project Of My Heart. If I have fun talking about them with like-minded friends, get enjoyment out of them while scratching the itch, and then spend my limited writing energy and free time on the POMH instead, who cares?

            The bit where it’s going wrong for LW is that a) this isn’t what LW is interested in, so they are not a like-minded friend and Shawn needs to find someone else for idea ping-pong and b) Shawn is monopolising their conversations, which isn’t cool. But you’re not going to convince me that there’s something wrong with idea babble in place of writing, as long as the babbler is clear that idea babble is not the same thing.

        3. Those who sew do too. I started with a drawer, and now have four drawers and a box. Mom has a room. When grandmother passed, she had a small storage shed. Sewing OFOs are kind of like wire hangers in that way. If you leave two together in the dark, they’ll multiply.

          1. Well, if you count the projects, I have all the materials for, but haven’t started yet…it’s a lot more. I did do a major clean out recently and gave a lot of fabric and scraps to a friend who teaches kindergarten. Kindergarten teachers almost always want craft materials.

      2. Though as someone who always sorta nods at it in passing and wistfully thinks about trying it I’d say having written anything is pretty great! It’s on paper! There’s something to come back to and play with if you want! I feel like this is one of those you ran 3 miles when you were aiming for a marathon and I’m still on the couch scenarios.

        But I understand the desire to actually finish a marathon. Good luck

        1. Thanks. I guess I’ve never had any trouble starting stories, or starting anything. It’s finishing that I struggle with, so it’s hard to see sometimes that starting is actually a hurdle. So that’s really helpful!

          1. If I can start a story or a song, I can generally finish it. Starting is almost impossible for me. I get maybe one idea that has enough substance to even get going on, every two or three years.

  6. Is it possible he’s just thinking out loud and doesn’t really need much response besides ‘cool’? Or that he is imagining you throwing random snippets at him in a similar way, with similarly little response? If it were that, would it interest you to have such conversations? Or more annoying and unsatisfying?

    I know some people who love to think out loud and don’t need much response beyond a few listening noises, others who really do want others to be intensely invested in their things, sometimes in a one-sided way. Also some people who would just find that kind of interaction drives them a bit nuts.

    1. Even if Shawn doesn’t need a response and is just thinking out loud, they (which is the pronoun the LW used) can get a notebook or a Twitter account to think out loud into. The Letter Writer doesn’t want to read all these snippets, and that’s ok.

      1. I follow a number of magnificent Twitter accounts which are nothing but story snippets, in fact! Perhaps he should aim himself at that.

        1. Or depending what they want, maybe they can find a group of people where that’s the mutual goal (with the understanding that they have to reciprocate and listen to other people’s brainstorming ideas, too).

          Or if they don’t want to do the back and forth, then talk to their cat or something?

          I can see twitter or a blog being good for that, though, because you can say whatever you want and feel like you’re sharing it, meanwhile others can choose to opt in or not.

      2. (Tangent and thank you: I was talking last night with a friend whose child I had understood to prefer they/them, but my friend alternated between “they” and “she.”
        Thanks to this blog, I used my words and asked which pronouns were appropriate. My friend said child preferred they, but friend uses she now and then when talking about child because people kept getting confused. I asked friend to please use they and them when talking to me because I want to get it right.
        Huge thank yous to you Captain and to the Army. One reminder at a time, one person at a time, we’ll make things better.)

      3. Additionally, I think the most telling thing here is that it’s not mutual. So I’m doing NaNo like pretty much everybody else, and we do write-ins. This is my 15th NaNo, so I’ve had plenty of experience talking to people in various frustrations of the writing process. And the thing is that those kind of “I think my new character is a dragon” things happen all the time at write-ins, and you really are just expecting somebody to go “well, that sounds fun” and then you all go back to your word count.

        But you 100% have to be willing to do the same level of listening back for the other people there. When somebody says “ugh, I don’t know what happens next” you offer some sort of silly feedback. People might hash out things for novels they barely know the smallest thing about, but it’s got to be a two way street.

        1. Ah-ha! you’ve solved it! Shawn needs a talkative cat.

          Shawn: “I’ve decided that Character X and Character Y are going to date”
          Cat: “Mrrr.”
          Shawn: “I’m setting my next story in a fantasy version of Tibet”
          Cat: “Mhh.”
          Shawn: “My new character is a dragon and her favorite soda is Ramune”
          Cat: “Mhh.”

          1. I have a talkative cat. The problem is that he rarely holds conversations. He just yowls insistently when I’m trying to focus on something else (which is clearly an affront to His Centralness). 😉

  7. IMHO, I think there is some extra little kick one gets from telling a story to someone vs. writing it down. (Probably a compound of instant gratification plus social-contact cookies.) Career mage Barbara Sher has an Evil Hack for that: give talks about your passion topic. Record them. Then have somebody else transcribe those talks. Edit. Lather, rinse, repeat, and eventually you will have a book! That you can sell! At your talks!

    Since we’re living in The Future now, here’s a thing I want to try (maybe even today!): Find a willing fellow plot bunny (hee hee! Plot bunnies! What a great expression.) farmer, set out an audio recorder, spin out plot bunnies. Then run the resulting audio file through a voice-to-text program to produce a first draft.

    Also, not unrelated: “rubber duckie debugging.” Maybe get a rubber duckie to tell plot bunnies to, with added voice-to-text, to streamline first-drafting….

    (Hmmm…. It is still November….)

    1. As an aside, this is super interesting to me because my writing process is so different from a lot of other people’s–if I write an outline or a very rough draft of my fiction, I lose most of my motivation for writing it, because I’ve reached the end! I tend to write and edit in chronological order as I go, I very rarely insert new scenes, and my complete drafts are usually of a piece and only get polishing as opposed to structural edits.

      What this means for me is that my brainstorming process is a lot of me telling the story to myself over and over again, daydreaming up the next bits of the plot until I have something that works in an emotionally satisfying way, then writing it down. But if I wrote it down in a rough-draft form that would be it, it would be done, and it would be really tough to go back and fix all the holes.

      I suppose the bigger point of my comment is that it’s totally possible that LW and Shawn have totally different processes and the friction between them means that conversations about work-in-progress are more annoying than they need to be. I have a great friend whose writing process is totally different than mine, and I have learned to be careful about going to him with writing problems because he tries to solve different problems than I have. So we’ve stopped doing that! Since LW is unhappy, it’s definitely time to change the dynamic, and I’d like to report that it’s totally possible and doesn’t mean the LW is a bad friend. Go forth and write and feedback the way you want to, LW!

      1. Process solidarity fist bump!

        (I find outlines impossible – I don’t _know_ those people until I’ve observed them. All my attempts at outlining are trite and cliche-ridden.)

        I’ve also given up writing out of order: I once wrote ‘a novel’ in fragments, as and when the story came to me, but the character development happened in order of writing and when I was finished and assembled the story in chronological order, I found that I had no plot, the character development jumped back and forth, and my novel count promptly went down by one again. Very frustrating. Never again.

        I agree on the ‘different process’ diagnosis; even assuming that Shawn wasn’t hogging all of the available attention for the evening (not convinced that is the case here); it’s not clear the LW will ever be able to _be_ the listener Shawn wants/needs.

        1. Fistbump!

          And all the writing advice that says “turn off your editor! Never edit until you have a draft!” And I’m here in the corner going “But I can’t move on until it actually looks like the picture I have in my brain! Writer’s block forever if I don’t fix it now!”

          1. As far as I can tell, the one universal piece of writing advice is: no writing advice works for everyone.

          2. I *am* an editor, and I the idea that one should gag them, lock them in a closet, etc etc. is abhorrent to me. I think too much editing can destroy a book, particularly when ‘editing’ means ‘polishing the words a bit’ rather than ‘making structural changes, replacing scenes with different scenes that do the same job [the first time I saw an example, it blew my mind!] etc. I tend to do some light dusting of the previous bits every time I sit down to write, but mainly my inner editor keeps track of major problems and writes them down to fix in second draft. Every now and again that doesn’t work, and I need to stop and work it out right now.

            I’ve learnt to mainly ignore the wrongness and move on; my current WIP is more or less ‘write chapter. Realise what I should have written. Pretend I wrote that, and write the next chapter as if I’d made those changes’. What works depends on the writer, the project, the circumstances, the phase of the moon… what’s important is that it works for you!

          3. Yes, me too! I can rarely start writing in a day before I’ve reread what I wrote the previous day. And I always write in order. It’s the little interesting details that I wrote on Tuesday that give me ideas for what to write on Wednesday. I sometimes don’t even know how the story is going to end when I start.

        2. Yeah, my first 10,000 words are mostly just…me getting to know my people. I often liken it to showing up early to a party where you don’t know the host – it’s awkward and uncomfortable and mostly you spend a lot of time watching things and wishing you knew what was going on. But once you get into the swing of things and other people start to arrive (and maybe you have a drink or two of your favourite social lubricant) everything takes off and I’m getting to know people and observing interesting things and I fall in love with my WIP and can’t wait to get back to it every night.

          But try to make me write out of order or tell you what’s going to happen…well, how the heck can I be expected to know that? I don’t know these people yet, I can’t predict what they will do or would have done if I don’t know them!

      2. I’m with you on outlines. I always had to go back and do them last for school assignments.

        I hope to one day find out if I can go back and edit a completed rough draft of a book.

        1. Oh goodness, I remember writing the outlines last too. I hated them! Even in grad school all these years later, I only do sorta kinda not really outlines, aka bullet points of semi-linked ideas that then become the paper… if I even do that.

      3. Same! I don’t do NaNo-esque contests for this reason. I actually really love Roxane Gay’s pep talk for this year’s NaNo because she says, essentially, “what works is whatever works for you.” That can mean write scenes out of order, it can mean having a set number of hours to work on something rather than a word count, and it can mean revising and editing scene #1 before moving on to scene #2. And as long as everything eventually gets all put together, all ways of writing a book are equally valid!

    2. Now I sort of want to invent a voice-to-text usb device in the form of a rubber duckie. *writes it down*.

  8. Ahahaha. Haha. Oh.

    I am so guilty of Not Actually Doing The Thing. It’s fun to throw the ideas around! It’s fun to figure out how they work! It’s fun to say I will actually do something with them! …And then I never actually Do The Thing. *sigh* *face in hands* I think I could really do with taking the Captain’s lovely advice myself, here.

    1. Depending on the circumstances, it’s also possible to come to the realisation that you _don’t_ actually want to write a book/story/etc, what you want is to tell stories out loud, or even just make up stories in your head for yourself.

      1. I belong to a whole community of out-loud storytellers in Chicago!

        Stories don’t *count* only when they are in some sort of publishable form. But the thing that the LW describes would annoy me, too. Especially the lack of reciprocity and the effort of indulging Shawn’s pretense that this is all going somewhere.

      2. Yes! For me finding a story telling outlet that was a shorter trip from brain to audience has been super helpful.

    2. Eh, there are ways to make it work. I have ADHD, which means a million thoughts a minute and an extreme difficulty making myself sit down and write; I used to subscribe to the idea that I shouldn’t bother anyone with an idea unless the book was ready to go to press, and was constantly frustrated, unhappy, and isolated. These days I have a blog where I can pound out a story idea in a couple of sentences and let it out into the world, without needing it to be totally finished; I’m a lot happier, I write a lot more, and sometimes someone takes my few sentences and turns it into an amazing and polished story!

      The big difference, I think, is finding a platform where I can just let my ideas go, instead of demanding that a captive audience dance attendance on me and validate all my ideas. Instead, I use a public format where people get to choose whether to read or not, and there’s a shifting audience of people who can show up and give me praise.

      1. I do actually throw the plotbunnies into the wild (I have a blog specifically for this) but I feel like…I dunno, I should be doing MORE with them? They just kinda. Sit there and languish. They are such good ideas! I love them! Sometimes I am alright with just letting them sit, but then there’s times when I go like “Why am I doing nothing with them except just letting them sit there! These poor neglected plotbunnies!” And still never Do The Thing. 😛

        I think I’ll make a resolution to try and improve that this coming year. It doesn’t really affect anyone but me, so no big if I end up flaking, but it’d be nice.

  9. I’m finishing my PhD in Creative Writing; it’s pretty standard practice to not blurt out your ideas unless someone specifically asks you, “What are you working on?” (We’d never talk about anything else otherwise, and emotions can run high around PhDs/writing projects—people often need a break). Not reciprocating interest is a pretty big no-no as well. I think you need to set boundaries with your friend and not apologise for them. What you’re asking for is more than reasonable, according to every writing community in which I’ve ever belonged.

  10. Since Shawn’s sending these via text, I just wanted to point out that it’s also perfectly OK just to not respond at all. Think ‘Huh, whatevs’ to yourself and go about your life.

    This is likely to eventually lead to some kind of direct “Did you get my texts about…?” to which you can reply “Sure. Hope that story works out” and just let that one hang where it will, or change the subject. If he really starts to get narky about it, you can reply in non-rancorous tones “It never seemed to help when I gave you advice, so I figured I’d stop.”

      1. Oh, bugger! I actually picked that up, changed it in the first sentence, and then managed to use ‘he’ further on without noticing. Thanks for the catch and my apologies to Shawn in absentia.

  11. Ugh, I relate with both the LW and Shawn on this. I, too, really get the urge to talk about ideas not yet written with people, and love that bit of validation…. Unfortunately the majority of my friends are NOT interested in something that has not yet been written – in fact, they actively don’t seem interested, which is only fair because they’re looking after their own brainspace. I know to talk shop only with people who have indicated interest in that shop, and to reciprocate – i.e. if I want people to read my stories and give me helpful feedback, to make sure I do the same for them.

    This is why I love CA – I have gotten a lot better at using my words and setting boundaries. “I can read it but this is what’s going on for me and I can only do this in this timeframe”, “I can’t do this right now, can you circle back in a month?”, “I’m very happy you agreed to give me feedback, but can you tell me if you can do so in this month/year/decade?” are the sort of sentences that I would never have uttered in the past but now help me maintain my sanity.

    Aside – having someone say “I will read you MS” and then spent a year not doing so is such a bugbear of mine I think I need to take my tiny Rageasaurus out for a walk. brb

  12. I’m a humanities PhD student attempting to crank out dissertation chapters, and I actually find that it’s much harder and sometimes even impossible for me to write if I don’t find someone to talk it through with first. And yes, sometimes what I need is just the affirmation of “indeed, that sounds like the kind of thing a dissertation chapter would be about.” Writing (at least most kinds of it) takes so long and can be so hard that I respect people who can do it without getting the nugget of positivity along the way… but am not one of them.

    However, yes to reciprocity and considering of audiences. I have found that my advisor is good for maybe one round of pre-writing chat and otherwise wants to see draft #3 of finished product. On the other hand, I LOVE talking through other grad students’ ideas (like maybe even this is the most purely enjoyable part of PhDing for me) so I always have plenty of people who “owe” me, even if some aren’t actually going to pay it back. On the more mundane level I also have one solid writing friend who is usually up for a mutual round of Q:”Can you look at this paragraph and tell me if it’s some kind of deformed shambles?” A:”In fact, it is a paragraph! How about another?”

    1. Different people have different styles, yes. But the important thing is that both people feel like they’re getting something out of an aspect of their relationship.

      I have a BFF who’s my Project Buddy. We like to hang out while working on our separate projects, just because it’s easier and nicer to be doing something with someone in the same room and occasionally exchanging tidbits. It works because we’ve mutually decided that this is way we can relate and enjoy each other’s company.

      I have another friend who always wants to tell me about their latest thing and that’s great because I enjoy getting mutually excited with them even though they’re never going to actually write a book.We are Squee Buddies.

      I have a third friend that I only see at irregular intervals and we basically exchange sarcastic zingers until we part. We are Banter Buddies.

      The exact details of what’s happening are way less important than that each relationship is giving me as much as it’s taking. Shawn has become a drag on OP. That’s a problem! OP, whether this is Shawn’s creative style or whatever is not really important. Shawn’s thing has become a problem for you and is making this relationship suck. You need a friendship that doesn’t suck. Something needs to change so that this relationship is good for you.

    2. You are definitely not the only person who benefits from brainstorming out-loud to someone else. And sadly, experience has taught me that no alternate method (writing in a journal, talking to a pet or inanimate object, talking to a tape recorder, etc.) is really an adequate substitute. It has to be real-time spoken communication with another person you can bounce ideas off of. Anything else is basically the idea-bouncing version of Steve McQueen throwing that ball at the cooler wall over and over in The Great Escape.

      But Shawn, IA, is not holding up their end of the bargain. Expecting the LW to listen to all of their idea-rambling without ever showing any interest in her writing in return is bad enough. Promising to read her manuscript and then never doing so is worse (though in my experience it’s a sadly common result when someone to read your manuscript). Switching every conversation about writing back to their stuff the moment her project is mentioned is flat out rude and inconsiderate and gives me the impression that Shawn might very well be a writer like me who needs to extensively brainstorm and talk through the details before they can even start on outlining, but they’re also self-absorbed and insist making every writing discussion entirely about themselves. “But enough about me my ideas, LW. What do you think about my ideas?”

      Shawn sounds like that person nobody wants in their writing group, but that many a writing group is cursed with. There was a Shawn-like woman in a fanfiction recs and discussion group I used to help mod – to her credit she was a much more prolific writer than Letter-Shawn and actually finished projects, but she was completely unable to talk about anything other than those projects. I had to reverse engineer discussion prompts around her by specifying that people couldn’t use their own work as examples, could only rec things written by other people and not by themselves, etc., because I couldn’t actually institute a “Shawnette is not allowed to talk about Shawnette OMG shut up shut up” rule.

      1. “I had to reverse engineer discussion prompts around her… because I couldn’t actually institute a “Shawnette is not allowed to talk about Shawnette OMG shut up shut up” rule.”

        Oh wow.
        You win the internet! Would you like the delivery with ribbons or plain packaging?

  13. It’s a very common thing with writers, that talking about something reduces the itch to actually write it. True for fiction and nonfiction.

  14. I agree with the Captain’s advice for dealing with Shawn. I would also add, for the LW (please disregard if this is not your situation, but “I have a solitary project I’ve been working on for years” rings some personally familiar alarm bells):

    If the novel that you have been revising for a few years is your first novel, give some serious consideration to putting it down and writing a second novel. Just as “telling my friends about my great ideas!” can be a way to avoid writing, “endlessly revising!” can also be a way to avoid writing. If you’ve been working on one project for several years and it’s still not where you want it to be, you may need to get more experience by writing other things before you can come back and do a more focused and efficient rewrite that gives you a finished manuscript you’re ready to submit.

    1. This, this THIS! I took way too long to learn that lesson, that there are some novels that will never be right, may never be “done” and that there is never going to be an “It’s perfect!” moment.

      Most people learn by doing. Writing is not the same as rewriting which is not really the same as editing. If all one does is rewrite then the learning of the writing isn’t happening.

    2. Agreed. This was once me, too. I took c. 6 years to endlessly edit the same story. It was an exercise in perfectionist hand-wringing. Moving on to new projects was emotionally good for me. (Can’t say I’m a millionaire best-selling author, but… It was a learning experience anyway.)

    3. So very true. I have also noticed that revising and rewriting a single project can sort of feed the idea that There Can Only Be One-as if the first book is your only chance at a book, and if it’s not perfect, you will have failed Book forever.

      There Can Always Be Another.

      On your second shot you will have something you never did with your first book. Practice!!! (I’ve heard the second also applies to children and souffles.) One of the most valuable things I’ve ever learned to do as a writer is to let something go when it starts feeling forced, and move on to the next thing.

      1. Practice did me no good at all with children, that’s for sure! I’m sure it sometimes does; I’ve even watched it help a lot, but my first and second kids were so radically different from each other that I had to learn from scratch all over again.

        Hmm…. I wonder if anyone’s books have had a similar issue?

      2. Yes! All new writers need to be told, their first book might just be clearing the tap. You know when the water comes out all brown and rusty and you need to let it run for awhile? My two books, at least, were terrible, but after writing some other stuff, I rewrote the first one a LOT better and hope the rewrite the second. There was good stuff in there! But it wasn’t well developed because I hadn’t had enough practice yet. That’s okay!

  15. Oh god, this guy. I have my own version. He handed me 3/4 of a novel manuscript about a month after we met and I did a thorough and honest critique. In-line notes, over all analysis, read it twice… The whole nine yards.

    I handed him my complete first draft manuscript in return and…. Bubkus. A year later I gave home my nanorimo draft. Bubkus.

    So I don’t read his stuff anymore. I’m a professional writer and editor. My time is worth $50/hr on the freelance market. (Ok, in travel writing. Less in fiction but still!) If i get no reciprocation, I expect to be paid.

  16. What a great answer. I think there is also something in there about creative work being “not really work”, and/or “easy if you have talent.” The script of “You should stop talking about it and start doing it!” is a good way of reminding folks that havng ideas is the *least* difficult part of any creative endeavour. Just how often has something like this happened:

    Them: “Wow, you made those shorts yourself? Can you make me a pair, too?”
    Me: “Haha nope… but I can give you the pattern, though!”
    Them: … -> *never takes me up on it.*

    (Maybe not 100% relevant to the LW’s case here, since their friend is at least a writer themselves, even if they never seem to finish anything. Hope I’m not derailing too much here. But I had to think of this during the grandfather anecdote.)

  17. Random Cafe Patron: “You look like you’re really concentrating! And you type so fast! What are you writing?”

    Oh God please please please do not Porlock. Don’t do it. Please.

    1. “And I see your noise canceling headphones, so I’m going to wave frantically at you until you take them off so I can pelt you with questions!”


        They seem to have a real problem making the leap from “Drew is wearing his Very Obvious Headphones Of Shutting Out The World” to “Drew is in the Wonderful Realm Of Thinking Where He Does Not Want To Be Interrupted” and sending me email or leaving me a note or, you know, ANYTHING other than standing by my desk (bonus points if it’s on the other side of my Big Monitor Of Bigness that is positioned precisely where I cannot see someone at the door YES THIS IS A CLUE) and waiting until I notice them and remove the headphones of Don’t Interrupt Me so they can interrupt me.

        Gosh, that felt good to get out.

    2. The.worst.

      I am very near-sighted. I have a deal with my students and former students that I am accessible to them when they see me in a coffee shop if and only if I have my glasses on. If my glasses are off, I have purposely narrowed my focus so that I can get work done; someone who waves at me or talks to me in that circumstance is not going to get my attention, and someone who breaks my focus by touching me is going to wish they hadn’t, because I will yelp and make a scene.

  18. I’m with persimmon. Talking things out (with the right audience) has been a critical part of my writing process. The other person doesn’t even have to be actively interested, though it helps. (If they’re actively disinterested, I stop talking to that person about it.) But that’s the difference between people like me and persimmon, and Shawn. I want to talk out my stories to the same person (people) so that when I start to work on the next scene or chapter, they already know where the story has been and I don’t have to catch them up.

    But as crucial as this talking-out is to my creative process, I’d rather have someone say “I’d rather read it when it’s done” or “cool, send me a link to the amazon page when it’s published” than just sit there smiling politely but secretly wishing I would shut up when I’m going on and on about a project I’m excited about. There’s a kind of vulnerability in talking about something I’m genuinely passionate about. It’s absolutely heartbreaking to find out that my friend found me boring or tedious and was just pretending to be interested, especially if it’s a regular occurrence. I’d wonder what other aspects of our relationship they were just pretending to enjoy. This happened to me with someone I was in a very close relationship with and it made me second guess every friendship, wondering if I was actually the most boring person on earth and all my friends were too polite to tell me.

    Someone might be the right audience for Shawn’s ideas, but it’s not the letter writer. When the letter writer tells Shawn this, (if Shawn hears it) it will eventually make all parties happier and improve the friendship.

    tl:dr Honesty is a gift for both the giver and the receiver.

    1. I’ve discovered recently that I am, in fact, an out-louder. I brainstorm best out-loud. (This should not have been a surprise. I think out loud a lot. In complete sentences. As though talking to someone. Usually when I’m alone, but sometimes I miss the person Standing Right There and they give me a weird look and sometimes actually ask, “Do you talk to yourself a lot?” I have gotten much better with practice at responding, “Of course! How else can I hear myself think?”)

      I have also discovered that this process does not need an audience. I do it while on long walks or during long soaks in the tub. This relieves the urge to do it in other people’s ears.

      I wonder if Shawn can be a no-audience out-louder, or if having a warm body to hear their brain-gems is critical to their process? And if there might be some way to gently suggest this to them? (Not that it’s LW job to do that, obvs.)

  19. Is Shawn primarily a Friend You Talk About Writing With, or was there at some point a little more breadth to the friendship? If there’s anything else there at all, it might be interesting to first enforce your boundary a couple times and then see what happens if you invite them to go rock climbing or turn the subject to pets or cooking or politics. There are friendships that can survive having a topic made off limits, and there are times when that means that people have less reason to speak and end up being small doses friends or acquaintances.

  20. Shawn reminds me of a friend that I had to put in the “small doses” category. She’s not a writer, but she has always had a tendency to talk AT me (rather than mutual conversation), particularly with text. She texts random comments, observations, thoughts without the reciprocity of asking about how I’m doing, etc. We have a lot of fun together, so I still like to have her in my life, but it’s tiring giving feedback, responses, thoughts without receiving much in return. Eventually I learned not to respond or respond minimally when she texts random musings or neglects to inquire about me. In my case I’m not interested in correcting the behaviour and chose “small doses” instead, as there are some other issues in the friendship that makes small doses a better fit anyways. I can relate to LW’s predicament.

  21. Ugh. I have friend like this. She has long dreamt of leaving her urban area to move to the country. Fine. But she developed this annoying habit of “finding” a house online, looking at the pictures on the realty site, than calling me up to tell me what she’d do if it was hers. I heard all about the landscaping projects, the paint colors, the remodeling, you name it she had a plan for it. Guess what. After 9 exhausting years of this, I finally changed the format:
    Her: I found a charming house in Rural Area!
    Me: Did you put in an offer?
    Her: No. But you wouldn’t believe the garden I could put in.
    Me: Well, did you make an appointment to view it?
    Her: No, but let me tell yo about the –
    Me: Well, it doesn’t pay to daydream about a house that you’re not actually going to buy. {Subject change}

    She got pissed off the first 5-6 times but guess what. I no longer have to spend an hour listening to her daydreams. And guess what? She’s STILL living in the city. I actually acted on my daydream and bought a house in the rural area. Do you think she wants to her about the landscaping/painting/remodeling projects that I am ACTUALLY working on? Of course not.

    Captain is spot on, along with commenters. Set boundaries – and seek out a writing group so you can find people that actually do want to collaborate with and encourage you!

    1. It’s okay to daydream about things you want but haven’t made your top priority. I daydream about lots of things that won’t happen anytime soon. What I don’t do is subject my friends to the details.

      Unfortunately, “I’m bored senseless by this thing you want to tell me about” comes across as much harsher than “It’s not pragmatic for you to be thinking about this thing.”

      1. I dunno — I think “this topic doesn’t really interest me” can be phrased gently enough, and for me it’d be easier to hear “please share these thoughts with someone else” than “you shouldn’t be having these thoughts at all.”

    2. I don’t think there’s anything wrong about daydreaming about things you’re not actually going to do, if you enjoy it. Could you have said something like “you know, I’m not really into fantasy remodeling, so I’m probably not the best audience for your house thoughts – how is [thing she’s interested in that you like talking about] going?” That seems kinder than “this thing you enjoy dong is a waste of time.”

  22. Talking about your writing is like talking about your kids–at a baseline, more than a small dose is an imposition. (I am saying this as a writer and a mother.) Sometimes you get lucky and find someone to whom it’s not an imposition, to whom it’s actually interesting (often a fellow writer or parent!) but unless you do, you stick to those small doses and you do the work of pre-packaging them into something that would actually interest your average person.

    And you *value* and *nurture* those privileged relationships in which it’s okay to just dump your raw material on the table and sort through it outside your head. That’s what you have been offering to this person and they are refusing to offer it back even though you plainly have writer-needs too. That’s ridiculous. It’s a friendship foul. You’re not being snooty or some darn thing.

    On second thought, maybe your needs are different from Shawn’s–like, Shawn needs a listener and you need a beta-reader. Could this be writer incompatibility? (Shawn may not know how to be a beta reader. Working at the prose level–or the developmental plot level–and at the idea level are all quite different.) I’m not sure it matters, though–Shawn doesn’t have to know what kind of notes to make on your book to ACTUALLY READ IT. Not reading it is a level of disinterest that to me, would put a serious damper on the writer-friendship. I mean, I’d be courteous and understanding about it in a different kind of relationship–I don’t expect my husband to read my books till they’re in print, and if I give a manuscript to a non-writer friend and they don’t read it, I mostly just figure I need to make Chapter 1 more compelling. But someone who expects me to show interest in their work? And admits to such disinterest in mine? Forget it.

    The Captain’s script works. But just wanted to make clear there’s a foul going on here.

  23. Heh. I am the exact opposite. I’ve been working on a book for the past five months (have maybe 80% of the first draft done) and I have told practically no-one about it. The people who know are (1) my spouse and parents, (2) one close friend who will cheer me on, and (3) three friends I asked for feedback on the manuscript at crucial junctures. I get mad if my husband mentions it to anyone. Why? It’s going to look real dumb to have all this “I’m writing a book!” going on if I don’t actually, you know, produce a book.

    1. I think your chances are a whole lot better than Shawn’s. I hope you’ll let us all know when (not if, WHEN) your book is published!

  24. This isn’t really the point, but I’m curious: What did your grandfather actually want you to do?

    1. A) Tell him he was great (easy peasy)
      B) Magick a perfect book of his life story into existence without him having to do any work or be vulnerable in any way.

      1. I was curious about that as well. It’s too bad he couldn’t take you up on your offer. Telling you a story and leaving you to write a transcript of it wouldn’t have been a lot of work … although I suppose it could make him vulnerable depending on what story he was telling and how self-conscious he was about getting it right.

        Correction: Wouldn’t have been a lot of work FOR HIM. Even just transcribing would’ve been a ton of work for you.

        1. I did an interview with my grandmother on cassette tape when she was in the last few years of her life. It was absolutely fascinating stuff — her family walked across Europe during the first World War to get to a port where they could catch a ship to the new world, etc. I deeply wish she’d let me turn it into a story, but as soon as the tape was done she changed her mind suddenly and made me destroy the cassette in front of her eyes. I have done my best to remember as much as I can from the conversation ever since, since the memories are all I can really have. I did try periodically to talk her into letting me try it again, but she wouldn’t and then she was gone.

    1. They’re not on Writer Beware yet but they should be. $700 – $1100 to the company for a random selection of beta readers? No indication that one’s intellectual property will be protected? A lot of red flags there.

  25. LW, I’d be inclined to just delete the texts with random factoids devoid of context
    Then, if Shawn says anything about your not responding, tell them you didn’t know a response was needed. If they want your opinion on something, they can use their words and *ask* for it. Right now, they’re sending you random noise that doesn’t merit a response. If you were talking together and Shawn told you their favorite dragon changed to Snapple, you’d say “oh,” because spoken conversation calls for some response. Maybe you’d say “what?” if the random noise was weird enough to accidentally prompt you to display a mote of interest, but texting either would be passive aggressive.

    If they ask what you think about their favorite dragon’s changing to Snapple, tell them the truth: you don’t have an opinion because it’s random and completely devoid of any context.

    You really have two Shawn issues: their lobbing random factoids at you and their not showing any interest in your work.
    You can’t do anything about the second issue. If they were trying to make you be their sounding board, it would be fair for them to reciprocate, but they can’t or won’t help you. Don’t mistake the lobbing of random factoids for an offer of mutual assistance. Especially since it doesn’t sound like they want a genuine sounding board. They want an audience. Nothing obligates you to be their audience.

    I think if you dump the idea that Shawn can help you, the random factoids will be less frustrating because they won’t be false coin in a phantom exchange of interest and assistance. They’ll just be random noise that you can ignore.

  26. and the effort of indulging Shawn’s pretense that this is all going somewhere.

    This never gets easier. My husband is a fantastically talented comic book artist with a pathological fear of actually finishing a project. He’ll get in an upswing and start something, talking my ear off about the characters and plot, doing dozens of sketches, having a ball. Which is fine, but after ten years it’s getting pretty hard to pretend that he’s not going to start spinning off fifty side plots, changing major story points, doing five or six completed pages and then deciding it has to be done in a completely different style, then quitting. You could set your watch by it.

  27. I’m not unsympathetic to someone whose process involves thinking out loud. There was a stretch of time when my composition method for poems was to take the dog I was caring for on a walk, and improvise a draft aloud as we walked. Anything I was able to remember by the time we got home, I figured, had already passed the “memorable language” test. Bonus if the dog looked at me and cocked his head as if he understood me. (I’m being maybe 1/3 facetious, but I did *want* to feel that I was communicating– it just wasn’t urgent, in that phase, for it to be with another human. I wrote pretty close to a quarter of my MFA manuscript walking that dog and probably should have credited him on my acknowledgements page.

    An application like Audible is also viable– I’ve used it while dealing with a repetitive stress injury that prevented me from typing, then made a transcript later when my arms were well enough. Coincidentally, at that point, I had developed enough distance from the piece to be able to do rewriting and editing.

    There are ways to be a talk-it-out person without burning out a friendship!

    1. I just want to say that the dog-walking story is fantastic and brightened my day, thanks so much for sharing it!

  28. First, Dear Captain, thank you so very, very much! ❤ I love everything you have said. You put in words in an organized fashion the thoughts I have had for a long time. Thank you for doing this, because it helps people like me, people who love writing and stories very much.

    Dear LW,

    In my opinion The Captain is absolutely correct: you sound like a wonderful person! I have been writing since I was 6 years old (yeah, the first stories were not that great) and I liven and breath for stories. I would love to be of help with your work as fantasy and science fiction are very dear for me. The only but here is… English is not my native language even though I mostly read books written in English, so I might not be the best person to help with grammar. My area of expertise is biology, so if you would find that helpful, please contact me. I would love to read your manuscript and I have material of my own, too (although I have to translate some which I have thought to do anyway, so there is no extra work in it for me). Now I am just wondering how to contact you best.

    For about 30 years now I have been writing larps and rolle playing games (here in Northern Europe these are considered a serious art form and they often deal with difficult, yet important themes; in here they are considred an important tool of education beside a fun passtime). One of the best things I have ever experienced is to exchange and build ideas together with a friend or a small group. I wonder if one can get caught in that state, always discussing about new ideas rather than seeing the trouble, pain and glory of writing? I have been there – and still, when the text flows out, it is pure perfection, but unfortunately, for me, that state is rather rare.

    Writing a larp or a role playing game together with someone also creates peer pressure which for anxious types like me can be important. It took years and a wrecking social catastrophe for me to actually begin working with a novel of my own. It is still very much in the skeleton phase, but I kind of love that skeleton.

    During the decades of writing larps I have worked with many kinds of people, some of whom seemed to want to leave the chances of better ideas open – which means they never got anything done because they never wrote anything down. I have seen the truth of Captain's words so many times: if it is not written down (and named), it does not exist and it will not develope. The better ideas do not just appear out of thin air, they appear when brain works with something interesting and that interesting thing has to exist and be written down. That is why I have an index in my computer called "The Hatchery". That is where I write down all my new hatchling ideas. Most of them never develop further but sometimes my brain just gets interested in an idea and ideas start collecting around it, like a ball of dust (ew, not a fine mental image; a ball of imaginary story fairy dust?).

    The Captain is so right, dear LW. You have done a wonderful job and you deserve people who will love your stories and thier own and be patient and relentelss with both.

  29. Several years ago I took an excellent writing class. The teacher’s comments were kind, insightful, spot-on for helping a writer improve with good usable advice. Every criticism came with here’s a way to be more effective. By workshopping each other’s pieces we were learning how to be better writers, how to be better readers, not just recognizing when something’s not working (too easy to say “I didn’t like it”) but also how to identify the problem spots and make it better (“More detail would help me visualize this.” “This paragraph seems out of place and interrupts the flow, but if you moved it over here …”)

    Given the number of students and the number of classes, there were only 3 chances for each of us to have a piece workshopped. I saw each as precious. So much good feedback! So much to say but also a need to be considerate of the demands I was making of my classmates. I’d have gladly brought in 40 pages a week, but I had to stay within the class rules and only bring 5. It made sense. If I could only do a good job of critiquing 5 pages for them, I couldn’t expect them to critique 40 pages for me.

    It was therefore a surprise to me when, as the class went on, more and more of my classmates were having trouble bringing in anything. One classmate who’d written something wonderful I just loved on the first go-round, announced writers’ block. Another had a great idea for something really penetrating originally, then brought in something shallow and uninteresting, just thrown together. Another brought in what was essentially notes, nothing finished that we could respond to, edit, work on, and change, but more along the lines of “I want to convey the idea of …” without ever writing an actual draft or forming the sentences. I learned that it’s not uncommon for this to happen. If a writer goes to the trouble of polishing a paragraph just so, comes to class and learns that everyone thinks the paragraph needs to be taken out, it becomes harder to write the second time. You sort of want to say “should I bother with this paragraph at all? Tell me before I put all the work into it.” Except the reader can’t critique what isn’t written, can’t say if the paragraph belongs there without reading it first.

    My point is that writing is hard! Or it is for most of us. There’s the ideas, putting words on the ideas, not just communicating with yourself but conveying the ideas to someone else, getting the tone right without sounding too formal or lazy, going through the steps of jotted notes, to sentences, to grouping the ideas sensibly, etc.

    Another way to phrase “you should write that down” is “Send me email with your ideas in it.”

  30. LW said: “Am I being snooty about different approaches to the creative process?”

    This is not really about different approaches to the creative process. It’s about different approaches to whether or not both sides will get something out of the interaction.

  31. “Uh-huh, have fun with it!”
    — me, every 2 weeks or so, re: spouse’s newest creative endeavor

    I care about my spouse and their happiness and creative freedom. I do not really care about the details of a project until it already exists, in at least rough draft form. Maybe this makes me mean, IDK. It’s what I can offer unless the asker specifies what they want from me.

  32. Thank you so much for the shout-out, Captain! I’m honored. (Patreon’s having some issues right now, so those who can’t load my Patreon are welcome to hit storyhospital.com instead.)

    LW, it sounds to me like there are two ways Shawn is being inconsiderate: they’re talking at you in a way that you haven’t consented to and that makes you uncomfortable, and they’re not making equivalent space for you to talk about your writing if you want to. Those things would be inconsiderate even if Shawn regularly finished books, so I think you can let go of caring about that; their process is their process, your process is your process, those processes are different, cool.

    On the first point, you can make it clear that you don’t want to do things the way they do things, and offer a different way to do things: “I get confused by your texts about writing. Let’s hold off on discussing writing until we’re chatting in person. It’s easier for me to follow what you’re saying if we’re having a real conversation.” You can also say, “Since you’re talking about projects I haven’t read, I really don’t have anything to say about them, and then I feel uncomfortable. I’d prefer to take turns workshopping each other’s work, or to have deeper discussions about craft.”

    On the second point, you can try setting expectations beforehand: “Looking forward to seeing you on Thursday! I want to tell you all about the chapter I’ve been revising.” “I just read this book that you mentioned reading and I’d love to discuss how the author handles pacing.”

    If Shawn still tunes you out, be direct: “You used to be willing to listen to me talk about my writing, but now you just talk about yours. What’s up with that? I miss the back-and-forth we used to have and I’d like to get back to that.”

    When a relationship goes from conversation to lecture like this, it’s often an avoidance tactic. Shawn might feel guilty about not reading your manuscript when you read theirs, or annoyed with you for finishing things when they don’t, or stressed because they don’t like your writing and don’t know how to say so. They might be looking to you for approval, or trying to prove to you that the stuff they come up with is as cool as the stuff you come up with. They might also just be newly in love with every character/story/setting that comes into their head, and not really aware that they’re the only one who finds this endlessly fascinating. Whatever’s going on, it has to do with some image of you that Shawn has in their head, and things aren’t really likely to change until they remember how to interact with the actual you instead. A real conversation is the first step toward getting back your genuine connection.

  33. I know a number of people who identify as writers. Among them, there is a distinct subgroup that I can’t help thinking of as “writers”. These people don’t spend much time with pen in hand (or pencil, or laptop, or whatever weapon of choice one might use to write with). In fact, many of them don’t seem to produce text at all. But regardless of whether they write, they are very, very enamored with the idea of themselves as writers. They have so many ideas, you see! Very, very clever ideas. And they have great characters, who they’re sure you are just dying to hear about in great detail. They’re writing a novel, you know–it’s still in the early stages (unstarted, really) but everyone they know is already dying to read it, it’s going to be a big deal.

    These people tend to get very offended if you ask to see their work, or offer to edit for them, or otherwise say anything that might imply that being a writer involves creating actual written text of some kind. They’re a *writer*, after all. They’re working very, very hard. This can’t be forced! You clearly don’t understand how hard it is.

    I find these people very frustrating. They’re taking an entirely legit thing (people who write talking about their writing–cool and interesting! people who want to write exploring the idea with a friend–understandable and good to support! people who are legit trying to write, who are struggling and looking for tips/support–it happens, I’m sure if you keep trying you’ll get through it!) and hijacking it to make it all about themselves. They want whatever glory they associate with being A Writer (intellectual superiority? a chance to talk exclusively about themselves? who knows) without actually doing the work of writing.

    Based on the infinite flow of ideas, the lack of any written result, and the lack of interest in writing other than their own, Shawn sounds more like a “writer” than a writer to me. OP, please use that information as you will.

    1. Your ‘writers’ description reminds me of a book I read (I think by Anne Lamott) that has one character telling another that she knew a lot of writers but most of them smoked pot and slept and talked on the phone and she knew very few that actually wrote at all.

    2. Uh. Yes. I have no problem with people who haven’t started a project yet, who take a while or just don’t finish things. But I’ve met a lot of people very invested in the idea of being a writer who would pester people for validation about ‘their unique voice’ and talent and never write a damn thing. Not writing anything is fine. Enjoying the process or the idea stage without it ever going anywhere is fine. But pouting when people don’t want to endlessly reassure you about your gift while you talk at them about needing to find your ‘voice’ without ever actually practising or doing something is exhausting and tedious. There’s only so many times I can nod at someone as they tell the list of things in their life, that if only they were perfect they would write the DEFINING NOVEL OF OUR TIMES. And maybe they have legit problems – that sucks and I can listen to them vent! But it seems like they want a shortcut: “I can’t write this novel because I can’t take two years off of work to do so, so please give me the praise and validation as though I had already written it”. Bonus points for continuously pointing out how a real piece of work that someone wrote isn’t as good as their imagined piece.

      Also it’s in general good practice to remind yourself to ask your friends about their projects, including a follow up question or two. And to remind yourself to think of relatively accessible ways to describe your own projects without going on forever. It’s something I’ve been trying to improve upon myself, and would love any pointers.

    3. Oh my gawd. You describe this perfectly. My ex was a “Writer” with a capital W. He was very invested in his persona as a writer and the entire aesthetic to a nauseating degree. He spent mind-boggling amounts of money on new laptops and tablets for his writing, leather bags to carry them in, fountain pens, fancy notebooks, a typewriter, trips to the city that inspired his novel idea, tweed jackets with fucking elbow patches and a goddamn smoking pipe. He spent I think 6 years on his Masters degree in English because, for 4 whole years, he couldn’t be bothered to finish his thesis and just continued to mount up student loan debt in order to stay in the program. His poetry was atrocious and his big novel idea was so trite it was honestly mind-boggling (think: come up with the most mediocre, boring, white-cis-male story you can imagine and then make it whiter and even more boring). Of course, I never said this because I wanted to be supportive, and I thought maybe if he at least wrote it well it would be okay. He had written the first 4 chapters or so (he insisted on reading me the entire first chapter out loud… it was terrible). He would often invite himself to friends’ houses to “write” and would instead spend the entire time watching movies and laughing at his own jokes. I’m pretty sure during the entire 2+ years I dated him, he never got another chapter further in his Magnum Opus work of fiction. That was about a decade ago and I’m pretty sure he still hasn’t published a single thing.

      Now, I’m not saying it’s BAD to enjoy having a “writer” aesthetic or to have unfinished projects or even to never finish a book in your life. These aren’t moral failings… everyone will occasionally come up with awesome, wild ideas that they would love to do but never finish (I do that ALL THE TIME). That’s part of being human. But where it gets so obnoxious is when these “writers” want YOU to be as invested in shoring up their image as an author as THEY are. They want everyone else to buy into this image of themselves and reflect it back to them, but they aren’t actually doing any of the work to earn that image.

      I don’t know that Shawn is nearly to this level if at all, but your description of “writers” who are deeply invested in their image rather than their supposed craft just made me laugh because holy hell. I know that type.

      1. People who “see” themselves as writers might be so enamored of their own reflection (tweed ‘n’ all!) that they will not get around to doing the hard, necessary work of writing it down, as the Captain suggests.

        I like to do giveaways on my website, and one I’ve done several times is the “Coffeehouse Cliche Giveaway.” It’s a blank book/journal, a pen and a Starbucks card so that they, too, can become one of those Serious Writerly Folks in coffeehouses, writing the Great American Novel or the Poetry Collection That Will Change The Known Universe.

        Also: I’ve been making a living as a writer for 33 years (newspapers, magazines, online personal finance). Can’t tell you how often people say, “I’ve always thought I could be a writer.” Or who ask how they can get a cushy gig like mine — they seem to think it’s me sitting around in my PJs all day.

        My theory is that people think they could be writers/think it’s super-easy to be a writer because most people CAN write, i.e., put words on paper (or type them onto a screen). They have no idea how much work is involved.

        Oh, and LW: For what it’s worth, I agree that you’re giving Shawn way too much of your time and should resist future emotional labor unless it becomes more reciprocal. That would include the emotional labor the Captain mentioned with regard to reassuring Shawn that they are so important to you as a friend and that you’d like to help more but you are just so busy these days and you’re really sorry.

        Because you shouldn’t be sorry for having boundaries about your own time and your own work. I wish you continued luck and join in the chorus of those who would love to know when you get published.

    4. This reminds me of the “noun vs verb” discussion on a recent Scriptnotes podcast. Basically they laid out a test to tell whether you should pursue a professional writing career: think about whether you really love the noun “Writer” or if you actually like the verb, “to write.” Because most of one’s life as a Writer is not book tours and interviews or going to movie premieres or whatever; most of it is the action of writing. So if that’s not the thing that actually gets you going, then maybe this isn’t the job for you.

      I remember a man once telling me about when he started to study archaeology. He wanted to be an archaeologist, he said, because he had all these ideas about discovering lost civilizations and ruins, etc. Then he showed up to his first class, and lining the room were piles of boxes, each filled to the brim with potsherds – little broken bits of pots. And he found out that the professor had been on a dig earlier in the year, and was going to spend the next several years meticulously going through and studying all these boxes of tiny clay shards. Because it turns out that’s what being an archaeologist actually is, most of the time. So he went into something else. After that he always said that when you pick a life pursuit, you should make sure you can enjoy the potsherds of it. It’s easy to focus on the glamorous bits, but if you can’t handle the day-to-day minutiae then it’s not going to make you happy.

      1. I love this, very well put in words!

        Now I am left wondering whether I am some kind of anti-Writer (with a capital W). I have a hard time even thinking of myself as a writer and I would hate going to movie premiers or signing my books (what a horrifying mental image!) – but only very few things compete with the joy of creating a story and thinking about the characters. I find it awkward to discuss my work in progress (beside discussing it with someone who is also working with their own project or people who are participating the project). I love it here in my messy study, with all the geeky figurines and books and snoring cats, the maps of fantasy lands… Reading all your comments it seems that I am not alone and that is fantastic.

        In one of the larps I participated in writing (in here the organizers create everything, the setting, the character descriptions etc.) one of the characters was a very creative writer but he hated playing the Writer part so much that he hired someone to portray him, to attend signings etc. Of course this poor fellow died of a heart attack and the person who had just pretended to be him had to participate in a very important writer’s meeting… I wonder whether writers actually hire Writers to handle the publicity?

        1. Same here, C. majalis. I wrote and self-published two novels and still don’t call myself A Writer, because I have to haul myself off to the office job every weekday like millions of other Mere Mortals.

          I.e. I don’t fit the stereotype (or the modern hard-charging authorpreneur stereotype), so it “can’t” apply.

          1. Wow, angry apple tree! Two novels! That is fantastic! I would love to read them! So far I have only participated in writing 50 or so larps, some role playing games and a few other types of games but not yet novels. I would love to hear all about the writing process, to become better myself and to share ideas.

            I believe I understand you. I have never actually dreamed of becoming a professional writer; the area where my native language is spoken is not that big that many even somewhat famous writers here have day jobs.

            Best of luck to your novels and other kind of stories (if you like creating those)! No matter how you identify, stories are still awesome.

            Now I wonder if it is even important to identify as a writer? It seems like both of us enjoy writing so perhaps just doing what we love is the most important thing.

    5. As a lady in science, this really resonated with me. So many people see themselves as somehow specially connected to The Thing without actually being willing to do The Thing. Double pain points when this is wielded as a power play against folks who are underrepresented and who already struggle to feel like they are not enough when it comes to connection to/love/devotion to The Thing.

    6. But regardless of whether they write, they are very, very enamored with the idea of themselves as writers.

      I have heard them described as “playing Writer: The Role-Playing Game.”

  34. I work with students in a computer programming course and I love helping them work through problems. The one thing I do not love is this conversation:

    STUDENT: I’m really confused by [general topic].

    ME: can you show me what you’re having trouble doing?

    S: I haven’t started yet. I just don’t really understand it.

    M: is there a particular thing you have questions about?

    S: everything OR nothing OR it just doesn’t make sense.

    I am 110% down to walk them through the process of figuring out what questions to ask or what to work on next. I’ve been told I’m very patient when doing this kind of work. But I have such a hard time being patient when people ask me for help but won’t make any sort of effort to help me figure out what it is they need help with.

    In at least a few instances it turns out the person is totally lost and is lacking some key skill that’s necessary to do anything in the current part of the course. And of course that’s a hard position to be in, I’ve been there, it sucks. But I always feel so frustrated because there are so many resources available for them to get help and if they’d done so a week or two ago they wouldn’t be in this spiral of helpless confusion.

    Anyway, this letter and the Captain’s response made me think of that, because “write it down” is a perfect response to these situations for two reasons. 1) it is literally what will get you closer to where you need to be and 2) it is returning the implied request to do the practical and/or emotional labor they want when they dump their big bundle of insecurities and confusion in your lap, and refusing to engage until there is actually something to engage with.

    1. I’ve been having this problem from the opposite side.

      Newly Minted PhD: “So, Aris, if you have any questions about the project you’re taking over from me, just ask, since I’m going to be around for a few more months.”

      Second Year Grad Student Me: “… Give me six months to learn linear algebra and semi-classical spectroscopy and I might have a question for you.”

      Sometimes the questions are just so big that asking them won’t help! You need to start from the beginning and do the work on them. If I’d asked every question I’d had at the beginning I don’t think that “ask me anything” offer would have stayed open for very long.

  35. You frame this as a problem with possibly incompatible creative processes. The bigger problem is the lack of reciprocity, which can happen in a conversation about anything. Before you encourage Shawn to write stuff down before sharing with you or to find a different audience for incomplete stuff, you may want to confront them directly about their unwillingness to listen to you about your work. What they’re doing isn’t cool.

  36. That’s such a shame. Shawn previously wrote a story you actually liked. You’re genuinely positive about reading something they wrote. If things were different, they *could* write. But sadly, they are not in a place where they can do that now. Either that one story worked for them and others didn’t, or they took it as far as they can go without more skills that are hard to develop, or they don’t have as much time or attention now.

    You can’t fix that. You tried, but they’re still in the same place. It’s their life, you can’t do more to help, it has to be on them to change or not.

    What you can do is set boundaries. I would focus on not wanting to be a constant repository of ideas, and the sort of talk you would like to have (even if it’s not likely they’ll want to do that). They’ll probably be hurt — people usually are when you enforce a boundary to stop yourself being hurt. If they wanted to avoid that, they could have realised you might not be into this one of the previous times they pestered you and you said “uh” rather than being super enthusiastic.

    That you’re frustrated by ideas that don’t go anywhere is also true, but may not be kind to point out — they’re probably hoping that the ideas ARE going somewhere, and even if you can see they’re not, it’s better to say you don’t want to be barraged with ideas, than let it be a referendum on whether that’s effective or not.

    After all, many writers need an audience for brainstorming and DO find it effective, but that’s DOESN’T mean you can just impose it, you need a willing audience (I like twitter!) or maybe a notebook or a soft toy. Unfortunately, now, you used to have compatible conversations, and now they want something you don’t enjoy and you want something they don’t enjoy so those conversations are probably over for a while and you both need to find other people to talk writing with. It’s not that their method of talking about writing is right and yours wrong, it’s that they’re both valid but not compatible. Right now, theirs doesn’t seem to be working great, but you can’t fix that, just fix, you don’t want to have it happen *at* you.

  37. One of the things that helped me reframe Talking about Projects was a post I saw.
    The Story In Your Head: +Picture of Van Gogh’s Starry Night+
    Story Idea When You Tell Someone: +blue background with some yellow scribbles+

    There’s an additional bit that tells about how the writing and editing process morphs that scribble into a beautiful finished work, but the first part is more important to this context. In your head you’ve got this beautiful painting, but the person you’re talking to just hears “Blue! Yellow! Swirlies!” And it is generally much more fun to yell random colors than to be the one listening going “Yes, yes those are a lot of colors and you seem very excited about them.” Which means it’s easy to fall into a trap of always being the one yelling, and not reciprocating and being the one standing there listening to “Purple! More purple! Different purple!” Because if it’s fun to yell, if they’re doing it right it should be equally fun to listen too? (Nope, life’s unfair) And to remember to rein in some of the color yelling by remembering it is a favor they’re doing for me, I’m not gifting them with my yelling. And finally to remind myself very firmly that yelling colors at someone is not the same as finishing a painting and not trick myself into feeling like I’ve actually accomplished anything and can excuse myself from writing anything down for real.

    Though one possible thing too, you mentioned having worked on the same novel for years now, is it possible Shawn’s gotten bored with waiting for you to ever finish and has written off your project as just as unlikely to happen as any of theirs? They might be getting the same feelings of why invest in your characters when they’re never going anywhere. This is something you’d have to hash out with Shawn, but I think it is worthwhile to consider that you give the implication that you’re both equally finished-novel-free at the moment. They might be feeling frustrated that you won’t ever talk about anything new. If that’s the case, compromises might have to be made or you may just have to accept that bouncing new ideas and bouncing editing woes are different things and they’re not interested in your editing woes and you’re not interested in their new ideas.

    1. That’s a marvellous image!

      I think this might be part of Shawn’s meta-problem here: in their head, the stories sound great. On paper, they’re lacking vibrancy, and detail, and pacing. They wouldn’t be the first writer to have a brilliant idea which turned into dust when they wrote it down.

      is it possible Shawn’s gotten bored with waiting for you to ever finish and has written off your project as just as unlikely to happen as any of theirs?

      That’s a possibility, I would say.

      I also wonder about their critting skills. Possibilities include not being able to say anything useful (it reads ok, but they’re not fired up by the story) or hating it (for reasons that may be completely unrelated to the mss or its quality) and not being able to say nice/productive things. Constructive Criticism/Editorial Feedback is a skill, and one that one does not automatically acquire just by writing.

    2. duaecat, that is absolutely amazing and hilarious! I laughed so hard imagining someone sitting in a café with friends yelling: “Yellow! Blue! Swirls!” and simultaneously flailing their hands around so that cups of tea, tealights and tasteful vases and flowers fly around. The friends of this fine creative mind look embarrased and one of them tries to dry her notebook who is soaking wet after the tasteful vase spilled all its water on it. This is actually just one way to seek validation and suck energy and time from others who might probably rather use it to actually create something. Of course it is okay if the friends know what their role is and get something out of it in return, but if it is unsolicited… It is a nuisance.

      This is a really great way to crystallize (sorry, suffering a loss of an English word here) this whole problem: asking the Writer to describe their favourite painting or song.

      Why do people not create? Now I am left wondering if these self-acclaimed Writers create something else, like write music or paint – or if they just sort of want to portray a creative urge that is in reality not so strong. Why do people even think it is great to be creative? Okay, maybe it is for some people but for me it is a disaster. It messes with my schedules; if I do not create regularly, usually at least two hours a day I have nightmares so bad that it leads to insomnia which leads to catching a cold or something worse. When I was younger I used a lot of time wishing I was more like other people.

      So, may the Force (or something like that) be with you, you fantastic, creative people here. Take care of yourselves.

  38. You should draw it down!
    I’ve always been a more visual person and feel much more comfortable drawing than writing; I like making up comic stories and drawing them but hated the actual wording part. I get how some people maybe aren’t into the writing (though I don’t know if one can be be verbal in that scenario; I for one don’t much like verbalizing either. Just drawing and looking)
    100% agree though keeping something as nebulous dribbits is easier than hammering it out. Now I’m in sciency academics and have tons of ideas but sitting down to grant write or publish? OOOH HARD (Even beyond just the I-don’t-love-words part) because it means I finally have to be incredibly specific about what I want to do. (I WANT TO DO X LABS AT Y TIMES ON Z DRUGS TO TEST IF A LEADS TO B) etc.
    But yeah LW captain advice = good. You don’t sound like your enjoying yourself so you are free to disengage or set boundaries as you will, and if your goal is to try to get to an even writerly creative relationship above advice sounds gold. Shawn doesn’t want then, then, well, is there a reason to keep putting up with their vaguely annoying snippits?

  39. As much as I love the idea of both LW and Shawn bringing in short ideas so they can each take notes for the other, I suspect that if Shawn is as dug in on talking not writing as he sounds, it can’t work. If LW goes first talking so Shawn can write, I predict Shawn won’t know how, will start talking in response to what LW says instead of writing, and will generally act like a toddler who’s been asked to stay on task. If LW lets Shawn go first so as to demonstrate how its done, I suspect Shawn will get pages full of great notes that can be worked into a the next step of the project. Then when it’s LW’s turn, even after Shawn has had an actual demonstration of how useful taking notes for someone can be, see above: Shawn still won’t know how and will just start talking and bringing the subject back to his own ideas.

  40. I think the captain’s advice is solid, as usual, but I wonder–maybe another approach is to just back off the creative relationship? Do you have other things you talk about with Shawn? Do you enjoy time with Shawn?

    Because a little bit of me hears this question in the background: Do I have to tolerate Shawn because they claim to do something I’m into, and therefore we’re supposed to be friends? Because the answer to that question is no.

    What would happen if you said, “Shawn, I’d like to hold back with the writing talk for a while. I don’t have the bandwidth to talk about writing at the moment.” Would you still hang out? Is there other content to fill your friendship, or is this the only thing? Because if this is the only thing, it sounds like maybe it’s time to cool the friendship–the one thing it is supposed to be about is annoying the crap out of you. And if it’s not the only thing, great! Focus on those more positive things for a while and see if the creative conversations come back in a natural, but positive for both sides, way.

    I have a friend who wanted our friendship “thing” to be cooking. We did this for a while together, until her cooking approach and ways of going about it started stressing me out and that part of our friendship started to make me unhappy. Also, I felt like the cooking thing had overtaken our whole friendship, which had previously had many other aspects. I said, “Friend, you know, I want to take a break from our cooking sessions for a while because they are starting to stress me out.” She understood, and we focused on other things and re-set the friendship a bit. If cooking had been our only basis for friendship, I think it would have meant that I would have needed to step back from it altogether, just because it was not a positive thing for me anymore.

  41. I was discussing something similar with another person earlier this week about why it’s ok to be critical of an apology and why “but at least they’re trying,” is not a reason to refrain from pointing out that the person hasn’t fully arrived yet, or showing them where, and how, and why improvement is needed. And the reason is because a lot of people will give up and stop trying once they get what they need out of the interaction – whether that’s forgiveness, or praise, or just your momentary attention. If others believe “doing the right thing” begins and ends with saying sorry, then that’s all they’re going to do. They stop stretching to improve and grow at that point. They’ll run only to the finish line, so you have to place that line accordingly. It’s why advocates don’t hand out participation trophies and cookies of encouragement. There’s work that needs to be done still. You don’t ever get to the point of being an ally if you just stand around basking in the glory of the thanks you get for showing up. That’s the bare minimum. Just like having the idea for a story is the bare minimum.

    Your writer-friend seems to be one of those people. They’re looking for kudos for an idea (or a million of them) and then that’s all they needed, so they move to something else unless there is additional hand-holding. “You should write that down” lets them know more work still needs to be done. It doesn’t let them bask in the oblivious, bare minimum, “I showed up” stage. And it is so easy to get stuck there. The best of friends know what we’re capable of doing and will set their expectations there. They’re going to say, “Yes, you have a character. What are you going to do about that now?” They may offer encouragement along the way, or even harsh criticism, but they’re not going to let you fool yourself into thinking your work is done.

    My best professors never gave me an easy A, even if that would have been an A effort for someone else. And the ones who did, who let me slink out of their class without ever pushing me to stretch in any way? Well, they weren’t actually doing me a kindness. They weren’t helping me to grow and improve, which is what I needed. So, maybe it’s time to put yourself on Team Challenger where the motto is: Expect More. Shawn may seek out new people to feed them ego kibbles. But those little bursts of excitement that keep Shawn going are draining you, and aren’t moving Shawn forward either. They’ve homesteaded on the starting line. Sometimes it is an act of love and good faith to reserve your interest and praise, and send the message, “I know you can do more.”

  42. Totally not the topic, but I wanted to say I was touched by your example. Dementia is hard. It must be hard for your grandpa, and heard for y’all.

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