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Agony Editor: Why your inner circle might not see a “real” writer

Dear Agony Editor,

I was recently telling a good friend about a writers event I participated in. When I mentioned another author who was taking part, she said excitedly, “Ooh! He’s a real writer.” I have two novels under my belt, which my friend knows. Am I not a “real” writer, too? Her comment really bothered me. What did she mean by it? Is it worth confronting her or is my ego getting in the way?



Dear Unreal,

Your ego did not get in the way. Your friend and her poor choice of words did. What she said was insensitive. The message she conveyed was that, in spite of two novels, you’re not on the same level as the other writer. In her mind, anyway.

My hunch is that your friend didn’t intentionally mean to hurt you. In fact, I suspect your exchange with her wasn’t so different from conversations many writers have had over the years with their moms, siblings, and co-workers, or the lady next door. As people, we tend to put one another into tidy boxes of our own creation. It’s hard to see someone in a different light, especially if it challenges you to reconsider your opinions.

I remember a writer telling me once that, while his mom was proud he was a writer, she was constantly surprised when people liked his books. It wasn’t that she was expecting people to hate them, but she had no real way of gauging how good of a writer he actually was.

This was her son first and foremost. To think about him outside of that role – as someone whose writing could have real impact on strangers – would have forced her to consider him in another way.

Your friend views you as her friend, but she can’t quite bring herself to see you as a writer. At least, not in the way she sees other “real writers.” There could be jealousy or insecurity or something else behind her words. But she needs to know her words hurt you, Unreal. Otherwise, your friendship will suffer. She also needs to understand that, however she perceives you or your work, you’re very much a “real” writer, too.