Armchair novelists

They’re so sure they’ll be true proficients that they never bother to learn.

You know the Armchair Novelist. Maybe she only reads Medieval English Literature. Maybe he wrote a poem once. Maybe they’re bloggers or short story drafters. What they are not are novelists, but they think they know much better than you how you ought to write one.

In fact, they would advise you on your weaknesses if they bothered to read your inadequate scribblings. Instead, they’ll only make general remarks about the unsavory character of all genre fiction, the insipidity and time sink wastefulness of fiction in your genre, or the fact that they think it reprehensible that writers would like to be paid for their work. Buying books is probably evil. But If they were going to buy one, it wouldn’t be yours, because you can’t possibly know how to write as well as they.

True story: I was deep in sadness after a series of deaths in the family when I had to be around several of these creatures in a short period of time. I got through by reminding myself that I had actually finished two books (at that time), that I was being published, that writing was rewarding apart from others’ opinions, and by leaving a couple of social events early to get away from them. I reached out to trusted friends who would neither flatter nor critique me and asked for affirmation. Also, I ranted a little. Plus, the worst offender became the basis for a “bad guy” in a later book.

The Armchair Novelist wears dual blinders to maintain his or her lofty self impression: s/he thinks writing is easy, s/he thinks writing is a luxury. With those two ideas in place, the Armchair Novelist is able to convince himself that when he gets around to having free time (luxury), he will just sit down and write a masterly work (ease).

Here are some of the reasons Armchair Novelists are so stubbornly stuck in their ways:

  • Having never written, they can’t be proven wrong about how good they will be.
  • Since they won’t read what you’ve written, they can’t be proven wrong about their low opinion of your work.
  • Their time and energy are so absorbed in pursuing their own interests that they don’t see the commitment and discipline that are truly at work in the writing life.
  • Not being perfect is terrifying to this type, so they come up with obnoxious ways to shield themselves from the possibility. This perfectionist thinks they ought to be able to write a great novel, so they disparage yours as an easy distraction from writing theirs.

Well, bless their hearts. The poor dears have made things hard for themselves if they truly do want to write.

But what’s a writer to do when confronted with one of these persons? Short answer: be a writer. Keep on with the commitment and discipline. Write books. In a few years, you’ll have written and hopefully published several books. The Armchair Novelist will either have gotten around to discovering that they have good reason to withdraw their former negative opinions, or they’ll be no worse than before. One way or another, these persons are not your responsibility to change.

It may be hard sometimes, especially if you are at a party surrounded by these most well-meaning of haters. You can’t expect encouragement or acknowledgement from the Armchair Novelist, only criticism and vague dismissals of your efforts. That can be a big blow to writers who’ve put their thoughts and hearts out in the open for everyone to see. Make sure to avoid talking with these people about books or writing as much as possible. Surround yourself with positive persons who will help you improve or celebrate the writing journey.

But if you absolutely can’t keep Armchair Novelists from getting under your skin, you can always write about them.

Do you know an Armchair Novelist? How do you cope?