Friday, April 3, 2015

Writing and Family

Today is a special day in my writing world. It’s the anniversary of my mom’s death in 2001. And if you’re asking yourself how the anniversary of the death of someone so close to me can be important to my writing, well, it’s all about support.

Writing is a solitary endeavor, but it takes an impressive support network to be able to push through the writer’s block and the deadlines, the rewrites and the rejection. That’s not even counting the life of a book after it’s published. But for a lot of us, the influence of family starts long before that. Raise your hand if you owe at least half of what you know in terms of human interactions, good and bad, to your family. I’m definitely raising my hand here.

A wise friend of mine once said that we aren’t given our family as a source of unlimited support, we’re actually given our family so that we can experience every possible bad thing and trying emotion in a contained environment in order to prepare us for the world. In a writer’s best-case scenario, we have a family that supports our writing endeavors, providing encouragement and the occasional chocolate ice cream run when things are bad. At worst, they provide the inspiration for the conflict in what we write.

Both of those things are invaluable, if you think about it. Support is great, but so is conflict when you’re a writer. Not just in the sense of tragedy. I love reading Kristan Higgins’s books because the families she writes are so delightfully dysfunctional and wacky. At the same time, you can feel the love she has for those characters and, I’m sure, the real people who inspired them rippling off the page as they make each other happily miserable.

It’s one of the main reasons why I turn to my own family tree when I’m looking for those stranger-than-fiction scenarios to give my stories an added bit of conflict and heart. Nothing ever gets translated literally from my life to the page, but this probably explains why so many of my characters are dealing with grief and the loss of a family member as part of their backstory. The emotion is there, thanks to the family I love.

I maintain that you probably have a relative or a situation from your own family—probably many—that could come in handy next time you find yourself stuck and searching for conflict. You don’t have to drag out the dirty laundry or out anybody in order to use it, but I can guarantee that those people and situations carry with them the emotions and experience you need to write truly dimensional fiction. And that’s not even getting into memoirs.

I was lucky. My mom was incredibly supportive of my writing. She was blown away by my creativity and often marveled to me that she had no idea where it came from. (Which was silly, because she was one of the most talented craftswomen and sweetest people I’ve ever known) She even used to type my stories into her word processor way, way back in the 80s when I was writing by hand. And as you can see from this message she left in my senior yearbook (along with my baby picture), her support continues. Mom died after an 8 year battle with breast cancer on this day, 14 years ago. She never saw me publish, but she’s in every word I write. We all have someone who lives in every word we write. They are the people we write for.

Merry Farmer is a history nerd, a hopeless romantic, and an award-winning author of thirteen novels. She is passionate about blogging and knitting, and lives in suburban Philadelphia with her two cats, Butterfly and Torpedo. Connect with Merry at her Facebook Author Page and Twitter.


  1. My husband is great at promoting my writing at times when I don't even think of mentioning it!

  2. I enjoy the sweeter side of family feuding like Parenthood, Gilmore Girls, and Brothers & Sisters over the abusively dysfunctional family. Lived it. Have the T-shirt. I do enjoy a good literary family saga from the likes of Elizabeth Berg, Alice Hoffman, and Jane Hamilton, and, of course, Jane Austen. Family is a distinct cauldron. Society forces us to bond with people we are related to in ways we would never have to if they weren't "kin." All writers need an encouraging "writing family." They may not be "kin."


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.