Wow, I found this awesome post by Brian Hodge, A Survival Guide for Writers in Love (And Those Who Love Them), with contributions from Brian Keene, Barb Hendee, Mark Alan Gunnells, and Elizabeth Massie. It reveals some hard truths about what it’s like not only to have a relationship as a writer, but with one as well. Thanks to Brian Keene for bringing it to my attention on Facebook, in a link to his blog.
Read it; I’ll wait.
It gave me some things to think about. Egon is pretty supportive, but I wonder how that would play out if we weren’t long-distance, and I was pounding out a novel all day. If I were totally freelance, my workday would coincide with his and we’d both be done by five. One problem with creative work, however, is that your muse doesn’t always keep regular hours.
In addition, many writers are also juggling full-time jobs. Because, you know, writing unpublished novels doesn’t pay anything. Even published writers often don’t make enough to go rogue and quit the rat race.
Say your partner is working and you are working, and then you come home and start writing. Basically, you have two jobs. That doesn’t leave much time or energy for anything.
The post talked mostly about romantic partnerships, but a creative track can mess with other relationships as well. I’ve run into misunderstandings with family members whose most egregious offenses were attempts to dictate the content of my work, or uninformed advice about the progression of my fledgling career. While spouses can be guilty of this as well, someone you live with every day is bound to see a bit more of the reality than people you only hang with on Turkey Day.
Distilling the advice from the post and throwing in some of my own, I came up with these points:
Questions or concerns on either side? Voice them
As Hodge writes, and the others agree, writers and their partners are not mind-readers. If you don’t talk about problems or ask questions, you’ll mire yourself in a swamp of assumptions. Fears are huge when they’re inside your head. Drag them out into the light through your mouth and they shrivel and die.
Neither one of you is more important than the other
You can’t have a relationship without the other person. When you spend time with her, pay attention. Just sitting in the same room doesn’t count. You’re in a relationship because you care about this person. If she is only a vehicle to your future literary superstardom who pays the bills and cleans the house, you are a gold-digging jerk. Leave now and let a real man come into her life!
Creative work is mostly mental
Hodge makes a great point in that writing doesn’t always look like writing. I may not be tapping on the keyboard. You might see me doing something that looks totally unrelated, yet with a spaced-out look. I’m THINKING. If you ask me something and I say, “Huuhhh…duuuuhhh,” back off a bit. I promise, I’ll come back to you.
Career advice from a non-writer should be withheld, or nicely ignored
Please don’t tell your writer what to do. She has (hopefully) spent time learning important tidbits about submittals, queries, formatting, or keeping up with industry news and trends. When you say, “You know what you oughta do?” she’s gonna tune you out. You wouldn’t tell a firefighter how to fight a fire, would you?
Exception: if we ask for feedback. Honest and thoughtful are the watchwords here. Believe me, if you blast us, we won’t ask again.
Don’t scream at well-meaning family members who offer advice. If you think they’ll listen, you can point out that yeah, it would be nice if Mom called that agent and insisted he read her baby boy’s manuscript, but that’s not how it works. Thank them and save the eye-rolling for when they’re not in the room.
Which leads me to:
DO NOT TELL PEOPLE WHAT YOU ARE WRITING ABOUT UNTIL YOU HAVE A COHERENT FIRST DRAFT.
I made this mistake. Now some people won’t leave me the hell alone. I put enough pressure on myself; now I have people bugging me about when it will be finished, when can they read it, etc. etc. ETC. AAAAAAHH!!!!!
This can derail a project at the speed of light. I’ll finish it when I finish it. Back off!
Discussing certain concepts with research in mind is not the same thing. But make sure you choose carefully with whom you share. Nagging isn’t productive.
Don’t take anything I say as a mandate or an insult. It’s a two-way street, this understanding that goes on in relationships and families. Like Pink Floyd says, just keep talking.