Last April I was working hard on finishing a book I’ve been working on since about the same time the year before. Although I was already motivated by the desire to finish my manuscript, a deadline presented itself in the form of a very enticing writing contest. In order to reach my goal, several important things got put on the backburner, including time spent with my partners.
People who end up in relationships with writers soon learn what it means to be a novel widow. Sometimes when a deadline is looming, or inspiration is driving you, we writers can get a little hyper-focused on what we are doing to the exclusion of everything else.
To that effect, I wanted to offer some advice on how to survive a relationship with a writer.
Get a Hobby
When you are in the grip of the muse, or facing a deadline, it can be hard to let yourself be pulled away from your preferred writing method. Although I really do care and really do want to be a supportive girlfriend, wife, partner, etc. my mind sometimes wanders away from me without me even meaning too. I might not have the time to devote to entertaining you or catering to your needs. If you have a hobby that also occupies your time, that makes things easier. We can meet up after and talk about our days. One day, your hobby may also make you a useful fountain on knowledge for a story I’m working on. At that point, be prepared to have me become very focused on you all of a sudden and to answer a LOT of questions about it.
Get a Pet
There is something about 3 am that makes it a magical font of creative inspiration. It’s like clockwork. I will spend the whole day staring at a blank page then the clock strikes after midnight and suddenly the rush of words is almost deafening. At one point, while working on Young, Sick, and Invisible, I was getting up with the sunset and going to sleep with the sunrise. Since my schedule is fairly open that way, it wasn’t a problem for me, but it made our bed kind of lonely. A pet helps fix that. When I’m not there to snuggle you, the dog or cat or capybara can take my place, and vice versa.
Be Prepared to Read – a Lot!
Not just our stuff either.
Writers have to read a lot, to explore different styles, voices, ideas. Just like musicians have to listen to other musicians, writers have to read other writers. Many of us also like recommending our books to others so we have someone to talk to about them. Also we will ask you for recommendations, especially when we are looking for something specific. Reading a lot gives you a chance to impress us when we come by to ask for recommendations for a book that includes a character who looks like a demon or bad guy, but isn’t, and oh btw it has to take place in a school.
We can also get a little obsessive about our favourite books, and be a little impatient waiting for you to finish reading them. Did you like it? What did you think of this scene? Do you agree with all of my headcanons? What are some of yours? Are you ready to read the next one yet?
I will do my best not to sit there staring at you while I wait for you to finish and/or get to my favourite part.
Books, articles, stories, poems, whatever our medium, the written word is our passion and we want to share it with our partners, friends, and loved ones. If we do share with you something we write, know that often we’re baring a part of our soul (in the metaphoric sense, not the woo sense). We may invite criticism and want editing help, but those words are still a part of us and should be treated accordingly. The worst thing you can be is dismissive or apathetic towards it.
Understand that sometimes we think better on the page
Sometimes it is easier to work out my thoughts on the page, in blog posts or otherwise. This is especially true when I am feeling unsure of my feelings towards something or need help processing. Sometimes I am afraid of wording something improperly and hope that if I see it written down, I can avoid the pitfalls of having an unscripted conversation.
When I’m writing a post about something that happened between us, or that we talked about, I’m not trying to be passive aggressive. I’m not trying to vaguebook or anything else. I am trying to understand how I feel, and sometimes, the only way I can do that is by writing it out. I make connection when I write that help me process exactly what I’m feeling and why. It lets me process the connections I didn’t even realize I had made until I saw them explicitly written out.
If we’re having a disagreement or a discussion about something and I’m not making sense, ask me to write a post about it. Eventually I will find the words to explain what I mean, or perhaps discover why it wasn’t really about what we were arguing about at all.
…Sometimes we sound better on the page too
For all that we might be eloquent on the page, sometimes we are not nearly as eloquent outside of the page. Writing lets you edit, it lets you think a while before responding, whereas speaking is a bit more spontaneous. Everyone always expects us to have the brilliant one liners and responses, but some days we’re lucky if the sentence we just said out loud is coherent. I like to joke that I save my eloquence for the page.
Don’t Look at Our Search Histories. (CN: violence)
Our search histories can get a little scary, depending on what we’re writing. For one of my stories I was researching how poisoned mushrooms work. How long it takes for someone to show symptoms? What is a fatal dose? Whether you could administer it as a dried powder? At other times, I’ve googled what it feels like to stab someone, different weapons techniques, and how to tell if someone is cheating on you.
I have searched for romantic proposals, and exotic vegetation, what racoon tastes like, and assorted other weird searches which all make a lot of sense in context, but outside of that can sound pretty scary. Unless you are prepared to trust that we really aren’t planning on murdering you in your sleep, I would suggest staying away from the search histories.
Have a Sense of Fun
Sometimes, writers can be a little whimsical and spontaneous. If our mind is following a trail of a story, we might feel the need to follow that trail physically as well. What I mean by that, is that we can get the sudden impulse to wander a random forest trail, or try our hand at blacksmithing at a local harvest festival. Sometimes it can be less involved and just mean that we physically act out the movements we are trying to describe. And sometimes it can help to get another person to join us.
If you are friends with or dating a writer, be prepared to find yourself horseback riding in the middle of winter, or miming sword-fighting in a living room with paper tubes.
Get Used to Meeting a LOT of Strangers
While a lot of writers are introverts, many of us also can’t help but talk to people we meet. Everyone has a story, and everyone is and can be a character. Talking to people, learning their stories is research. Watching how someone tells a story, the way their body tells the story along with them, the way that the atmosphere and other factors play into how the story is received and relayed, it helps give us a greater understanding of people. It helps us get a better idea of how to describe certain scenes and how to illustrate certain emotions and ideas.
Conversation can be essential to a narrative, whether it is a conversation between characters, or between the narrator and the reader. Creating that conversation is like creating music, it takes practice, and so we talk. We study human nature. We ask questions, but more surprisingly, we get answers.
My talking to strangers used to drive my mother up the wall. She is a very private person and would get embarrassed about the almost intimate details that people would tell me about: illness in the family, recent difficulties at home, that their daughter was failing English, about life back in a war torn country, details you wouldn’t casually tell a stranger. I would be standing in line to buy a book, and I would leave practically knowing people’s life stories. What ended up shocking her, however, was discovering just how many people remembered me in town after I left for university. She found herself being greeted and asked questions about how I was doing, everywhere she went.
Don’t Look For Yourself in Characters
It’s true that as artists we borrow from the world around us, but it is an imperfect mirror. We pick, we choose, we combine, we enhance, and we detract. The final product may have some resemblance to parts of yourself, but it’s not YOU.
It can be difficult when the writer is someone you know, not to see yourself in their writing. Doing that only leads to trouble. A character is an amalgamation of different things: personality, history, current events, culture. Any one of these things can change things immensely for the person being represented. A tendency to try and read yourself into a work, however, can mean missing how all of these things influence a representation.
If I borrow certain personality traits or mannerisms, and put them on a villain say, that doesn’t mean that I see you as a villain. It may have happened completely without me being aware of it, the personality and quirks growing naturally out of who the character was – the similarities a coincidence. Or perhaps something about you inspired the character, which developed separate of that initial spark of inspiration.
Don’t Let Us Get Away with Being an Asshole
Yes we have deadlines, and fits of inspiration, we get chatty with strangers, and create entire worlds in our heads. We can get single-minded in what we do to the exclusion of all else. We do need space sometimes, but that doesn’t give us the right to be an asshole.
You have boundaries and needs and just how we need ours respected, we need to respect yours too. When we get too hyperfocused on what we are doing, call us on our shit. There is a difference between being a writer and being a pompous windbag.
And this is a big one:
Learn how to make a killer white mocha or cup of tea, or whatever your particular writer’s favourite caffeine delivery system is. I’m posting this at 6am because that’s when I finished writing it.