On the Care and Feeding of Your Writer

carefeedingHUGESo, let’s play, “Guess what’s going on with Anna?”

1. Tired. Sooooo tired.

2. Would rather undergo root canal surgery than set foot in a grocery store. Not that any benevolent dentists have popped up to offer me that entirely reasonable alternative.

3. Have to wear gloves when cutting up hot dogs for my 3-year-old so that the smell doesn’t get on my hands.

4. Craving pickles. I know, right? Good thing ice cream sounds about as appealing as the above-mentioned root canal, or I’d feel like a walking cliche.

That’s right! I couldn’t be more excited to share the news with you all that this summer, we will welcome our third baby to the family. Even though that means that I’m currently up to my eyeballs in the dreaded morning-noon-and-night sickness. Because prolonged time at the computer is making me feel even queasier–and because he is my hero like that–my super-husband Nate has kindly offered to step in for me this month here at WU with this list of his top advice for the spouses/significant others of writers.  Share with your own spouse/partner/significant other, and enjoy–and I promise to be back next month when I am (hopefully) once again able to look a grocery store in the (metaphorical) eye.

Anna has been a fulltime writer for more than a decade now, and she has asked me to share a few tips and observations from the perspective of a non-writer spouse/partner. Anna did not come with care and feeding instructions, but if she had, they might’ve looked like this:

1.) Thinking Space— Your writer will need as much uninterrupted time as possible. She’ll be using 120% of her short-term memory for juggling plots and characters’ thoughts, and any little real-world distraction will make it all come crashing down. A lengthy re-boot period will ensue. You can completely halt your writer’s progress by interrupting her with little questions that seem like mere 5-second distractions to you. Your writer will also devote maybe 30% of her CPU-cycles to her writing while she is outwardly doing other things. If you are talking to her and you see her face freeze and a progress bar appears in the air in front of her, just wait it out in silence. Or, better, go quietly bring her a pen and notebook.

2.) Emotions— Your writer will sometimes exhibit emotions that do not seem to fit the events of the day. Maybe your writer just won the lottery or got a sweet present from a child. Why is she crying bitterly? The key to understanding this is that the writer is living multiple lives. His/her own, and those of several main characters. When a character is going through a rough patch in the plot, your writer is too. Don’t sweat it. Things will look up when the character triumphs. Then your writer will beam with happiness even when she gets a bogus parking ticket. It all evens out.

3.) Sensory Deprivation— Your writer will likely work in solitary confinement. In order to continue having things to write about aside from insanity, your writer must experience the world and keep a grip on how living, breathing people talk and think and act. Try to get him outside and among people while he is not working. (or 70% not working–see above)

4.) Reading— Writing is only half (or so) of a writer’s job. Reading is the other half. She must be fed good books in a steady stream. Stephen King said, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have time to write.” Get your writer good books. Take her to the library, to the book store, let her watch quality TV shows and movies for plot structure inspirations, etc.

5.) Works in Progress— Whatever your writer is working on is the worst book ever inflicted on a word processing program.  No, you can’t look at it. No, don’t ask her to tell you about it.  It isn’t perfect yet, so you would a.) not understand it and b.) be convinced that your writer is the worst ever and should just give up. This one may not apply to all writers, but some will be mortified at the prospect of discussing or sharing their book with anyone before it is ready. Don’t be offended. No amount of reasoning and outpouring of love will change your writer’s mind.

6.) Moving On— Very, very few writers get published (or, these days, make serious sales) with their first book. There will be entire books, representing months or years of concentrated effort, characters who have lived and breathed and laughed and cried inside your writer’s head, who must be laid to rest in order for your writer to move on with her career and write the next, better, book. This will be a sad time. Even if a book is published, it is still painful for your writer to let go of those characters and move onto the next batch. This attachment to fictional characters may seem downright nutty to some, but it’s that level of involvement that makes for good, convincing books.

7.) Reviews— Early in your writer’s career, he may think that reviews matter. That reviews are a measure of his worth as a human being. Like life’s report card. Try to help him realize that no book will please everyone and that reviews are about books and readers, and not about the worth of the author. If you aren’t getting any negative reviews, you aren’t getting your book in front of a diverse enough set of eyes.

8.) Interactions with the Public— Very few people grok what writers really do, what it requires, what the point of it all is, or that it can actually pay off. You may need to try to protect him from the five hundredth instance of the conversation where someone asks him what he does, he tells them, and then they joke in a well-meaning but infuriating way about the poverty that he can look forward to living in. Your writer will appreciate any help you can give at insulating them from the misconceptions of the general public and the repetitive conversations about how, yes, you can actually feed yourself by writing. Tell your writer (and the rest of the world) that you’re incredibly proud of her–because you are.

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About Anna Elliott

Anna Elliott is an author of historical fiction and fantasy. Her first series, the Twilight of Avalon trilogy, is a retelling of the Trystan and Isolde legend. She wrote her second series, the Pride and Prejudice Chronicles, chiefly to satisfy her own curiosity about what might have happened to Elizabeth Bennet, Mr. Darcy, and all the other wonderful cast of characters after the official end of Jane Austen's classic work. She enjoys stories about strong women, and loves exploring the multitude of ways women can find their unique strengths. Anna lives in the Washington DC area with her husband and three children.

Comments

  1. says

    Congratulations! What wonderful news, and what a funny husband. I particularly liked this “Your writer will also devote maybe 30% of her CPU-cycles to her writing while she is outwardly doing other things. If you are talking to her and you see her face freeze and a progress bar appears in the air in front of her, just wait it out in silence.”

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  2. says

    Congratulations to both of you. It takes a special person to be a writer and a special person to put up with the many quirks that we writers exhibit on a regular basis. This piece shows you both have a firm grasp on the life of a writer as well as an exceptional relationship. All the best to you!

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  3. says

    Congratulations on the great news! Great post, I think I should show it to my wife. Especially #5. My wife tries not to be intrusive, but sometimes she’ll ask, “Is it finished? Can I see it?” I don’t think she quite gets how fragile a thing a book can be when it’s in that stage of life.

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  4. Carmel says

    Aww, that was the sweetest thing I’ve read in a long time. What an understanding husband. Congrats to both of you!

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  5. says

    LOVE IT on so many levels. So sweet of him to step in and write such a funny, TRUE, insightful post. I’m sharing this with my husband. Right now.

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    • says

      Thanks, Brea! That was the other part of why I asked him to write this up (apart from the general queasiness ;-) )– I was hoping others would find it fun/helpful to share with their spouses.

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  6. says

    Congrats to Anna, and great job to Nate!

    This gig is tough enough, dealing with the wrestle between the ears. I’m pretty sure having an understanding and supportive spouse is vital to keeping me out of a straight jacket. I’m often amazed by my wife. She not only knows who’s who character wise, but she knows many of my virtual writer friends by name. So when I start tossing out names (yes, sometimes muttering to myself), she’s always right with me.

    Here’s to those who support us!

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  7. says

    Congratulations on the new bambino, and congratulations to the bambino for having such a well-matched pair of parents. It’s not every couple that has such a firm, humorous, and hopeful grasp of one another’s habits.

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    • says

      Thanks so much, Jan! I am definitely super lucky to have had Nate in my corner throughout my writing career. But at the same time, I do think, too, that a mutual understanding of the quirks of the writing life is something that can be learned and acquired over time in a relationship–hence this post!

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    • says

      Thanks, Kim! The healthy baby part is really all that matters–and at least having done this twice before, I know with any luck I’ll be feeling much better in a few weeks.

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    • Nate Elliott says

      Glad you can identify. You are not crazy. I have met several writers’ husbands, and you might be surprised at how much we all have in common. That is one reason I like the internet. In real life, I know only a handful of writing families. From these limited data points, you might think we were indeed crazy compared to the rest of the population. However, stories shared on online hangouts like WU prove that really there are lots of folks out there in the same boat, sharing many of the same experiences. It is somehow always reassuring to see other “crazies” making out just fine.

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  8. says

    Wow! Excellent news! And a good list of things to remember for an unmarried writer who doesn’t have a carer. Self-care is important… much more than simply making sure one goes to the gym or eats enough vegetables. It’s so good you have a spouse who understands!

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    • says

      Jillian, that’s an excellent reminder & thanks for pointing this out–all these are just as important to remember when we think about taking care of ourselves, too.

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  9. Denise Willson says

    Okay, so this actually made me laugh out loud. This noise, much different from my usual focused brewing, drew my hubby in for a look. Sir Elliot, my hubby is forever in your debt. After 15 years of marriage, you’ve just handed him THE hand-book. :)

    Denise Willson
    Author of A Keeper’s Truth

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  10. Robin Yaklin says

    First, congrats. Second, this has been forwarded to hubby. Hopefully, it will remove the deer-in-headlights stare that comes when I express the emotions of a fictional happening. Many thanks.

    And, happy holidays to all.

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    • says

      Thanks, Robin! Yes, with training, the deer-in-headlights stare can be removed over time. Though I’m sure my mister occasionally would LIKE to stare like a deer in headlights, still. :)

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  11. Vaughn Hardacker says

    As a writer whose first novel is under contract negotiation, I found this amusing…and oh so true… If my late wife were able to read it, she would concur.

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  12. says

    Congratulations on the impending arrival, both of you! And many thanks to the Significant Other for this very entertaining post. I especially liked this:

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  13. says

    Half of that comment was eaten, so here it is again – the part I especially liked in Nate’s post was this: ‘If you aren’t getting any negative reviews, you aren’t getting your book in front of a diverse enough set of eyes.’

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    • says

      Thanks so much, Juliet! And yes, in addition to being kind and funny, my husband is very wise. He is invaluable in helping me keep a good perspective on all aspects of the job.

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  14. says

    Congrats on the baby and this post! I think it’s gonna go viral . . . To my database. Methinks you might expand on it, say perhaps your last category, “Interactions the Public” could be an entire blog. You could talk about so many well-meaning comments like “why are you posting pix of your baseball game outing, aren’t you supposed to be finishing your novel” or “it’s amazing it’s been a whole ten months since you went to that location for two weeks to research & finish your book” or one of my persona favs “I heard you are writing a book, have you read 50 Shades of Grey, its so awesome.” ps Anna, I love your website etc

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    • says

      LOL, so true, Diana! I remember reading a post–can’t remember exactly where– of ‘top ten things not to say to an aspiring writer.’ Among them: “You should write a book like Harry Potter!” and “Why don’t you get Oprah to pick your book for her book club?” We’ve all been there. :)
      And thanks–my amazing husband actually designed my webpage, too!

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  15. Michele says

    I guess I am in the minority. I would LIKE people to ask what I am writing. I am def. missing that aspect. Thanks for the article and congrats on your baby!

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  16. Marilyn Slagel says

    Congratulations to you and your family, Anna! Sounds like you have a wonderful husband – treasure him, girl!

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  17. says

    Congratulations and I hope you are feeling back to your normal self soon! Nate did an awesome job with this post and he sounds like a very, very insightful husband. I’m going to bookmark this one just in case my husband needs a little guidance every now and then. :)

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  18. says

    Congratulations on the baby news. My oldest daughter is also expecting her 2nd this summer. I’ll look forward to both your updates!

    It’s great to have a husband who has seen behind the curtain of writing quirks. The post is definitely going to my significant other. An engineer by training, he craves logic and instructions. This has a bit of both.

    A fantastic New Year to you and your family!

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  19. says

    Congratulations!! I know how difficult it s to be a writer. I am writing a book myself on some of the superstitious beliefs and it is really difficult to put together everything. And we also need a critic who will not be biased. Great to hear that you had the required support.

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