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.