David is the author of seven novels from Berkley/Penguin, including the just-released BRING HER HOME, SINCE SHE WENT AWAY, SOMEBODY I USED TO KNOW, THE FORGOTTEN GIRL, NEVER COME BACK, THE HIDING PLACE, and CEMETERY GIRL. His work has been translated into numerous foreign languages, and in 2013, he won the prestigious Prix Polar International de Cognac for best crime novel by an international author. He is an associate professor of English at Western Kentucky University where he directs the MFA program in creative writing. A native of Cincinnati, Ohio, he currently lives in Bowling Green, Kentucky, with his wife, writer Molly McCaffrey.
Coupling Up: Should Writers Marry Other Writers?
I teach creative writing to both undergraduates and graduate students at Western Kentucky University, and inevitably I end up talking with them about the kinds of lives they can have as writers. It’s a big, looming question for anyone who wants to pursue a career in the arts: How can I support myself until I start making money from my writing? And what if I never make enough money to support myself?
Sometimes I respond to their queries with a joke.
“Don’t marry another writer,” I say. “Go down to the business school or the engineering school. Find a spouse there.” I tell them they should marry someone rich, someone who will support them while they pursue their artistic dreams.
They laugh, but my advice has been offered before. The late, great John Gardner in his classic book, On Becoming A Novelist, recommended that young writers marry for money. Who am I to argue with the ghost of John Gardner? (Although he married and divorced twice. I’m not sure if either of his wives were wealthy.)
But here’s the real problem with my argument: I didn’t follow my own advice. I’ve been married to another writer for nineteen years.
What does it mean to be married to a writer? Lots and lots of uncertainty. Unless a writer has reached the lofty heights of consistent bestsellerdom, they never know what the future looks like. There may be a book contract, there may not. There may be sales, there may not.
My wife and I meet regularly with a financial planner, and she tries to make projections about our future based on the income I’m earning now. I always have to caution her: Past performance is not indicative of future results. Every writer should have that taped above their computer. And they should also tell their future spouses that on the first date.
Despite the uncertainty, I receive huge benefits from being married to another writer. If one of us wants to vent about the vagaries of the business, the other understands. If one of us is trying to work through a complicated plot problem or brainstorm an idea for a new story, the other has a built-in sounding board. We also have flexible schedules and laugh together over jokes about grammar.
But what if you’re a non-writer in a relationship with a writer? How do you make sense of all of the mysterious trials and tribulations your partner is experiencing?
First, don’t make assumptions. The publishing industry is unique, and it doesn’t always operate the way other businesses operate. Don’t assume practices that work effectively in one business would be effective in publishing. Follow your partner’s lead about these things.
Second, expect a rollercoaster. No writing career follows a neat trajectory. I know so many writers—even very successful ones—who have been cut loose by agents, editors, and publishers, who have had to start their careers over from scratch and build themselves back up again. It happens. Raise your arms high and try to enjoy the ride.
Finally, recognize how fortunate you are. You are living with a creative person, a natural storyteller who is creating magic in the spare room of your house every day. When your partner experiences any measure of success—a poem published, a novel sold—you can celebrate too. You helped support and encourage the creation of that work—financially, emotionally, spiritually—and you deserve some credit too. Maybe a book will be dedicated to you. Maybe you’ll get listed on the acknowledgements page. Maybe all of your friends will secretly wonder if you were the inspiration for the deranged spouse your partner wrote about. (They won’t wonder. They’ll know it’s you!)
And if all else fails, chances are your partner, the writer, will enjoy a good drink from time to time. So there’s always that.
Admit it, this sounds way more fun than being married to an engineer, doesn’t it?
What do you think, writers? Would you want to partner with another writer? Why or why not? Share your stories in comments.