So you’ve got a writer in the family – and, like many or even most writers, they act peculiar. They can bite your head off one day and be clingy the next, go for days without eating or sleeping, or zoom back and forth between elation and depression. What’s a family member to do? Is there anything you can do that won’t get your head bitten off?
I’m here to tell you that, although you’ll likely never change a writer’s behavior unless they give up writing, there are ways you can live successfully together. It won’t be happily all the time – I can’t guarantee that. Just think of your writer as you would a tropical fish. They need a certain amount of care and attention, food, and a filter, but they can be a focal point for a room. (If you keep the door closed, that is. Writers are notoriously cranky, and guests and young children maybe shouldn’t be exposed to that. And not having a filter is a problem (not just for writers, but for people in general). So perhaps they’re not like tropical fish at all, except for maybe a triggerfish or a lionfish. But I digress.)
Care and Attention
There are times when a writer doesn’t need attention – or even interaction. There is a stage of writing called “prewriting.” It looks an awful lot like lying on the couch, doing nothing. The creative brain is churning nonetheless and doesn’t take kindly to being interrupted. This is especially true if the writer doesn’t have a room of their own, which many don’t. The corner of a room is more likely to be the writer’s habitat. But a door that will open and close is a definite asset if you expect your writer to actually produce anything.
In fact, a writer will need a fair amount of alone time. When they’re actively writing (as opposed to prewriting), they won’t want to be interrupted – short of fire or death. Death (other than the death of the writer) may even be ignored and so will any fire not directly threatening the writer’s computer.
When the writer is on a roll, they won’t want to stop to eat. At the most, they will pause for long enough to down a yogurt. If you realize they haven’t eaten in quite a while, you can offer a sandwich, but it’s best to poke it through the door with a stick, the way you would offer food to a large bear. (Personally, I’m lucky. I have a small refrigerator in my writing room, stocked with easy edibles like cheddar and American cheese, yogurt, applesauce, and things that are spreadable on crackers (cream cheese, apple butter, peanut butter). But I digress again.)
This is a fact of life for writers, at least if they write for publication and not for the desk drawer or computer desktop folder. If they’re new at putting their work out there into the wild, this can cause distress, desolation, or just generally hopelessness. There is not much you can really do about this, except a generous application of “there, there,” which doesn’t actually help but sounds sympathetic. You can try reminding them of famous writers like J.K. Rowling whose works were rejected multiple times before they were published. This will either rev your writer up with dreams of becoming a multimillionaire (which are, let’s face it, bound to be dashed) or make them feel worse because of the likelihood of having to endure the many, many rejections.
Unless you yourself are a professional editor (which you probably aren’t, or shouldn’t have married a writer if you are), don’t offer suggestions unless asked for them. Even then, you should probably bow out more or less gracefully – “I don’t know. You’re the writer. I could never presume to give you advice.” Most writers won’t even listen to suggestions from their writers’ group or editor, should they be so lucky as to find one.
You and Your Writer
Maybe you married or live with a writer knowing what you were getting into. Maybe it came as a surprise later, when they announced a desire to express themselves in writing. Whatever your situation, rest assured that living with a writer is possible. You just have to have unfailing patience and supportiveness – and a job to bring in income if they’re a “full-time writer.”
Does it seem like you have to sacrifice a lot (and then listen to the writer in your life complain about the sacrifices they make for their art)? I won’t deny it. Just ask my husband. He lives with a writer. And I appreciate it – every time he pokes a sandwich through the door and then I close it, or when I zone out while we’re watching TV and can’t catch him up on the plot if he leaves the room for a moment. I live a writer’s life – and I couldn’t do it without my husband. I try to remember that. He puts up with a lot in the process of caring for and feeding me.
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