Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Destined for Spinsterhood

Okay, so NaNoWriMo has officially kicked my ass and things such as laundry, grocery shopping and maintaining my blog have been seriously neglected. Fortunately, I have skipped passed the 50,000 word mark and can relax a bit, although not too much. I still want to get at least 20,000 more words done before the end of the month.

But today, as I have sat in front of my computer for about four hours, I was thinking about the life of a writer. Aside from the writing, there is a lot of brainstorming, reading, researching, all of which is done solo. Writing is a solitary life and most of the writers I know are perfectly content to be by themselves for hours, sometimes days at a time. What surprises me the most though, is that most of the writers I know have significant others.

I am not an easy person to deal with: I am neurotic, anal, cranky, scatterbrained and stubborn. Throw writer on top of that and you get a person who is destined for spinsterhood. It amazes me that I have been in a relationship for over two years and Nicole hasn't either left me for good or had me committed to a mental institution. We are not easy people to deal with, so how is it so many of us have people who stay by our side as we spend hours in front of our computers, project these massive egos when really they are just blankets covering the insecurities, and need alone time like runners need water?

At Thrillerfest, Gayle Lynds said that there should be a book called, "How to Live With a Writer". I completely agree. We are, by far, the most difficult people to live and have relationships with. A manual of some sort, wouldn't hurt. So here is my contribution, both for writers and their spouses.

Things you should know about dating a writer:

1) Know that writer's write all the time. Even when they are not putting pen to paper or plowing away at the keyboard, they are still writing. When they are watching TV or doing the crossword puzzle or staring blankly at a white wall, they are writing. They are brainstorming, mentally outlining, plotting, and there's pretty much nothing you can do to stop them. When they say, "I'm working," even though all they appear to be doing is playing spider solitaire, just trust them. They're working.

2) Know that your writer is insecure. They may act like they are G-d's gift to the literary world, but deep inside, they think they are a hack. When a rejection letter comes or the editor is unhappy with their latest draft, give them a pat on the head and tell them they're brilliant. There is a time for constructive criticism and there is a time for ego stroking.

3) Know that writing is their job, a job that they love. Whether your significant other has published ten novels or is still finishing the first, if they consider themselves a writer, then that is their job. Writers don't keep normal hours, the computer doesn't shut off at five o'clock. There are early mornings, late nights, and often weekend writing sessions. Just because it's not always paying, doesn't make the job less legit.

4) Know that your writer needs you. They want you there for support, because they enjoy your company and because they care for you. Writing is such a solitary life, that if they have let you into their realm, it means they must really love you. So don't get offended when they want to go to a cabin for a week by themselves or spend Sunday mornings at a cafe. It doesn't mean they love their laptop more than you. If they did, you wouldn't be in their life.

5) Know that you have to keep them in check. They may think that a deadline means they have the right to abandon all other household and relationship duties, but this is not true. If they are slacking around the house or not spending enough time with you, you need to call them on it. When writers are wrapped up in a project, everything around them seems to fade and it's your job to bring the clarity back.

For Writers, How to Keep Your Significant Other:

1) Be understanding. Know that you are a pain in the ass to deal with. You are needy, stubborn, insecure and often times inconsiderate. Know that your significant other must really love you if they are putting up with all your idiosyncrasies, so you better love them back.

2) If you are dating a non-writer (which I think is highly recommended since two egotistical basket cases would have a difficult time cohabitating), know that they may not always understand what it's like to be a writer. Let them into your world. Tell them about the publishing industry, talk to them about your writing process, it will help them better understand what is going through that crazy head of yours. Don't blow them off with a you-just-don't-understand line, and know that it is hard to sympathize when they aren't sure what exactly you are going through.

3) Show that you care. If you've been slaving away at a novel for six months, celebrate it's completion by taking your significant other out to dinner. Clean the house, pick up some flowers, buy a present for no other reason than you love them. When you spend so much time writing, it's easy to think you love your characters more than your partner. Show them that this isn't true.

4) Balance your time. You spend so much effort creating a writing schedule and juggling deadlines, make sure to factor in your significant other. Create one day a week, or an hour a day, when you put the writing aside and dedicate yourself to the relationship. This is difficult in any dating situation no matter the occupation, but it is extra difficult for writers because, (as stated in the previous section) we are writing constantly. Turning off your author brain for a little bit each day goes a long way.

5) Quit being so damn anal. If you're like me, you want your work station to be just so and the writing conditions have to be perfect to have an effective work day. I need my morning coffee, I need to not speak to anyone for an hour after waking up, I need to have just the right amount of background noise, and I need to not be interrupted. Do not get angry if your partner didn't pick up coffee at the grocery store or calls you when she knows you are writing, or was trying to be helpful by organizing your desk but instead, according to you, ruined your system and now you can't find anything. Know that none of this is her fault or the end of the world. It will save you a lot of stress and quite a few fights to turn down the anal retentiveness level just a notch.

Again, I'm not the expert. Feel free to leave comments if you have any other suggestions. But hopefully everyone will find these suggestions helpful.


Peter Matthes said...

You guys look like you make a really good couple.

Rob said...

This is great, Dana. And so freakin' true. I'll be e-mailing a link to Beth for sure.

Darwyn Jones said...

Congrats on "skipping" past the 50,000 mark? (That seems awfully happy, so I've imagined you skipping and cursing at the same time.) Nice posting about writers and relationships. ;-)