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Wednesday, June 20, 2007


Writer in the house

Here's a question: would you want to be the only writer in the house?

I was discussing this the other day with some writer friends of mine, and we had different opinions. I suspect that for people who still live with their families, it's likely to be a thorny issue, sibling rivalry being what it is - but what about people who live with their partners/spouses?

One view expressed was a sense of relief that the partner in question didn't want to write. It left, my friend created, a feeling of separate spaces; his partner was creative in other areas, the writing was his area, and they could each maintain their own specialities.

I, on the other hand, wasn't that bothered either way. If my partner wants to write, fine; heck, if he's good at it then we can bounce ideas around to mutual benefit. On the other hand, if he doesn't want to write that's fine too, as long as he doesn't try to stop me doing it. (Which, in justice to the man, he doesn't.)

Of course, the question becomes complicated if you're both writers. How do you deal with it if one of you becomes more successful than the other? The ideal solution would be to view each other with mutual respect, share your different incomes and, possibly, the more successful one could put in the odd plug for the less well-known one. I cherish the hope that this is how many artistic couples do function. On the other hand, I've read biographies that speak of diverging career paths destroying relationships. I suspect that it comes down to how nice, secure and in love with each other both partners were in the first place, but who knows?

A lot, though, depends on the egos involved. Egos, and self-control. We all have dark days when our minds are dry and everything is blocked and we're convinced we have no talent; on such days, I fear, we tend to become rather demanding partners, difficult, moody and unreasonable, convinced nobody could possibly feel as bad as we do ... all of which requires tremendous patience from our loved ones. The other day I was reflecting that, as it's bad form to try to answer back to your reviewers, you're often obliged to make your partner the semi-willing recipient for all your opinions about negative comments, worrying sales, writer's block, rejections, and all the other things that go to making the writer's life such an endless merry-go-round of fun and frivolity. During bad moments it can be difficult to remember that, as your partner is not the person who just turned down your manuscript or criticised your book, you should in justice try to rein in your indignation when discussing it with them. We all try, I'm sure. But living with a writer is not necessarily a featherbed.

Possibly, if both partners are writers, the first-hand experience of what it's like to have a bad day or a bad review enables one partner to be more kind and supportive to the other. When someone who doesn't write says 'I'm sure it'll be fine,' it can take self-control not to snap 'What do you know about it?!' - but if they can reply 'Actually, lots,' then it's a lot more reassuring.

But here's the thing that worries me. What happens when two writers get a dark day at the same time? I tremble to consider it, but I fear that the likeliest outcome is a quarrel. Or, possibly, the crash of crockery, a sharp scream, and police kicking down the door to find one partner standing knife in hand over the prostrate body of the other, giving a wild-eyed stare as the blood drips from their knife, and yelling, 'Don't feel sorry for him, officer, you should see the problems I'm having!'

My ex-boyfriend was, like me, a writer, but wrote a in a totally different genre to me. He could be pretty disparaging about my writing, but expected me to lavish praise on his. If I didn't, whatever I did say was dismissed.

Mind you, I don't think that was so much down to us both being writers as it was down to him being an arrogant twat ...

I've also lived with other writers whilst at university and had completely different experiences. With them, it was nice to have people who understood that sometimes you just couldn't write, or who didn't accuse you of being a boring recluse when you chose to stay in on Fridays and work on that crucial action scene instead of heading down the pub.
My husband writes a little, and it's been funny recently, because he's been entering BBC Seven's "The Chain Gang" and getting more and more frustrated because his offerings kept being rejected. I kept saying to him "welcome to my world", and then one was accepted! I was pleased for him but at the same time it became slightly annoying that he twitted me with constantly trying to find out when it was being broadcast and turning the radio up. Only in fun.

I encourage him to write because he turns out such different stuff from mine--much more adventurous and surreal. We do sometimes have arguments along the lines of "why do you bother to ask my opinion if you're not going to LISTEN", but that's married life! lol. I wish he had more time to give input to my writing, because his observations are often useful. His main creative output tho' is photography, so we have that to share as well.
My wife has been encouraging in my writing efforts, though she doesn't do it herself. She's even read some of my material, and I'm glad she's honest enough to let me know when it either a) isn't great, b) is just weird, or c) was interesting enough that she read it, even though she isn't into the spec fic genres

And Kit, I think that last paragraph of the post gave birth to your next villain. Or their backstory, at least.
I've never dated a writer (dated one who said he was a writer, but that was more of a... er... flat-out lie), but I've unsually found the company of other writers to be motivating. Sitting together in a cafe just typing away on respective laptops always seemed kind of superfluous and silly to me until I actually tried it. And I've been pretty lucky in that competition hasn't been much of a factor -- not with actual friends. (Workshops are a different matter, but they have a more scheduled end one can look forward to.)

It's not remotely the same, of course -- friendship doesn't involve nearly as many areas of your life.

But dating a writer has always been a goal of mine. Does this mean I should rethink this? ;-)
I've been going out with a fellow writer for 7 years now. We do worry about what might happen if one and not the other of us gets success, though we hope that (as with all our other creative friends) one of us getting somewhere will hopefully be of use to the other.

It is usually a good thing that we both write. Before we got together I assumed that going out with a writer would be bad.

But I fell for her words first (we were in the same creative writing class at university). It is great to go out with someone who understands it and doesn't get jealous of the writing. Someone you can talk ideas through with and who can and will happily go through your stuff looking for grammatical errors, typos etc... And you do the same for them. It's a whole "mutual partners of greatness" sort of kick.

Mind you if we were not similar but different writers then it wouldn't work so well, we are not really competing in the same areas and we are of a similar standard.

Having shared projects as well really helps the relationship (as in it means we see each other!)


None writers never fully "get" writing in my experience (well none creatives since there are large cross overs in all the creative processes). It is nice to have someone who can get that area of your life. It's the relationship equivalent of someone scratching that bit of your back you can't reach on your own.

You also can share that detachedness that writers can have, when both of you are (in very different ways) observers of the world you don't get angry at this storing up of information etc... It is easy for people to become negative about the magpie nature of writers.

The other thing about being unpublished writers together is that neither of us puts pressure on the other to give up their dreams and get themselves a "proper" job (though sadly we both have semi-proper jobs through necessity).
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