For the benefit of my new flatmates, here are some tips on living with a writer!
Courtesy Floating Robes
One of the most popular posts ever over at terribleminds is this one, entitled “Beware of Writer.” He also penned a sequel that’s just as worthwhile to read. But let’s say you’ve ignored his advice. You’re going to fly in the face of common sense and good taste and actually shack up with one of us crackpot writer-types, in spite of the tiny hurricanes of impotent rage and the nigh-constant smell of booze. Here’s a couple things to keep in mind that may help you keep from running screaming into the night.
Writers are Finicky Bitches
In addition to being very easily distracted (if you didn’t know, we are), writers can get new ideas all the time, at the drop of a hat. It’s not uncommon for a writer to have a few projects at work at any given time. Let’s say our subject is working on a novel and some poetry, and all of a sudden gets an idea for a new tv series about puppet detectives. It’s not enough for us to be distracted by video games or movies or pet antics or offspring or bright flashing lights or loud noises. No no, we need to distract ourselves on top of all of that.
Writers either drift in a slight miasma of barely cognizant perceptions as they indulge in their distractions, or they’re frustrated by efforts to reassert their concentration on something they’re righting. It can make a writer seem bipolar. And if they really are bipolar, woo boy you talk about fun times!1
Surviving this as an outsider requires a metric fuckton of patience. Either you will be asked to participate in some sort of odd habit, or you will be all but ignored as something new distracts the writer. You can go along with it or rail against it, but the important thing is to remind the writer that they should, at some point, write. Yes, you may get bitten over it. That’s what the rolled-up newspaper is for. Aim for the nose.
Writers are Masters (and Mistresses) of Excuses
You’re going to catch a writer not writing. This can be like catching a teenager with their pants down and making them explain the nature of the self-examination they seem to be enjoying. You just need to keep in mind that procrastination is perfectly natural and lots of writers do it. There are even some writers who encourage other writers to procrastinate.
Before I stretch that metaphor any more uncomfortably, the important thing to note is that writers will tell you all manner of tall tales in an effort to avoid your scrutiny. Especially if said writer’s bailiwick is fiction. I mean, come on, these people lie for a living. Or at least as a primary hobby. Of course they’re going to tell you space monkeys invaded in the middle of the night and that’s why the lawn hasn’t been mowed or the dishes remain unwashed. Damn dirty space simians!2
Just as writers need and, if they’re responsible and good, want to be told when something they write doesn’t quite work, writers also need to occasionally be called on their bullshit. “Space monkeys? I don’t see any poo on the walls other than your own. It’s time to shut off the Internet and make some more of that word magic happen, pooplord.” Your exact wording may vary, but you get the idea.
Writers Do, In Fact, Want to Write
So let’s say you’re keeping a writer focused on the now. You’re getting them to help out around the house. They’re watching the kids. They’re cooking meals. They’re renovating your siding and keeping you in whatever it is you like to do when you’re not working. Guess what they’re not doing?
If you guessed “writing”, you just won a bigass shiny No-Prize! Congrats!3
Take a look at any writer pontificating on the need to write, and you’ll see something emerge. There’s definitely a deep-seated compulsion there. On top of any other madness or psychosis, a writer needs to write. Yes, the writer may procrastinate, putter around, put off writing because writing can suck a big fat one from time to time, but at the end of the day, writing is at the core of who that person is, otherwise – Anyone? Anyone? Beuller? – they wouldn’t be a writer.
So do them and yourself a favor. Take the kids for an hour. Put the video game down yourself. Mow the lawn or wash a few dishes. Just give them space, and a little bit of time. If it’s been a while since they’ve written, you bet your ass words will happen while you’re tending to chores.
Or you could not, and they’ll resent you in a deeply personal way. Your call.
I think this may be the biggest key to surviving life with a writer. Giving a little measure of time to write, moreso than calling them on excuses or distractions, relieves the pressure in their minds and helps them get closer to their goals. And the writer will love you for it.
1 I can’t say anybody acted all that surprised when I was diagnosed as bipolar. There was plenty of relief that legitimate psychosis wasn’t involved, though. Not that the doctors could detect, at least. Suckers.
2 They’re rude as hell, too. Coming in the middle of the evening and keeping me from finishing a blog post with their howling and poop-slinging and I was researching League of Legends champion builds and got distracted from finishing this last night I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry please don’t bap me with the newspaper again.
3 Actual contents of No-Prize may vary, from “absolutely nothing” to “sweet fuck-all.”