Tag: writers

How to Survive Living with a Writer

Courtesy floating robes
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.”

Troublemakers

George RR Martin
He’s smiling because he just killed someone you love.

Writers are essential to modern entertainment. Without them there are no movies, no TV shows, no plays and no novels. Just about anybody can tell you who their favorite writer is and why. Look up those writers and they can tell you what inspires them, how they got started and what’s coming next. Some writers will even lay some ground rules for good writing, from creating good characters to avoiding contrivance in plotlines.

What people don’t tell you about being a writer is that it means bucking the system.

I should clarify my meaning. To write fiction is to buck the system. A lot of writers who struggle their way to success – and it is a struggle, don’t let anyone tell you different – are not what many in the common populace associate with ‘successful’ in their minds. They tend to think of CEOs in suits that cost more than some cars, movie stars with legendary good looks and politicians who decide the course our world takes.

Large men that look like Santa Claus’ evil twin brother? Housewives from Arizona? Unemployed British ladies?

Naaaah.

Writers are iconoclasts. They’re troublemakers. They stir things up because they ignite people’s imaginations. They encourage their audience to think, to interact, to take joy out of something that can become more than a mere distraction. Even the people who rise up in arms against a work or a franchise are engaged in an activity that excites them even if that excitement takes the form of indignant fury.

This is a good thing.

The CEO worries about the bottom line. The movie star worries about paparazzi. The world leaders worry about any one of the Four Horsemen riding up to his or her door.

The writer of fiction should worry about doing something new that wakes somebody up from their miasma of daily living.

Something worth noting about the writerly minds behind many of the thriving stories in our Kindles, TV screens, bookstores and theaters is that all of them are causing trouble in one form or another. They’re setting their work apart. They’re trying something new. They may not get it right and they might even piss some people off, but they’re making the attempt. And even if they don’t realize it, the people they’re making angry are engaging them in the creative process. There’s a lot of energy to be had in the debates, arguments, praise, criticism and fanatical gushing that comes in the wake of a new work that has the chops to make it through the slaughterhouse of rejection that stands between the new writer and the public eye. And the people that are talented, dedicated and lucky enough to make it through got there by not giving up on what they waned. They pushed back against the pressures of modern life. They crammed their passion into whatever cracks they could find. They made messes. They broke shit.

And in the end it paid off.

I want to be one of those troublemakers. Looking at the people who’ve made it, and how they’ve done it and what they’ve done it with, how could I not?

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