Guest feature: Rebecca Bird’s handy guide to being a writer’s partner

My deep and belated immersion in the reading and writing of poetry some four or five years ago was accompanied by a desire to discover what writers had to say about themselves and their art. I sought out interviews and quotations, probably in an effort to understand what I was becoming: the sort of person who can look up from a piece of writing only to find that six or seven hours had passed and that another working day would soon be glimmering on the horizon.

In the painfully accurate and witty piece below Rebecca Bird provides some insight into what it is like  to be a writer and in the process makes a plea for understanding from that oft beleaguered and neglected figure, the writer’s partner.

How to live with a writer

A handy guide on how to forgive your other half for being a wordsmith

My partner’s father spat tonic water across the room when he heard I was a writer. I’m pretty sure she loves me all the same, but it can be hard to live with someone whose mind is usually in the clouds or dealing with a plot crisis in Chapter 19. In fact, while we’re here I’m going apologize. Darling, I’m sorry for saying that literature is better than science. It is, but I’m sorry I said it.

Anyway, here are a few pointers on how to live with someone who puts words together for a living.

We need space – but this doesn’t mean that we hate you.

Everyone needs a minute to themselves so this isn’t just writers, but it is especially writers. I don’t know how many surgeons can take an appendix out when the Antiques Roadshow is within earshot. In a similar sense, it is hard for a writer to put an appendix in with distractions around them. (Yes, a literary pun already.) Let us get away from the world so we can focus on the world we’re creating.
It’s not about you.

We’re probably not writing about you

There is a certain sense that loving a writer means that your qualities and traits will pop up from time to time in a novel, unfinished screenplay, haiku… but actually, the reverse is usually the case. We actually try to avoid writing about our families. Mainly because they are the ones we know for sure will read our work. No one wants to have those kinds of conversations at Christmas.

The fact that we work from home doesn’t mean we don’t work.

We’re really sorry that we didn’t have time to refill the ice cube tray or fix that shelf in the bathroom that looks like it’s yawning, but we were at work.

Most writers structure their writing into a full working day: sometimes without breaks if we’ve got somewhere particularly exciting. This means that we won’t have time to drive the mother in law to the airport. (Concerning the mother in law thing, we won’t be available for that at the weekend either. Or Christmas. Or anytime ever. Ever.)

It’s not about the money

This one we feel a teeny bit bad about. First, to explain, there are four types of writers:

1. People who can physically pick up a pen and draw letters in a row. (Not writers)
2. People who say that they are writers but don’t write every day. (Not writers)
3. People who write every day. (Writers)
4. People who loudly write their screenplay on a Mac in café Nero so everyone around can see that are writing a screenplay but have only written the title in 72pt. (Not writers)

If you’re number three, no matter if you’re good or bad; there will be an urge to write that will always be there. It is kind of like an abscess: it needs to be drained, or it will swell and make you feel like you’ve been punched in the back of the soul by Mike Tyson.

If you live with a number three, we’re going to take on projects from time to time that don’t pay money. Sometimes these projects will be prestigious gigs, sometimes these projects will be the libretto for Art Attack: The Musical. Forgive us, we have to write. We promise to get on with that New York Times bestseller. I have had this fight many times. It can be hard to live with someone who has the capacity to write something that makes a lot of money, but instead they write something which makes no money at all.

Sometimes we’re legitimately upset about the character we just killed.

Writing affects your mood: like any other job. Sometimes we’re pissed off at a paragraph that doesn’t work; sometimes we’re pissed off at not having time or space to write. I’ve known a poet friend of mine have a mini-meltdown by leaving home without her notebook. It may sound effete or disingenuous because it is all fictional, but we do live and die with what we do. If we don’t, how can we expect a reader to, how can we expect it to be believable?

Books will be everywhere. And probably paper and croissants too.

A writer who doesn’t read isn’t a writer. No exceptions. So buy your partner a Kindle or face years of living in a book fort. Unfortunately, for a great many writers, we can also be a little bit untidy once we’re in ‘the zone’. Coffee mugs, plates and those elusive eighteenth and nineteenth drafts will build up in our general atmosphere. Sorry… We’ll rethink the mother in law thing to make up for it.

It is hard work.

Above all else, writing is a physically and emotionally demanding job. Drafting, re-drafting, planning, researching and the actual writing itself all take colossal amounts of time, even for a speedy writer. We know you’ve had a hard day and yes, your boss is a moron, but some days we need that long soak in the tub too.

After all, there ain’t no other occupational hazard like repetitive strain injury of the mind.

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