This Post is For the Ones You Love
I’ll be answering some letters from readers this week. Today I’m responding to Ruth, who wrote to say her husband has a hard time taking her writing seriously and refuses to think of it as a career or lifelong vocation, since she’s not making any money at it yet. Ruth wants to know how to help her husband understand that it can take quite a long time to make any money at writing. Here is my answer for Ruth’s husband.
To Anyone Who is the “Significant Other” of a Writer:
Congratulations on having the fabulous good fortune of living with a writer-type. There are many great things about being involved with a writer, among them:
Awesome income potential. Hollywood premieres and red carpet treatment. A stable, non-emotional partner.
- Opportunity to try new dinner recipes since you’re probably doing all the cooking.
- Plenty of time to play Xbox or watch hockey without interruption.
- Bragging rights when publication finally comes.
I know, the perks are amazing, right? However, there are a few things you should know about your writer friend. The sooner you accept these truths, the more harmony you’ll have in your household.
1. You can’t change them. Most writers can’t help it—they are what they are. They feel like writing is their calling or their mission. To try and get them to stop writing would be like taking away their oxygen. Don’t do this.
2. Success can take a very long time. Most writers spend anywhere from a few years, to a decade or more, diligently working on their writing before getting published. Think of it as being in grad school. This is their education, and although the thesis may be taking forever, it’s a normal process.
3. A writer’s life is more than just writing. It’s no longer enough to sit at a desk and pound out words. Writers must engage in social networking, they may need to attend conferences, and they’ll certainly need to buy books on writing. Yes, it’s gonna cost you, before it ever makes you a dime. Think of it as the cost of that graduate degree.
4. Speaking of the cost…money is a sensitive topic for a writer. There’s no way to know if a writer will make a little money from their writing, a boatload of money, or no money at all. It may take years to determine this. If at all possible, try to separate your financial concerns from their writing. Have your money conversations without bringing up the time they spend on writing.
5. Your partner is an artist. This means they may not view money and income as primary motivators for what they’re doing. They are on a quest. They’re attempting to master a very difficult skill; they’re trying to break-in to an extremely competitive field. But underneath it all is an artist dedicated to their art, and there may be a small part of them that’s willing to starve for it. Try to accept this even if you don’t understand it.
6. The life of a writer is mostly thankless. It comes with a lot of rejection and criticism, along with very little kudos or positive reinforcement. On top of that, being an artist means opening oneself up, being vulnerable, and therefore susceptible to insecurity and anxiety. Try not to make the insecurities worse by communicating disdain or disrespect for their work.
7. And it IS work. Paid or not, writing is difficult labor.
Here are a few “don’ts” for you:
- Don’t belittle or demean your writer-in-residence for their dreams.
- Don’t assume “success” must be correlated with income.
- Don’t ever refer to their writing time as “wasted” and don’t think about how much money they could be making if they spent the time differently. This is who they are.
- Don’t say “have you finished that book yet?” Instead, say things like, “did you have a good day of writing?”
Support your writer and show you care by doing things that are meaningful to them. You could do things like:
- Help them to create a special writing space inside your home, whether it’s an entire room or just a corner somewhere.
- Help them create time for their writing, and encourage all members of the family to respect that time.
- Ask them about their writing, or why they like to write, or what their hopes and dreams are for their writing.
- Get them little writing-related gifts that show you’re taking them seriously: books about writing, new desk or computer supplies.
- Give them a gift certificate for something like a weekend “writing retreat” at a local hotel; or a few days away at a writer’s conference.
- Ask them how you can help support their writing.
Most writers are smart, passionate, interesting, driven, and eager to share their words with the world. (And yes, okay, a little moody and possibly bi-polar.) Enjoy the fact that they have depth and ambition, and something to say!
And definitely make sure you have your own hobbies, passions and interests. You’re going to need them.
Your turn: What would YOU say to the significant others of writers?