Double trouble: two authors in the house

owlsThe other day Porter Anderson at Writer Unboxed examined the popular notion of the lonely writer hammering out a novel in solitude. It provoked some interesting discussions about the way we do our work or accommodate our hobby in a busy life.

Chez Morris there are two writers. With no children. When you’ve read this post you’ll agree that’s for the best.

I realise some of our routines and habits must look peculiar to outsiders. But maybe they’ll also look familiar too – especially if you are similarly afflicted.

1 Zombie face

When we’re both deep in writing, it is hilariously difficult for us to have a conversation. When we do, it’s as if we’re trying to talk over a noisy background of in-head chatter: story problems we didn’t solve and new ideas that are streaming in. The real person on the sofa seems to be at the far end of a tunnel.

2 Random outbreaks of notes

We are drowning in paper. Junk mail and envelopes must be binned immediately or they will start to grow a colony of notes. Once this begins, the notes must stay where they were born and may not be thrown away for months.

The most everyday conversation might trigger a sudden need to scribble. While in the car, Dave (who does not drive and therefore has his hands free) often finds himself instructed, like a secretary, to grab the notebook and take dictation. Of course we have a notebook in the car. Don’t you?

3 Other rooms requisitioned

We each have a study, but sometimes we need a change of scene to refresh, cogitate, read or pace with a busy mind.

Suddenly one of us will find we can’t use the dining table because husband is outlining his screenplay on index cards. Wife starts to rue the day she wrote Nail Your Novel. (But is also amused that husband uses it.)

4 Books

Our rooms would be 15% bigger if we didn’t have such a book-buying habit. Upside: no need for pictures.

…which leads to

rozmorris65 WIP shelves

With such a vast book collection, they have to be kept in organised places. Dining room for books on history and exotic locations; bedroom for SF, short stories and poetry; my study for fiction; Dave’s study for comic books, mythology and folklore. This careful organisation is banjaxed when a book is appropriated for a WIP. It will make its way into a mysterious pile whose order must not be disturbed. It might grow a fringe of cryptic Post-It notes saying ‘Anne’s sunrise’ or ‘part 2’. Apocalyptic fall-out if other partner wants to use it too.

6 Inability to make long-term arrangements
When a book is near to boiling point, whether there is an external deadline or not, making plans with friends is impossible. Do we want to go to a concert with x and y in three weeks’ time? Er, don’t know, is the answer, because the WIP seems to fill up everything. Even though when that evening comes we might knock off at 7 and open the wine.

7 Moral support

We both know that writing involves a lot of time despairing that our work is rubbish. And we also know how precious we sound when we agonise about it. And how writing is not truly hard like, say, brain surgery or bomb disposal or counselling traumatised asylum seekers. We know we’re soft and ridiculous.

8 Unflinching critiques

Yes, we critique each other, and the kid gloves are off. They were never on anyway. Dave is used to collaborating with writing partners. I’m used to editing and ghostwriting. We’re both too bothered by rough work to worry about ruffled feathers. So our manuscripts get tough love and there is grumbling. But it’s better to keep mistakes within our walls than let an editor, programme controller or a reader see them.

9 Self-publishing v traditional publishing

We’re from different publishing cultures. Which is interesting. Dave’s written more than 80 books (I had to google that) for traditional publishers and he’s worked for games companies. When he has an idea, he knows how it fits the market and which editors might like it.

Me, I write and then find I don’t fit any commercial editor’s needs. Thus I discovered the culture of entrepreneur indie-writers.

(Dave is now also publishing under his own imprints (here and here), but my books don’t even fit there. Did I mention tough love?)

And so we are a curious microcosm. In one room, commercial traditional publishing. In the other, commercially-challenged literary indie. In times of strife, the grass often looks greener.

For instance: when we both launched works of fiction.

With My Memories of a Future Life, I’d have sold my soul for an influential endorsement. When Dave launched his reimagining of Frankenstein with Profile books, he was phoned by the national newspapers, appeared on several BBC radio arts programmes and given a login to blog on the Huffington Post. While I was thrilled to see him get such major attention, there was a bit of green-eyed grousing. Several times he was treated to the speech that went: ‘no matter how good my book is, I could not get a start like that’ etc etc. (A lot of etc.) But a year or two on, he’s not as free as I am to make different editions, market it worldwide and do what he feels is needed to keep the book alive. Swings and whatnots.

Anyway: those books are done and more are incubating.

And so we return to #1.

Thanks for the owl pic DorteF

Do you live with another writer, or do you have a close relationship with one as a critique partner? How does it work? If you are the only writer in your family, how does it fit in with the other people in your life?

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  1. #1 by Lynne on August 18, 2013 - 8:09 pm

    Love love LOVE this post! My partner is also a writer, and we both benefit from having an “in-house” editor, just as you and your husband do. But when my sweetie’s on a writing jag, he is unable to concentrate if there is any noise, so I really have to be careful about those bursts of sharing (“Listen to this dangling modifier–it’s priceless!) or even more mundane conversations like “There’s no food in the ‘fridge, and it’s six o’clock–who’s running to the store?” I’m on a serious hunt for a good set of noise-cancelling headphones for him to wear while we work. Did I mention we have a one-bedroom condo and a cockatoo? Working together can be challenging, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world!

    • #2 by rozmorris @NailYourNovel @ByRozMorris on August 19, 2013 - 8:02 am

      Thanks! Ah, the sensitivity to noise. I sometimes hear Dave starting to watch a quick video clip on Youtube and I have to holler ‘use the headphones’ in desperate tones.
      As for noise-cancel headphones, I read that one author uses the Bose Noise Cancel headphones to create a hushed environment. He lives in north London and needs to damp the sounds of traffic and house renovation. I fancy the look of the Bose headphones, but possibly also because they have a rather steep and unaffordable price tag, and therefore look like luxury!

  2. #3 by Candace Johnson on August 18, 2013 - 8:11 pm

    Roz, I have no idea how “Lynne” got there–my name is Candace!

  3. #5 by simonclarter on August 18, 2013 - 8:51 pm

    Why, yes, I live with another writer. Why, no, I have no idea what you’re talking about. Methinks the lady hath imbibed too much…. >.>

  4. #7 by rachelefisher on August 18, 2013 - 9:31 pm

    I am classically doing in “alone at home” as a hobby that I have to balance with my so-called “real” life. It’s hard. BUT the internet has changed a lot. I have critique partners that don’t pull their punches, they are just at a distance (maybe that is a good thing?). But I can say that if it’s not your full-time thing, it ends up seeming selfish. That “talking to a zombie” thing? Sooooo much less cute if you are ignoring your spouse, friends, etc., and they are NOT embroiled in writing. There is something very solitary and individual about it. I feel that I’ve always spent too much time swimming in the words in my head instead of interacting outwardly, but maybe that is an occupational hazard.

    • #8 by rozmorris @NailYourNovel @ByRozMorris on August 19, 2013 - 8:05 am

      Hi Rachel – yes, the withdrawn expression is difficult for some people to understand, as is the obsessive ability to do it for hours. I once did a spin class in the midst of a trcky plot tangle and the instructor asked me if I was okay because I had a very vacant look.

  5. #9 by Mrdisvan on August 18, 2013 - 11:42 pm

    See above about men not multi-tasking so well. I prefer to hear nothing about social engagements, fridge replenishment, cool stuff on Twitter, etc, until my book is finished. The ideal writing conditions are as described in Misery. (Before the car accident, that is.)

    The Catch -22: then there’s another book…

    • #10 by rozmorris @NailYourNovel @ByRozMorris on August 19, 2013 - 8:06 am

      Hello, sir. Yes, there’s another book, and until the head-crowd are alive and thriving, it’s rather worrying. Where have my voices gone? Will I ever hear them again?

  6. #11 by Karla Reisch Akins on August 19, 2013 - 1:32 am

    Sometimes I wish I did live with another writer because no one understands why they look me straight in the eye and tell me something and I don’t hear a word they said because my brain is on WIP planet. I do write in chaos. And that’s it’s own challenge. Twins with autism (age 18) who need constant supervision and a mother-in-law with Alzheimer’s. The interruptions are constant and I’ve developed the skill of writing in snatches. Fun post!

    • #12 by rozmorris @NailYourNovel @ByRozMorris on August 19, 2013 - 8:09 am

      Hi Karla – good heavens, what a challenge. We have a writer friend who has two autistic children and wrote a book about it – her name is Charlotte Moore and the book is George and Sam. Maybe you already know about it. Thanks for commenting!

  7. #13 by Annecdotist on August 19, 2013 - 7:45 am

    Loved this post. My husband is not a writer but he is a person who occasionally has need of a desk. A couple of years ago he redecorated one of our nicest rooms as a joint study with a desk for each of us but, as I need quiet to write, he’s rarely allowed to use his. And when he picked up a piece of what looked like scrap paper from my desk …! Let’s say he won’t be doing that again.

    • #14 by rozmorris @NailYourNovel @ByRozMorris on August 19, 2013 - 8:10 am

      Thanks, Anne! Ah, the shared desk. If I sit down at Dave’s desk, I’ll be barked at and told not to touch anything. Writers’ desks may look disordered but everything is precisely placed!

  8. #15 by jumpingfromcliffs on August 19, 2013 - 10:48 am

    “We know we’re soft and ridiculous” – that made me laugh out loud. I live with a photographer and know the zombie conversation well. Often she’ll be regaling me with concepts for a new project while I’m scribbling away at edits for the novel. On the outside I’m “hmmm”ing and “yes”ing. Two hours later I’ll say something daft like “so what’s this new project about then?” and have to duck as a frying pan zings past my head.

    • #16 by rozmorris @NailYourNovel @ByRozMorris on August 19, 2013 - 11:10 am

      Lord, we do that too. ‘What have you discovered on that internet?’ Dave will say. Fifteen minutes later he’ll ask the same question again. And I’m just as bad.

  9. #17 by Tony Jaeger on August 28, 2013 - 8:57 am

    I’ve never been fortunate enough to have been with a writer (or driven creative-type, for that matter, either). I tend to obsess over ideas and projects until they’re done, and that has caused jealousy and tension, not to mention that my dearest friend and most trusted beta reader/first line editor is a woman… Things get difficult, to say the least. I guess I need to find a writer, it sounds like an amazing symbiosis you’ve got going.

    • #18 by rozmorris @NailYourNovel @ByRozMorris on August 28, 2013 - 2:22 pm

      Being with another creative certainly does make things smoother, Tony. No one else understands how an idea follows you around whether you want to think about it or not! Thanks for dropping by.

  1. The opening act – what the reader needs to understand (with help from KM Weiland) | Nail Your Novel

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