The 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.)
Our rooms would be 15% bigger if we didn’t have such a book-buying habit. Upside: no need for pictures.
…which leads to
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.
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.
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?