Monday, June 22, 2015

The Proper Care and Feeding of Writers

If you've decided to care for a writer of your very own, allow me to congratulate you. You've taken on a noble task, and the world owes you a debt. After all, without proper care and support, few writers would accomplish anything.

Although writers come from all walks of life, encompass all personality types, and run the gamut of body types, religious beliefs, political opinions, and shoe sizes, it's almost guaranteed that your writer struggles with the same core issues as all other writers. 

The Proper Care and Feeding of Writers



Tip One: Expect your writer to keep to a strict schedule. The evidence is overwhelming: creative inspiration is largely a myth, and writers who keep to a regular writing routine accomplish more than those who only work when "inspired." Because of this, expect your writer to adhere to a strict schedule. 

Just as you wouldn't expect your brother-in-law to find it easy to brush off a morning at the office to pick you up from the airport, don't expect your writer to find it easy either, even if he works from home. 

Especially if he works from home. It's likely that your writer works on spec, not salary; and he never knows how many drafts he'll have to write before he gets paid. That makes his time even more precious. 

Bottom line: If your writer does not work, he will not eat. Worse, he knows that even if he does work, he still may not eat. So respect his schedule. If he says he writes every morning from 8:00-11:00, consider those hours sacred. 

Tip Two: Don't expect your writer to keep to a strict schedule. Although creative inspiration is largely a myth, that doesn't mean the muses never speak. Getting caught up in the whirlpool of creative inspiration is a heady and dizzying experience, and your writer knows that once she's sucked in, it's best to ride the current until it ebbs.

Once surrendered to the bliss of creative flow, your writer will not notice the passage of time. She will forget not only mealtimes but perhaps even the existence of food itself. She'll clamp her hands to the keyboard, tuck her chin to her chest, and write the hours away while sunlight inches across the wall, shadows lengthen, the moon appears, kingdoms rise and fall, and her coffee cools in her mug--flat and undrunk.

Bottom line: If your writer doesn't take advantage of these creative bursts, she runs the risk of hitting a creative roadblock. So respect her need to blow off her schedule occasionally. If it means that she misses a dinner or cancels a coffee date, just consider it the price you have to pay for being friends with a creative. 

Tip Three: Ask your writer what he's working on. This shows a pleasing level of interest in his life's work and provides him with an opportunity to let off intellectual steam, float new ideas, show off his research, and give voice to the topic that's been his mental obsession for weeks/months/years.  

Bottom line: Everyone needs a safe space to vent ideas. Order a coffee, sit back, and prepare to let him ramble indefinitely. Prove yourself a trusted listener, appreciative audience, and encouraging critic, and he'll love you forever. 

Tip Four: Don't ever ask your writer what she's working on. Most writers are sensitive about unpublished work. Perhaps overly-sensitive. But there are reasons. 1) No matter how much work she invests, the manuscript might always come to nothing. Every time someone asks "What ever happened to that book you were writing about the personality typing of dolphins?" she will have to say, "I never finished it," or "My editor said that readers would like it, but publishers wouldn't, so who even knows what that means?" or "Sixty publishers have rejected it so far--but I swear it's really good!" 2) New work is terrifying and almost impossible to talk about without sounding like an idiot. 

Bottom line: Sometimes it's best just not to ask. 

Tip Five: Know when to step in. Occasionally, your writer will need to be talked down off the ledge. It will be up to you to know when to hide the laptop battery and take your writer for a walk; to understand when to offer stern words of edification and when to offer a shoulder to cry on (or to punch); to ensure that after a bad writing session, your writer doesn't take an actual flame thrower to the laptop. 

Bottom line: There's a fine line between creativity and insanity. If you suspect that your writer's toeing the line, don't be afraid to step in.

Tip Six: Back off. Just because someone's creative doesn't mean she's crazy. Respect your writer's need to indulge her creative process; to be equally emotional about success and failure; to talk to herself; to talk to her book; to talk to the wall. These behaviors are worrisome, but they're not necessarily signs of a tipping mind.

Bottom line: We're all a bit quirky. Because writers tend to spend more time alone than others, their quirks sometimes become magnified. 

I know one writer who routinely works out bits of dialogue while pacing back and forth in her driveway, in full view of God and all her neighbors. 

And she's fine. I have it on good authority.

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The Actual Bottom Line: While caring for a writer can sometimes be a grinding, emotionally-messy task, it also carries great rewards. You have the comfort of knowing that due to your care, the world has the chance of being blessed with one more delight, one more diversion, one more message, one more masterpiece.

And we love you for that. 

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