Before I came along, my husband had never in his life dated a writer. We live in Los Angeles, so he’d encountered the occasional singer or actress, of course, but I was the first real, live, ever-so-slightly (ha!) neurotic writer he’d hooked up with. Poor guy. He had no idea what he was getting into.
Not that all writers are crazy. At least, not all of the time. Sure, T.S. Eliot supposedly wore green face powder and lipstick when he wrote, and Nabokov wrote novels on index cards (hey, whatever works), but most writers are sane, disciplined, rational human beings. It’s the profession that makes us crazy. Sitting alone all day, trying to create earth-shattering things out of thin air, getting paid peanuts, baring your soul, and dealing with rejection after baring that soul could turn even the most stoic chemical engineers into Scarlett O’Hara before Tara burned down and taught her a lesson. But boohoo, right? It’s pretty great work, if you can get it.
If you are dating a writer, there are a few things you can do to make the ride a little less… challenging. And if you’re the writer in the relationship, share these tips with your engineer/doctor/mathematician/lawyer honey to help them understand that the whirlwind of emotions you experience during any given day (or hour) isn’t anything to be scared of. It’s just life. And if both people in the relationship are writers? I wish you all the understanding, patience, and fortitude in the world.
Accept That Her Career Path May Be… Erratic
Many careers have a step-by-step progression. You go to medical school, do well, finish all those other years of training that seem to take forever, and then BAM! You’re a doctor. Writing isn’t quite like that. There is no straight path. Often (always) it’s a twisty road full of potholes and debt and dark nights of the soul. No one promotes you from Baby Writer to Sort Of Decently Paid Writer to Toni Morrison, and pays your health insurance, too. Understand that your S.O. might be waiting tables one minute, copyediting tech news another, and blogging for a cosmetics brand the next. All while editing a chapbook and rewriting her novel. It might give you whiplash, but just go with it.
Never, Ever Call a Piece of Writing “Cute”
This is important. Even if she's writing a children’s book for ages 2 to 5 about talking orangutans, don’t call it “cute.” OK, maybe the talking orangutans can be cute. But otherwise, don’t use that adjective to describe the words they’ve strung together with their blood, sweat, and tears. So many tears. Call it “amazing” or “really good” or “better.” When you say the word “cute,” the neurotic writer brain rearranges the letters until all they hear is, “That’s the worst piece of crap I have ever read and you should just give up now and leave the novel writing to the real pros, like Snooki. Who wrote a bestseller. Unlike You.”
There Is No Such Thing as “Just”
Writers hear this all the time: “Why don’t you just write a cute rom-com for Reese Witherspoon and get a studio to make it! It can’t be that hard!” Or how about, “Why don’t you just write a book like Fifty Shades of Grey and then retire?” It’s not wise to tell a writer to “just” write something, as if it’s the simplest task in the world. Granted, there are much harder things to do (neurosurgeon, miner, mother of toddlers), but most writers don’t “just” write. They stare at their laptop screens a lot, procrastinate by painting their nails, and have mini-existential crises all day long. That’s not easy.
Understand That Sitting And Staring Can Be Work
On that note, if you come home to find your S.O. sitting still, staring at a blank Word doc or a Final Draft page that’s empty except for the words FADE IN, don’t accuse them of doing nothing. She's probably doing a lot inside her head. It just looks like she's catatonic.
Learn to Love Verbal Flourishes (aka Wild Exaggerations)
If you’re dating a writer, don’t expect to hear things like, “I’m busy” or “I have a lot of work.” She's more likely to say, “I’m drowning in work!” or “I have so many emails to answer it’s apocalyptic!” These verbal flourishes are par for the course, so learn to accept them. The upside is, she might say things like, “I love you so much it feels like my heart is going to burst out of my chest and explode into a million pieces!” That’s sweet. Right? Better than, “Oh, hey. You again.”
Distract Her When She's Down
Much like infants and toddlers, when a writer is in the midst of a meltdown, distraction techniques can work wonders. Say she's freaking out because she hasn't heard back from an editor or an agent (you’ll likely hear a lot of verbal flourishes during these freak outs). Soothe her by first telling her she's amazing (not “cute”), but also distract her by saying something like, “Oh, look The Bachelor is on!” Or maybe, “Let’s go on a walk and get a martini.” Get her mind off whatever she's obsessing about, and the meltdown should end.
But Tell Her When She's Acting Like A Big Baby
If she's being ridiculous (this happens... a lot) gently but firmly remind her that she's being a big baby and she needs to suck it up and forge ahead, like Gertrude Stein or Virginia Woolf. You should be nurturing in a relationship, but also call your partner out on her B.S. She'll appreciate it. Eventually.
Learn Email/Phone Etiquette
Your writer might get a tad obsessive when it comes to getting emails or calls back from agents or editors. But whatever you do, never ask a writer if it’s a bad or good thing that the editor/agent hasn’t replied yet. Proceed as if it’s a good thing (use the old “no news is good news” line if you must), tell her it’ll all be fine because she is a way better writer than Snooki, or better yet… just don't ask.
Become A Mental Multitasker
Chances are if you’re dating a writer, you’re dating someone who has about 15 different projects and deadlines at any given time. Keeping track of which projects your spouse/lover/fling is working on will be one of your greatest challenges, so get ready. You’re not superhuman, so you can’t remember every blog post and essay and tweet, but try and make an effort. And don’t stress about it too much, because chances are she can’t keep up with what the hell she's supposed to be writing either.
Whatever You Do, Stay Positive
This is, without a doubt, the most important rule of dating a writer. Whatever you do, try and stay positive. She has negativity flying at her like daggers from the outside world, evil online trolls, and her own sad-sack psyche. Just stay positive, don’t remind her that rejection is lurking around the corner and the world is a cruel, mean place. She knows it. Just tell her it’ll all be OK in the end if she just keeps staring at that laptop.
So good luck, and remember what George Orwell said: “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.” Talk about verbal flourishes.