I Get By With a Little Help
Very often, I get asked, “What can I do to support my child/spouse/family member as a writer?” Of course, each writer’s needs are different, but here are some things you can do to help the writers in your life.
1. Give Them Time to Write
When I was young and newly married, I used to sit down to write, and my wife would immediately think that “since you’re not doing anything, let’s have a conversation.” That’s a frequent problem for those who work from home. It might not look like I’m busy, but sometimes I really am busy.
In order to write, I have to get into what I call my “writer’s trance,” a state where I’m vividly dreaming about my world (with my right brain) while composing and analyzing my prose (with my left brain). So I have to work with full mental capacity, and it can take about ½ of an hour to get into that state deeply enough to get some good work done. So, if I’m in the groove, don’t bother me. I need time to focus completely on my work.
However, you might be interested to know that both halves of the brain are not always awake and functioning clearly. I do my best work in the mornings now. (When I was young, I sometimes worked best at night.) For some reason, the right side of the brain, the creative side, shuts down at about mid-day and takes a nap. I literally can’t compose most of the time at mid-day. At about two in the afternoon, my writing skills tank, so that’s a good time to talk to me.
The point is, you need to learn the biorhythms of your pet writer, and try to allow that person to be productive.
2. Let Your Writer Out of The Cage
Very often, we think of writing as a completely solitary art form, and it can be. If I’m deep at work on a novel, I will often try to isolate myself. I don’t talk, go to parties, or go to movies. I’ve known some writers who literally become hermits.
But recognize that writing isn’t just about composing works. Writers need to get out, do research, study, and mingle. In other words, part of the pre-composition phase of writing requires that your writer get out once in awhile.
Sometimes that means that I do pretty exotic things. In researching novels, I’ve stayed out all night in the bayous of Louisiana, castle ruins in England, and walked the Great Wall of China. In fact, I got stuck on a novel years ago, and I told my wife, “You know, if I’m going to get past this part of the story, I really need to go to Shanghai and work on a screenplay with some other fantasy writers.” A few weeks later, that opportunity came up, and my wife said, “Go to Shanghai for three months.” It turned out to be a great opportunity.
As far as research opportunities go, sometimes I just go to the library or bookstore and browse. I might pick up books on writing, costuming, or life in the Middle Ages. But at other times I may want to take a writing course, which may require travel. My wife has sometimes questioned why I would want to take a course when I already know so much about writing, but I like to hear the latest theories and discoveries of those who apply original thinking to the craft.
In the same way, writers often get fired-up by attending writing conventions or conferences. Going to them allows your writer to meet like-minded people and explore new ideas about how to run their career. So make sure that your writer attends.
3. Think About Your Writer’s Physical Health
Writers tend to get chunky from sitting in their chairs all day. They scarf down cola in order to stay awake. Their health habits are often terrible. Make sure that you take your writer out for walks on a regular basis. Force him or her to help around the house, or take them to the gym. After all, you’ll want the writer to support you in your old age.
4. Let Your Writer Make Friends
Writing can be a very lonely profession. I write lots of dialogue in my tales, but sometimes I get tired of talking only to myself. Very often, writers will find that writers’ groups help give them a connection to the world, or that a particular writer friend 60 miles away is helpful to talk to. Don’t be jealous if you’re writer makes friends.
5. Keep Your Writer Comfortable
This might sound silly, but having a good writing space—a decent room, a comfortable chair, and a computer equal to the task—is all pretty essential. When I was young, I used to work in a dusty basement. My allergies made me sick all of the time. I used to have a chair that made my back ache. I got rid of it. I still have problems. I don’t have a little table next to my chair to hold my diet drinks. Someday, someday. . . .
Not all writers need the same thing. I used to like to listen to music when I write, but over the years, I’ve changed and now find it distracting. So I don’t need a stereo in the room like I once did, and if I do want a little mood music, I put in my earbuds. Some writers like inspiring vistas. I tend to look inward, not outward.
The point is, some people think that you should have to suffer for your art, but I don’t get any more work done by suffering for it. When I was in China, my back got so messed up from bad chairs that I had to walk with a cane. Did I get more work done? No. Did I get better work done? Not at all. I was in constant agony, and as a result, I’m sure that my work suffered in quality.
6. Your Writer is Insane
Remember that your writer spends a great deal of time in a dream world, talking to imaginary people, visiting places that don’t exist. Shakespeare often lamented about his poor mental health, wondering if he was a genius or a nut. He was obviously both. I once heard a psychologist say that “most writers are provably borderline schizophrenics.” I know that I am. I’m a science fiction writer, and being spacey is a job hazard.
If you’re writer is very lucky, he’ll also be paranoid, too. It proved a great boon to Lord Byron, Philip K. Dick, and Theodore Roethke.
So help ease your writer through his or her mental problems.
7. The Sex Lives of Writers
…is best not discussed in detail. It can be creative, shocking, wondrous. Of course with dull and unimaginative writers, it’s no better than sex with an accountant.
Beyond that, the care and feeding of writers is pretty mundane, much like the care and feeding of humans in general. Your writer will need to be washed, groomed, and pampered–just like any other exotic pet.