The Care and Feeding of Writers
by Julie Butcher-Fedynich
Having a writer in your family is a blessing and a curse. The awesome part is that not only can they write the most wonderful excuse notes in the history of the world; they are smart, funny, and a constant source of entertainment.
The curse part is that they’re weird.
Just when you think you have a handle on their bizarre behavior, they come up with a new and sometimes scary little thing that they do. My husband was particularly troubled when he noticed that I was watching YouTube videos on how to dig a grave with a backhoe. To be fair, it was for a book but then, the knowledge is now in my head. We cannot unlearn this stuff. Also we do not own a backhoe so I don’t know why he’s worried.
But I digress. You need to know what to do. There’s a time and a place to ask for socks or dinner and I’ll tell you when it is safe. Your writer may be easy-going most of the time but interruptions during certain situations will make their head spin around like in The Exorcist. That can’t be good for anyone. Everyone died in that movie.
First of all, for the safety of everyone involved, please talk your writer into wearing a hat when they write. If they hate hats, set up some visual clue that lets the household know that they are working. Maybe they should have a corner all to themselves or a certain chair in which to sit. Figure out a way to know when they are writing. On their part, they need to agree that this is writing time and not play-on-the-internet time. Fair is fair.
My family could never seem to keep from interrupting my writing time. (To be fair, with six children, I have more family than most people.) So my husband built a writer’s clubhouse. It is a finished out shed. I have heat, AC, electricity and a comfortable chair. This is possibly the most awesome gift in the history of the world— 8’x8’ of total solitude. If at all possible, get your writer a clubhouse and then your interruption problems are gone. What your writer needs is time.
Just because your writer is staring into space doesn’t mean they are not working. The brain is a magical place but it takes time to imagine a room in a house and to see all of the people in it. Each person needs a personality, quirks, and a certain way of talking and moving. When you interrupt your writer in the middle of a scene it can take an hour to get back to that place in their thoughts so go and find your own socks.
To know what this feels like, I want you to imagine that you are having an intimate hour with your beloved. Just as you see your goal within reach, the fire alarm blares. Your heart pounds—and not in a good way. Adrenaline has sent the blood to your arms and legs and away from where it needs to be to have a happy time. Even if it only turns out to be a toaster related incident, the mood is gone. Of course you can resume your activity but it will take a while to get back to the moment. It is the same thing when a writer is interrupted—like your brain is ripped from a dream. So stop it.
Writers need to eat food. If you notice flying fingers for hours at a time, know that even though they get hungry, they probably won’t stop writing to eat. Take snacks or sandwiches—nothing crumbly or that will spill, kill the computer, and erase all of their work. Set it next to them and walk away without talking. They will adore you for it. I promise.
Ask to read your writer’s work. Absolutely do not make them ask you to read it. Being a writer is lonely and hard and a constant learning curve. Sometimes the fact that one single person asks to read your work can give you the gumption to sit down and add another chapter. There is little encouragement for writers. Each day they wake to a new rejection. Make sure your writer feels loved.
Even if you have no idea what your pet writer is talking about, listen. Sometimes they need to verbalize a concept in order to make it clearer in their mind. They don’t always need comments from you. Mostly they need a sounding board and someone to say, “I think that could work.”
If your writer is self-publishing, absolutely do not ask for their books for free. Let your family members know that this isn’t okay. If they want to show support, they should buy the book. Be kind but firm. Setting ground rules early in the game will save you trouble later.
Complete strangers will badger your writer with requests for free things, for un-paid appearances, to be the best man at their wedding. (Not kidding.) They will ask you to intervene with your writer in order to cut to the front of the line. Don’t go there, just don’t. Learn to say no. There are a whole bunch of entitled people in the world. They can suck the joy right out of a birthday cake and drain a writer dry. You will absolutely get tired of people asking you to do things. If you say yes there won’t be time left for your writer to write and that kind of blows the whole deal.
Most of all tell your writer that you believe in them. That is worth millions.
Written by Julie Butcher-Fedynich