06 Jun 2016
Love and marriage, as Sinatra sang, may go together like a horse and carriage, but love and writing can get along like a house on fire, if you like yelling and screaming.
There’s no doubt that having your spouse on your side can boost your writing career. From moral support to keeping the books to editing your work or even helping with the writing, there’s a reason why so many authors dedicate their works to their faithful spouses.Unfortunately, sometimes love doesn’t survive a spouse’s foray into creating art. It seems to happen so often that it could be added to the three A’s — adultery, addiction, and abuse — that can destroy a relationship. Not surprisingly, history shows that it’s mostly men who instigate these kinds of problems, either from jealousy or resentment for their woman who writes, or combining their art with one of the other A’s to create a truly intolerable marriage.
* The great French writer Colette was 20 when she married an author and publisher who helped her write the four Claudine novels that launched her career. He also published them under his name, took their copyrights and royalties, so when they broke up later, he continued enriching himself from them while she fell into poverty and hunger.
* During the 1950s, Peg Bracken’s “The I Hate to Cook Book” revealed to the male half of the human race that the distaff side did not have a natural gene for cooking. The male editors she approached rejected the book out of hand, and it was up to a woman editor to buy the book. Nor did Peg have her husband’s support; his reaction to the manuscript was a succinct “it stinks,” a judgment that, not surprisingly, also doomed his marriage, but not before he saw the size of the first royalty check.
On the other hand, there have been plenty of helpful spouses:
* Novelist and critic John Bayley nursed Iris Murdoch as she succumbed to Alzheimer’s disease, and after her death memorialized her in “Elegy for Iris.”
* Novelists Hilary Mantel and Margaret Atwood have husbands who are renowned for their devotion. Mantel’s husband, Gerald McEwen, handles all her business affairs and works hard to give her time to think and write. Atwood’s spouse, author Graeme Gibson, proud of his wife’s greater success — she jokes it’s because he’s “six foot four and gets the tops off jars.” One American woman writer joked that “Every woman writer should be married to Graeme Gibson.”
* A spouse’s support is not just limited to the emotional or business areas. Stephen King’s wife, Tabitha, literally rescued from the trash the opening pages of “Carrie” and convinced him to finish the book by offering to help him with the women characters. “Carrie” became his first best-seller, and the sale of the paperback rights enabled the family to escape poverty.
Spousal Support and You
For better and for worse, your spouse affects your career. They can be helpful or obstructive, supportive or bitter, and a productive partner in what is really the family business.
The question is how to get them on your side if they’re not already there? If your partner is so opposed to you writing, you might have to choose, like Peg Bracken, between them and your dream. Hanging around toxic people or emotional vampires is emotionally and creatively draining. That’s why siblings will cut themselves off from their families over drug, alcohol, or severe money-management problems.
But if you’re in a good relationship, there are steps to take that will keep them on board with your dream and even be willing to do what they can to help along the way.1. Communicate. Include your partner in your dream. If they don’t know you want to write a book, tell them (seems obvious, right? I’m sure it is to you; I’m talking to those other writers). You need alone time to think and write, so you need to tell them when that is. Let them know what you’re thinking, even if it sounds like you’re oversharing. Believe me, if you’re doing that, they’ll let you know.
2. At the same time protect your work. Communication does not mean talking to them about your work-in-progress unless you feel comfortable doing so. It doesn’t not mean letting them read your first draft; in fact, it may hurt you to do so. Your partner might not understand that, in Hemingway’s immortal words, “all first drafts are shit” (a contestable point, but not here). Finished stories, on the other hand, they should read if they want and if you trust their judgment.
3. Be accountable. Some books take longer to write than others. Whether it’s three days or three years, your spouse deserves to have some kind of timetable to go by.
So set a deadline for finishing the first draft. Don’t be over-optimistic; be realistic about your abilities and how quickly you create finished work. If it’ll take six months, say that (you may want to add a month, so if you finish on time you’ll look even better). Break it down into the number of words a day you need to write to get there; setting short-term goals will help you reach your goal. Keep your partner updated on your progress; it’ll keep you up to the mark as well.
4. Admit failure. It may seem better to suffer in silence the pain of a broken book, but you’re partner is going to catch on that something is wrong. Now is the time for honesty and openness. Lay out the facts, but more importantly, say what you’re going to do to fix it. Whatever it is, you’re going to win points with your partner, you’ll feel better by letting it out, and who knows, they may know ways to help.