If you’re a writer, or you grew up with a writer, or have the (mis)fortune of dating/living with/being married to a writer, this article might ring a few bells.
But if there’s anybody else out there who has unexpectedly found themselves sharing tight quarters with a writer and this is your first time, read carefully.We writers are strange people. We spend long periods of time strapped to our computers and desks, staring blankly into space, and sometimes we even snap at you when you interrupt us when we were apparently ‘doing nothing’.
I want to help bridge the gap between writers and non-writers, at least for peaceful cohabitation purposes. As a writer myself, and one who travels extensively and therefore is constantly being uprooted from the ‘safe space’ of home, I have a lot of tips that I’ve picked up through the years.
TIP NUMBER ONE: SPEAK ONLY WHEN SPOKEN TO
I’m not proud of this double standard. Unfortunately, this is one of the most commonly-occurring phenomena in my day-to-day life as a writer. On the off chance that I’ve exposed myself to the elements, whether it be writing in a public space or simply keeping my bedroom door ajar, it tends to be an indicator to people that I’m available for conversation, commentary, or generally Listening To Whatever Just Popped Into Their Heads.
Not everyone has had to share space with a writer, and therefore, they don’t know. It seems like a self-evident rule (to writers) that when a writer is in front of her computer, you assume she’s working, even though she may be finishing a 30 minute stint on facebook because she got sidetracked researching sebaceous cysts for a scene in her novel. It doesn’t matter. Peering at her screen to assess for yourself whether or not she’s ‘writing’ is not a fair assumption either, because sometimes writing involves 30 minute stints on facebook (legitimately: for marketing purposes and fan interaction; less legitimately: seeing what friends did last weekend) and getting lost in the annals of Wikipedia.
Knowing all of this as a writer, I still sometimes get lulled into a false sense of security. I might have just completed a particularly gripping scene where my hero flees the scene in an impressive spray of desert dust; or maybe I just wrote the last line and now I’m set to start revsions. Either way, energy is high, I haven’t been interrupted, I need to share this.
So I think it’s safe to engage with those around me while on the job. My goal is always a quip, a remark, a comment in passing – something to acknowledge that excitement within, or the accomplishment, or the surprise that my main character just said that. Not trying to go deeper or evolve into an hour long gabathon over coffee.
But once I open my mouth to engage on whatever level with those around me who don’t know, no matter how trivial the topic is, the Conversational Door has been opened. And that door doesn’t close. In fact, I think that door is revolving and makes a soft whishing noise as it keeps going past the same point over and over again. Any external attempt to engage, if not initiated by my mouth or my brain, is always a distraction. Period. Friends and family may think, Well, she just talked to me 30 seconds ago, clearly I can bring up this new irrelevant topic since she’s not working.
Because those thirty seconds that went by between my remark and your next thought were ample breeding ground for me to get re-absorbed in Whatever The Hell I Was Doing Before.
Do this enough times, and writers start to get really agitated. And depending on the level of people skills (sometimes low for writers!), it can result in a deeply awkward/uncomfortable/hilarious-a-few-years-later type situation.
This is not fair, and I don’t publish this proudly.
But it is real, and I’m sorry. All of us writers are sorry.
And we all thank you for putting up with us.
More tips for living with a writer to come soon!
P.S. And for the record, my partner has learned. He interacts gladly when I initiate, and will only interrupt me for pressing issues, like “Hey, grab me another roll of TP” or “Do you want a glass of wine now?”