I started writing seriously when my youngest daughter was five years old. There’s a 12-year age difference between my oldest and my youngest, but even with that many years between them, my oldest was just 17. I’ve been a single mom for most of my kids’ lives, so when I decided to start writing seriously, it had a major impact on my kids–especially since I was also working a stressful job that required around 60 hours a week from me.
Even so, my kids encouraged me to write. They knew it’s what I’d always wanted to do, and they were willing to make some sacrifices to see me happy. But none of us were prepared for the reality of the writing life.
For several years, I got up at 5:00 every morning and wrote until it was time to get ready for work. I came home, interacted with the kids until bedtime, then wrote again until I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer. My office was in my bedroom, which made that pretty convenient. I knew I was asking a lot from my kids, so I foolishly made a deal with myself, thinking I would not prolong the agony if it didn’t work out. I gave myself five years to be making a living from my writing or I vowed I would quit.
I got lucky. Four and one-half years after making a vow I had no idea was so unrealistic, I was able to walk away from my day job to become a full-time writer. And it’s been smooth sailing ever since.
Okay, that’s not true at all. It’s been a roller-coaster ride, that’s for sure.
It’s impossible for me to tell you how my kids lived with my writing, so I’m going to ask them how they coped or what they’d recommend for someone who’s just starting out life with a writer.
From Kid #1: “You have to have an infinite amount of patience. If you’re not having to remind your writer to eat, you’re having to figure out how to pay the bills. Living with a writer is not for the faint of heart. You start thinking of characters in books as your siblings, and it’s even worse when your mom calls you by a character’s name.” (Note from the much maligned writer:: I have never done that, or even come close!)
From Kid #2: Living with a writer, like anything, has its ups and downs. There are certain things you have to realize when living with a writer. First, they forget-everything. That includes the basics for living: eating, sleeping, and drinking. So not only do you have to remind them to do these things, but often you have to do it for them. For example, you may tell your writer that it’s almost dinner time. “OK, let me finish this thought” is often the response you’ll get. This actually means that you’d better start cooking dinner because they’re clearly not going to.
Then there’s the plotting. You will often find yourself discussing hypothetical questions in the most unlikely places. The genre your writer writes will determine how people look at you when you’re discussing these topics in public. If your writer writes suspense/mystery, you might hear, “But what would you kill him with?”,Or “How would you get the body out of the house?”,Or “But if she killed him with a bullet, would it make too much of a mess? How about poison?” These conversations might earn you skeptical looks from passersby.
The best part about living with a writer is seeing all of your hard work, because it’s yours too, actualized. You are so proud of the finished product and your writer when it’s all done.
From the Writer: I learned early on that monetary rewards (aka bribes) were crucial to maintaining life as we knew it. My kids were far more willing to pick up the slack when I was on deadline if they knew they’d get a share of the profits at royalty statement time. I certainly didn’t offer them a 33% share of the proceeds, but they did get some spending money that, to them, felt like a pretty sizable chunk of cash.
It helps to have at least one responsible person in your household who can keep track of the passage of time and who is ready, willing, and capable of pointing out that all months have a 1st of the month, not just the months with deadlines in them. Otherwise, the rent might never be paid.
There was a brief period of time just after I quit my day job that I had a significant other, so I have the briefest of experience juggling writing with a relationship. It wasn’t easy, I can tell you that. I distinctly remember arguing about whether or not my royalty checks should be deposited in his checking account (um….no!) and whether or not I needed him to stand behind me and offer suggestions as I typed. (Not just no, but hell no!) and whether or not I actually needed to go into the book store to see my book on the shelf.(He thought no. He was wrong.)
If you’re new to life with a writer, don’t ever mistake a blank stare for…well, a blank stare. A great deal of writing time is made up of thinking. It may appear that your writer is doing nothing, but please don’t talk to your writer when he/she appears to be zoning out. Your writer is actually quite busy and if you interrupt just when a character finally begins to talk, your writer may lose the thought completely. If your writer has spent significant time trying to get the thought to form in the first place, he or she might be a bit testy.
As Kid #1 says, life with a writer is not for the faint of heart, but my kids seem to think it’s worth the trouble
–most of the time, anyway.