Monday, July 21, 2008

On Being Married to an Aspiring Writer

When Melanie gave me the topic of "What it's like being married to an aspiring writer", it seemed fun enough and not too difficult at all. What's surprised me then is how long I've worked on this. Maybe the problem is that I have nothing to contrast it with. She was never "not a writer" and then one day a "writer". We first met online, so it was her writing that brought us together and it was her writing that first started me falling in love with her. To me she's always been a writer. Not an "aspiring" writer. Just a writer.

So with that disclaimer, let me continue with a few observations I've made since she seriously started considering writing a novel...

The Phases of Writerhood
I'm not sure how many phases there are on the road to becoming a published author, so I don't know whether we're almost there, or just half way. But this is what I've identified so far:

Phase 1 - Gathering the courage to say to friends and family..."I'm going to be a writer".
Phase 2 - "What if I suck, but no one wants to tell me?"
Phase 3 - "Hey, maybe I really am a good writer!"

During the beginning of Phase 1, I found myself having to coax it out of Melanie as we conversed with friends. They would ask, "So, Melanie, are you teaching again this year?"

"No, I'm staying home with the baby."

"And she's writing a novel!" I would add.

Which every one thought was pretty cool, and which made her blush even more.

In time, she either got more comfortable with the idea or just sick of me amending her sentences.

Phase 2 began while she was taking a community college creative writing class online. Story upon story garnered praise from both her instructor and her fellow students. Notwithstanding, we'd still have these conversations:

"What if they just don't want to hurt my feelings?"

"Well, in that case they'd probably choose not to comment."

"But you read that other person's story. It wasn't that good. But people still said they liked it. What if I'm that girl who thinks she's a good writer but is totally oblivious to the fact that she's not?"

I'd assure her that she was indeed a good writer, but usually to no avail. So it was at this point that I'd have to gather all the Yoda wisdom I could muster from my own experience as a part-time, not-really-professional musician. Mind you, I really did try to convince her first that she was a good writer...

"The thing is, sweetheart... Every artist thinks they are good. Both the good ones and the crappy ones. Otherwise, they would not continue in their art. So you can't let the fact that you think you're good, discourage you. And just because people say you're good, doesn't necessarily mean you suck."

(It's a very backwards world we artists live in sometimes.)

But see, dear blog reader, it really is a troubling paradox. The good artist who loves their craft, knows they're good, but the bad artist who loves they're craft, does not know they are bad. So how can you ever know which one you are? Well, money is sometimes a good indication, but not always. Therefore, as I see it, only one conclusion can be drawn: if you love it, you must pursue it (but, of course, it wouldn't hurt to be humble, just in case you're one of know...).

A couple weeks ago, Melanie re-read the twenty-four chapters she had written. Much to her surprise, the novel didn't "suck" as she feared. In fact, it was pretty good. Definitely on par with what she had been reading in her genre. So right now, as she's finishing the last eighth of her novel, she's finally coming to grips with the fact that she might, indeed, be a good writer after all.

And that's where we are right now...Phase 3.

Daily Life With the Writer

When I come home from work, I hear what she has written for the day and I'm drawn in once again to the story. Then, about fifteen hundred words later, it abruptly ends. I feel cheated. Teased. It's like watching five minutes of LOST and having it cut off right when Ben is about to reveal to John all the secrets of the island. And I have to wait until tomorrow for the next five minute installment. Grrrr.

I smile when I hear parts of Melanie or me in one of her characters. But what's really funny, is where those parts show up. Sometimes I sense parts of me in her female protagonist, while parts of her show up in her male characters. What I do know is that no character is a carbon copy of a real life person, and by the same token, no character is purely imaginary. I guess I've seen this in my own song writing, too. When people have asked what/who is that song about? I have to confess that it's usually about thirty to fifty percent a real situation and the rest, imagination.

I also read her blog posts and get to hear all about the ones she's read during the day. I know she's grateful to her new online friends that have been so encouraging. I am too, because owing to your experience, you guys (ok, mostly gals) know much better what to say than I do.

When she's done with this novel, I wonder how long it will take before she starts the next? I'll miss the days when I come home from work, assume the "listening position" on the couch, and have my own personal Scheherazade spin me tale. And like the King from a Thousand and One Arabian Nights, I'll long for more stories, but will have to wait until tomorrow.


Kimberly said...

Fabulous post! My husband didn't know I was an aspiring writer when we met, because I would hardly admit it to himself. Poor boy. At least you had some warning.

I think though, that after reading this and smiling over it, I might let him read my first chapter tonight.


charrette said...

My husband is a writer/director/producer and I'm a designer/illustrator/artist who also thinks she can write. :) I love this post because you somehow captured that synergistic give-and-take between creative spouses. We thrive on the collaboration, the feedback, the support and the honesty we get from each other. And the fact that we understand each other, even across fields.