Liars Club

How Writers Ruin Relationships

by Marie Lamba on August 9, 2010

in Advice for Writers,The Writing Life

Today, we are kicking off another Burning Question about writing and publishing. To see past answers to other Burning Questions, click on our For Writers page.  And if you would like to pose a Burning Question for our group of authors to ponder and post about, just shoot us an email or post a comment, and we’ll be happy to consider it!

Burning Question #7: Are your relationships affected by your writing?

Marie Lamba kicks it off:

Writing is a solitary business when you are in the creative stages of things, but life is not a solitary business, so naturally there are conflicts.

I’m a wife, a mother, a homeowner, a scout leader, a friend.  I belong to various groups, have to attend meetings, clean house, make meals, food shop, do laundry, watch out for my kids, listen and lend a helping hand to people I care about. But when I’m in the creative mode, it’s like other parts of my brain just shut down. I don’t know how else to describe this. It can definitely cause problems.

See, when I’m in the middle of plotting a scene, I have no idea that several hours have passed and my daughter is waiting impatiently in front of her school for me to pick her up.  I don’t feel hunger, unlike my husband, who will tiptoe into my writing studio around 8:30 p.m. and say, “Are we ever going to eat?” When I’m really into the thick of writing, I don’t notice that someone is out of clean underwear, or that I’ve missed a meeting. And I won’t even go into what my poor dog has to endure.

I try to keep functioning. I talk on the phone in the evening with my mom, and find I barely can form sentences. I run to the food store, but wander around without a clue of what to buy. I can’t seem to plan anything but what happens next in my book. To the untrained eye, I’m just another flake.

But actually, I’m only like this when I’m in the midst of my writing.  When my scene is written or my deadline met, I’m a whirl of efficiency. I’m organized, I’m a planner, I’m a cleaner, I’m Supermom. In short, I’m coherent. This is confusing to folks. Who am I, really? The person who seemed to check out of a conversation? Or the one who thoroughly planned a trip to Europe for a slew of Girl Scouts? Well, I’m both.

I’ve had some pissed off friends over the years who have never called me back because my brain misplaced some very important detail about their lives. It’s as if I’ve forgotten their name (and sometimes I have). As if they don’t matter. I try to explain this away: I’m vague. I’m sorry.

But the people who are still with me – my family (who is stuck with me) and my friends – have come to understand this ebb and flow part of my personality.  My husband sees that writer mode kick in and suddenly starts feeding me and the kids, and handling life’s daily demands.  My kids recognize what is happening and suddenly become more self-sufficient and start reminding me of things like “sign this form now” and “remember the parent teacher conference in one hour.”  And my friends don’t expect me to necessarily call them back. They understand that they have to grab me out of my studio if they ever want to hang out with me.

And I’m grateful.  I feel taken care of.  I’m allowed to be that creative productive writing flake for a while.  And when I finally come back to earth, I make sure to take extra good care of the understanding folks in my life. Man, do they deserve it.

Marie Lamba is author of the young adult novel WHAT I MEANT… (Random House), her articles appear in numerous publications, including Garden Design, Writer’s Digest, and RWA – the national publication of Romance Writers of America.  She’s a full-time writer and a part-time flake.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Bob Behrent August 9, 2010 at 8:53 pm

Writing is not my first obligation, but it can be very intrusive to the first. Since I am the CEO of a global manufacturing business and am responsible for the success of that business and its employees, I have to set aside the writing to an ‘interruption-free’ period.
Most of my writing is articles for trade publications within my industry. But thinking back to the novel I wrote almost thirty years ago I decided to do another book. But where do I find the time? Since I travel a lot I one day noted how people, mostly ‘business people’, react to delays and problems. Since I have been traveling for more than forty years extensively, I decided to share my experiences in a way that was to be entertaining and informative.
Here’s the great thing, though. I decided to only write this while traveling. When you are sitting five to six hours on a plane, or fourteen to eighteen hours on Asian trips, there is plenty of uninterrupted time. It took about a year and a half for the first draft, then about another year for editing and re-writes.
It was difficult to stay away from the writing when I wasn’t in the air or in an airline lounge or hotel room with downtime. But I maintained my stance and only worked on the book while traveling.
Since I dedicate so much time to business and its travel requirements, I must use my off time for family, friends and other personal activities. This seems to work for me.

Marie Lamba August 10, 2010 at 2:34 pm

Hey Bob,

What a great way to divide up your personal, professional and writing lives. Since many writers like myself work at home, the lines between personal and professional often blur. Sounds like you have mastered your time management, and it sure beats watching those tired airline movies over and over.

Best of luck,
Marie

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