5 Things Not to Say to a Writer’s Wife

Valette with the C-in-C and the Squirrel Boy

I’ve written many times, on this and other blogs, about the challenges of being a full-time writer and stay-at-home parent. I’ve alluded to the difficulty of living with someone like me, but of course I can never truly know what it’s like. My wife, however, knows exactly what living with a writer is like, and in this post she talks about it. Thanks to Valette Piper-Bledsoe for writing the following.

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I’ve read plaintive blog posts about the writer’s life–the struggle to find productive creative time, the conflicting demands of family and work, the siren call of YouTube or solitaire. All perfectly valid, of course. I live with a writer, and I see that it’s a calling as much as anything else–something one does because one must and not necessarily because it’s glamorous or fun.

But it’s no picnic being a writer’s wife, either.* If you happen to meet one, here are a few things not to say:

1. You must work because you really like your job, because writers make soooo much money.

Hah, hah, hee, ha, snort…sorry. While I like my job and happen to be good at it, I work because we need two incomes. It’s a sad reality that most writers–the vast majority, I’d venture to say–are not rich. The number of fiction writers who can support themselves and their families solely on their writing income is probably very, very small. My job also provides benefits such as health insurance, dental and vision care, and pension contributions. Even the most successful writers must fund those (and pay taxes) themselves. Of course, if you’re Stephen King, John Grisham or Nora Roberts, I don’t think that’s much of an issue for you. Most writers–even the ones who make a living at it–aren’t in that league.

2. Oh, you poor thing, having to support your husband.

Conversely, those who don’t assume we’re rich, assume that “writer” is code for unemployable bum. Nothing could be further from the truth. My husband works, and works hard. Writing is his job, and he takes it seriously, approaching it with immense discipline. Writing isn’t just staring out the window or at a computer screen, thinking deep thoughts (even if that’s sometimes what it looks like). Like any creative labor, it requires a great deal of energy, time and dedication. Most mid-list writers these days can add “marketer” and “publicist” to their job duties. Writing good books isn’t enough–you need to blog and tweet, maintain a Facebook page, make the rounds at conventions, and in general put yourself out there. In my husband’s case, he does all of this, writes amazing books, and takes care of our two small children. Hell yes, I support him; I applaud him.

3. I don’t really like science fiction or fantasy, but I’ll guess I’ll read your husband’s book if you give me one.

If my mother–the woman who endured 48 hours of anesthesia-free labor to bring me into this world–can buy my husband’s books, so can you. Especially if you’re so worried about my family’s financial state (see #2). Publishing is a business. Great critical reviews and awards are nice, but the bottom line is sales. So go buy a damn book. Hardcover is super, paperback or e-reader is lovely. If you’re struggling, go to a library and ask them to order a copy. It all adds up. Don’t think someone else is going to buy a book. Sales matter. My children and I thank you.

4. I’ve always wanted to write a book! Can your husband recommend me to his agent/publisher?

Alex has always been generous with his time and experience, helping beginning writers through workshops and speaking to local students. He remembers what it was like starting out. He can tell you how he did it, how to find an agent, give you tips on how to write an agent pitch. But no, he’s not going to recommend you to his agent–who is a lovely person, a good agent and has a perfectly good website with information about the kind of submissions she’s looking for. First, you might want to actually write that book. I bet you find it’s a lot harder than you think (see #2).

5. Oh writers, aren’t they all … depressed, alcoholic, crazy, fill-in-the-blank.

While I’ll admit that a cliche exists around creative types for a reason, just because someone is a writer doesn’t mean they’re nuts. All writers are not Ernst Hemingway. Or Hunter S. Thompson. Or Sylvia Plath. Or…okay, so there are a lot of examples. Anyway, not all writers are drunk, crazy or suicidal. Alex happens to be a funny, sweet person–a wonderful husband and father. Many other writers we know are also kind, funny, happy, normal people, no more likely to down a fifth of Scotch or kick their dogs than your average doctor, lawyer or computer programmer. They’re writers, not musicians, for Pete’s sake (just kidding).

Not that living with a writer is all sunshine and roses. There’s the staring into space during dinner as they process a plot point, the sudden rush to the laptop because they thought of a perfect line for a character, the pouting because they have to go on a family outing instead of editing, the sudden influx of say, books about pirates…

But that’s a different post.

Valette, proud to be a writer’s wife

* I say wife because I am one, but spouse works just as well, I should think.

Posted on by Alex in family, writers, writing, writing advice

10 Responses to 5 Things Not to Say to a Writer’s Wife

  1. Alex Wells

    Hurrah for partners who support us! Although right now I’m much closer to the unemployable bum end of the spectrum than you. Or at least, unemployed bum.

  2. Kelly Bryson

    “Sudden influx say, of books about pirates”- ha! Too true! My husband doesn’t comment on the stacks I bring home from the library anymore. Nice post Valette!

  3. Vaughn Roycroft

    I’m with Alex Wells: Yay to supportive spouses, and still closer to unemployed bum. I’m sure you recall, Valette, but it’s even tougher to explain that, yes, your husband is a writer, and yes, it’s fantasy, and no, he’s not yet published. Sometimes I don’t even know how my amazing wife handles it with the grace she does, and still believes so strongly (even moreso than I at times) in my talent. Cant’ wait until she can tell them ‘go buy the book.’

    Great post! Thanks for sharing regarding the sometimes overlooked and yet oh-so-important role supportive partners play.

  4. Georgia B

    The wisest advice ever to a writer: Marry up. Alex, you clearly did that.

  5. david

    I read this with “spouse” in mind for all the gender specific words, and it fit perfectly. Excellent post! Lots of things that really need said and understood.

  6. Dakota Banks

    Thanks for an outstanding post! It made me appreciate my wonderfully supportive husband even more than my usual daily adoration.

  7. Gabi Stevens

    Here’s one my husband gets: Did you pose for the cover? And since I’m a romance author, and he’s a middle-aged engineer (although strikingly handsome in my opinion) you can imagine how well that goes over.

    Well done, Alex and Valette. I think the team support is undervalued when speaking about writing.

  8. Shawn Kupfer

    So extremely well-written and well-stated. My wife would no doubt agree with all of the points you made.

    (Sometimes, though, I am just staring off into space.)

  9. Wrenn

    A-effin-men.

    There’s another comment that I get exclusively at conventions. ‘Wow! You’re living the fangirl dream!’

    I’m not a fan girl. (Yes, I was/am a smof, but I actually have a very lucrative career completely outside of fandom….. something that allowed me my money pit hobby of doing and running tech for conventions.)

    His being a writer was no positive thing in my decision to be with him. It was quite a negative. More so because I’m the daughter of a man who was self employed all of his life, so I was intimately aware of the pitfalls a freelancer has to deal with. I also dated a musician when I was very young… And while a sci-fi writer doesn’t get the level of ‘fannish’ following a musician gets, it does happen, once in a while.

    I’ve had to explain this more than once.

  10. Deborah Blake

    Great post, Valette! It is clear to see that Alex isn’t the only one with writing talent in the family.

    Now if I could only find myself a “Valette” to support me!

    PS–You cracked me up. It’s a good thing I wasn’t swilling my usual fifth of Scotch while I was reading this.

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