A writer can be a wonderful addition to your home, social circle, or family. But whether you are experienced with writers or you’re a first-time adopter, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the care and feeding of them.
If you’re considering a relationship of any kind with a writer, remember that this warm, creative, and often reclusive species doesn’t always live on the same planet but tends to wander through various dimensions, paradises, and hells. This may often result in your writer being a little, uh, unusual.
Understand that writers live in their heads. Always.
When you imagine a writer hard at work, you picture them scribbling madly in a notebook or typing furiously on their computer, pausing only to gaze into the ether looking for inspiration. (It’s more likely a case of “What is that word? ‘Abba-something.’ I CAN’T REMEMBER THAT WORD. ‘Arboretum’? Nope. Abor . . . ABATTOIR. That’s it.”)
The truth is that most writers tend to be working at all hours of the day, regardless of what they are actually doing. Whether it’s worrying a difficult plot point, imagining dialogue, daydreaming about a new book idea, or even wondering how to describe the conversation or meal they are currently having (yes, we do this), writers are constantly in their heads.
What does this look like to friends and family? Writers can appear … well, bored. Their eyes glaze over, and they just disappear into their inner lives. They’re not even aware they’re doing it. All you have to do is gently nudge them, and they’ll come back. (The lure of food also works.)
Ask writers about their current project.
Chances are, you spend some time with friends and family discussing work, coworkers, current projects, and all your workplace frustrations. But writers are often hesitant to bring up their work. They face different kinds of struggles, and they may fear no one is interested. However, being able to chat with you about their stumbling blocks, obstacles, fears, and rejections can make the writer in your life feel supported. They may crave your feedback and advice, in much the same way you look for validation when you share your day-to-day working experiences and challenges. Which leads to …
Respect their work.
This is a big one. Even for writers who are working full-time jobs on the side, writing is still work. Some of it is unpaid and underpaid, but avoid treating writers like they have an adorable little hobby. Especially if they are trying to make a living from their work. Writing and editing in all its forms can be difficult, frustrating, thankless, and exhausting—just like any other job. We also recommend you don’t tell the writer in your life that at one time, you, too, thought about becoming a writer, but then you decided to get “a real job.”
Many aspiring creatives have sacrificed a great deal to pursue this challenging and satisfying career, including stability, benefits, a consistent income, family, relationships, and other career opportunities. You may not understand their career choices, but always respect them. Professional writing is one of the roads least traveled; the level of skill and competition is very high, and the costs are steep.
Feed your writer.
Now, we’re not suggesting that you should have to pay the food tab for every fancy meal or night of drinks. Far from it. But if your writer is struggling mentally or financially, sometimes a night out with a loved one (or six) is just what they need to get out of their head, change their surroundings, and join the real world once again. After all, writing is a solitary occupation, and writers tend to (on the whole) be introverted as well.
Even if it’s pizza, an invitation to your family’s Spaghetti Saturday dinner, or stopping by with a bag of chips and a bottle of wine, the writer in your life will appreciate the break, the company, the food, and—more importantly—the gesture. One of the greatest things a friend ever did for me was Uber Eats me an order of french fries after a bad writing day. Are they going to end up on the acknowledgments page of my next book? Yes. Yes, they are.
Recognize the signs of burnout.
Writers can drive themselves into a state of exhaustion and stay there for days, weeks, months, and sometimes even years. Part of it is from an endless cycle of perfectionism. Part of it is from a need to prove that they are working hard. (You’d be amazed at how many people equate “flexible schedule” with “not really working.”) Sometimes it’s simply the fear of losing the rhythm. Whatever it is, writers can be at risk of burnout without even knowing it. After all, they love their job—why should they take a break? Like any other profession, check for the signs of burnout:
- Increasing frustration with a project
- Writer’s block or some variation
- Difficulty sleeping
- A drop in productivity
- Noticeable lack of interest in their work
- Lack of inspiration
- Physical or mental exhaustion
If you see one or more of the above, remind your writer to take a weekend off, schedule a vacation, or simply get a change of scenery.
Buy, share, and help promote their work.
Authors need to make a living. One of the greatest ways to show love and support to any writer is by buying their books, sharing their published stories or articles, reviewing their work, and even by recommending them for freelance opportunities. Most writers find work through referral, and just by alerting them to listings you might see online, you are giving them a chance to keep working at their craft. Offer to read their work when they need a beta reader or a fresh pair of eyes. Also consider donating to their Patreon account (if they have one). You can also support your writer’s community by buying books and posting reviews online. Have extra money? If your writer is struggling financially (likely), consider asking them if you can help, whether with rent or bills. Consider starting a crowdfunding campaign if they are going through rough times or would like to attend a writing convention in another country or state.
Throw them a compliment once in a while.
When you work alone at your desk every day, you rarely hear, “Hey, you did a great job today!” or “That last chapter was fantastic!” There is no feedback, no bonus, no year-end review with potential pay raise. Instead, writers remain in their heads. Now, the most confident and emotionally stable human being in the world could probably do this and stay secure in themselves day in and day out for the rest of their lives. Maybe.
But human beings are flawed, and writers are reminded on an almost daily basis about the harsh, cold realities of their profession. “Can I do this?” “Ugh, my writing sucks.” “Am I ever going to get published?” All these thoughts churn around in writers’ heads in an endless loop. Throw in the odd offensive remark or judgment from well-meaning friends or family who not-so-secretly wish their writer had another profession, and you get a cycle of toxic thoughts that eat away at self-confidence. So don’t be shy with your writer. Let them know they are appreciated and talented, even if it’s something small like commenting on a hilarious tweet or social media post they made.
Know and accept that you will end up in a book or story, one way or another.
There’s a Dan Piraro cartoon I love in which parents confront their writerly daughter at a signing for her new book, My Miserable Life. The mother says, “Look, I’m SORRY. If we had known you were going to be a writer, we would have been better parents!”
Life is stranger than fiction, and most writers draw on their own experiences and the people in their life to create characters, plots, and even villains. Sometimes it can be personal … at first. But chances are good that if you end up in the pages of a writer’s book, it’s because you touched or changed them in a meaningful way. Is it good? Is it bad? It’s up to the author. But take it as the compliment it almost always is. Unless, of course, you were a garbage human being to them—in which case, you can expect a full literary evisceration, and all you can do is hope that no one recognizes you.
So love and nurture your writer! (Or else …)