Friday, November 29, 2019

Writing is a Harsh Mistress

Does your writing ever interfere with your family life? Do the demands of your fiction ever create friction with those closest to you?

by Paul D. Marks

The title of this piece, Writing is a Harsh Mistress, pretty much answers the question. Yes, writing interferes with family life. It interferes with daily life. The demands of my fiction definitely create friction with the reality of my life and sometimes those close to me.

Jack Kerouac and his scroll.
Most people don’t understand both the demands of the writing and the need and desire to write, which is akin to a heroin habit. You must have your fix. And one fix leads to another. And one high demands another. If you have some success, you want more. You want to taste it again.

And there’s always something more to write, something else to write. A great idea for a new story or a terrific bit for that scene you’ve been stuck on.

To be honest, writing is like a black hole. It sucks you in and it’s sometimes hard to see the light outside that hole. And if I could be fed intravenously and not have to sleep I might never get up from my writing chair. I do, however, get up several times in a session to take the dogs out, walk them, play with them, etc. It’s good for them and makes them happy and it’s good for me, too, to get out of the chair. And if I was glued to the chair and the screen, Pepper, when she was younger, would come up and nudge my elbow: time for a walk, daddy. And I would always oblige. She doesn’t do that much anymore, but Buster has kind of taken over those duties. He doesn’t nudge my elbow like she did, but he’ll come and stand and glare at me with those “puppy dog” eyes, telling me it’s time to get moving. (On a side note, it always amazes me that even though dogs can’t talk they sure can communicate to us.)

The result of Pepper getting me up to go for a walk.

When I was working on a typewriter (remember those?) I would often wish that there could be an endless supply of paper (like Jack Kerouac writing on the “endless” scroll for On the Road) so that I wouldn’t have to change paper at the end of every page, because I’d often lose my train of thought in doing that. So when computers came out with their “endless pages” it was a miracle to me. But the downside of that is that I truly can sit here for hours and never get up, never take a break.

Often, friends and family don’t understand the driving need to write, to express ourselves, and that can cause friction. Also in the past, particularly before I had any kind of success and was hungry and desperate, I would sometimes turn down friends who wanted to get together for a movie or dinner since I wanted to write. I wanted to be successful, so I sacrificed other things to that desire. I know that in at least a couple of cases I lost those friendships because of that.

The guitar I don't have time to play.

Other things suffer as well, sometimes doing the dishes or dusting. Well, let them suffer. But what else suffers is that I don’t have much, and often no, time to play guitar. Hobbies suffer: I collect things, toys, Beatles stuff, movie stuff, other things, and I have little to no time to “play” with any of that. A lot is sacrificed to The Writing.

One of my Beatles collectibles.

But I am very lucky to have Amy, my wife, who both understands my need to write and also helps me with it. She’s a damn good editor. And she’s pretty tolerant of my writing mistress. Which is not to say there aren’t times when she wants me to quit for the day or do something else on a particular day. But in the big picture she’s very understanding.


And Happy Belated Thanksgiving to everyone. I hope you had a good one!


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GBPool said...

Both your comments and the quote by Churchill do state the condition of a writer, but sometimes a situation forces you to put aside your own desires in order to handle things that are truly more important. Priorities are part of life, even in the life of a writer.

Susan C Shea said...

Compelling description of a professional writer's life, Paul. And it must resonate with writers who have plunged in with the goal of making writing and selling their work their source of income. The stakes are high and the risks are more than to ego!

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks for your comment, Gayle. And you're definitely right. Sometimes circumstances force us to put aside our desire to write. I know you've had to deal with some of that but I hope it's looking up.

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks, Susan. You're definitely right about the stakes being high and the risks being more than to the ego. I don't think a lot of people realize the sacrifices one has to make if they really want to do this.

Jack Getze said...

My father told me 50 years ago I had a choice to make. "Be an artist," he said, "or be a husband and father. You can't be good at both." I've always told myself he was projecting, telling me what he'd told himself. But I'm starting to worry. :)

Paul D. Marks said...

So which did you choose, Jack ;-) ? It is a hard balancing act sometimes, that's for sure.

Jacqueline Vick said...

Nailed it! Fortunately, Foster loves watching movies and can disappear for hours, leaving me to write. It's not something I can explain to my parents when they want us to visit. Or to my mom when she calls, etc., etc., etc. (If the last three "words" made you think of movies and now you have an urge to turn back to the script you've been working on, you're a writer.)

Jacqueline Seewald said...


It definitely is a hard balancing act! We don't want to short change family, friends and other commitments but we also need time to write. It isn't easy, that's for certain.

Lisa Ciarfella said...

Such a great topic Paul!
Funny, I was just talking to a cousin about how much my pup kept me focused in the present moment, and I so miss that! Also, I totally relate to turning down peeps for fun stuff to write. The entire Grad school experience was basically that in a nutshell and I still don't have any real writing success yet to justify it all caz real- world stuff intervened after in a flurry!
2020 goal: must find the balance! 😎

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks, Jackie. It is hard to explain to moms, isn’t it? But it sounds like you and Foster have it worked out.

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks, Jacqueline. It’s definitely a balancing act. And we have to give a little here and a little there. But sometimes it feels like we might fall off the tightrope ;-) .

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks, Lisa. The writing success will come. Just be persistent. I know that sounds easy, but it’s what it takes. And sometimes we have to sacrifice one thing for another. Sometimes we sacrifice the writing, sometimes other things. It’s a Sophie’s Choice of sorts and a tough one. There’s got to be a way to find a balance, but I’m still not sure I’ve found it.

Kaye George said...

Very well said. I think of the need to write as a form of mental illness, or maybe an addiction. I'm sure it's hard for non-writers to understand the mindset. Hope your TG was good and you got to the dining room to overeat!

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks, Kaye. I agree, it's definitely an addiction and people who don't have that addiction don't really understand. And we had plenty of opportunity to overeat ;-) . I hope you had a good Thanksgiving, too.

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