Monday, May 21, 2012

21. How to Live With a Novelist

My dear friend Kate Kelley, who is an excellent writer and the funniest person I know, has graciously agreed to write today’s post.

So you have a novelist! Congratulations! If this is your first novelist, you may be
puzzled or frustrated by her behavior. Relax! With patience, understanding, and generous self-medication, you’ll find your novelist to be a rewarding companion.


Perhaps your novelist has been writing secretly for some time. Perhaps she suddenly announced, “I’m going to write a novel!” No matter how you came to find yourself sharing your life with a novelist, the following tips may help you maintain your sanity.

Every novelist is constantly accompanied by a host of characters she has created. These beings are often more real to her than you are, and she follows their lives with much greater interest. Before you impart vital information to your novelist, you need to be sure that she isn’t playing with her imaginary friends. Here are some  test phrases to determine if your novelist is mentally present:

“Stephenie Meyer just got the Nobel Literature Prize for Twilight.”

“Did you know that Stephen King wrote two sequels to The Mangler? And all three were made into movies?”

“Oh, I forgot to tell you. You got calls from Simon & Simon, and Random Penguin House, or something.”

If she doesn’t react, wait and try again later. If waiting isn’t an option, some novelist-keepers recommend a gentle poke with a very long stick. Consider the strength and speed of your novelist before you attempt this.

On the other hand, if your novelist’s gaze is suddenly fixed on you like a pointer on a grouse, you have given her something she can use. As you squirm under her focused and dispassionate gaze, she is mentally carving off bits and pieces to flesh out a character.

Note: If you think you recognize yourself in a heroic figure, your novelist will congratulate you on your perception. If you spot any of your negative traits, your novelist will assure you that you are mistaken. These are lies. Accept them graciously.

Novelists are notoriously unpunctual, if they arrive at all. You must understand that your novelist simultaneously occupies two space-time continuums. She is genuinely astonished when she looks up from a few moments at the keyboard and sees that days have passed, or finds herself in a neighboring state when she meant to drive to the grocery store.

Sometimes you must remove your novelist from her work. Perhaps a tornado is approaching, or her contractions are four minutes apart. In any event, approach cautiously, speak in low, soothing tones, and stay near the door. Don’t be alarmed if she acknowledges your presence with a snarl. Oblivious silence is much more dangerous, and may require the long stick.


Remember, the hardships of co-existing with a novelist will be rewarded when your sacrifices are acknowledged on the dedications page. Unless she thanks her cat, or her fifth-grade teacher, or her favorite barista. In which case, feel free to sharpen up  the stick.

The subconscious is an amazing and surprising ally in creativity. Tomorrow we’ll take a close look at how you can deliberately enlist it in your writing.


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