Friday, June 20, 2014

How Marriage is Like Writing

 This week I’m a little caught up in a very important milestone—my 30th wedding anniversary. First of all, I can’t believe I’m that old. And second, I’m pretty proud to have made it this far, seeing as how lots of my friends have been divorced. So even though I want to focus on writing, I’m distracted by this momentous occasion. So I thought, why not combine the two?

I've compared writing to gardening, parenting, and a host of other long-term occupations. Marriage has many similarities, as well.

Like, it’s hard. That’s kind of cheating; everything really worth doing is hard. But I think a lot of people enter into marriage in that deliriously happy stage of love where everything is sunshine and roses and they can never imagine how hard it will be at times. It’s all so easy in those new love moments. Writing is the same. I know hundreds of folks who think writing is the easiest thing in all the world. I mean, everyone does it, right? Facebook, twitter, everywhere you look, people are writing. Which is great. But they aren’t really writing that well, nor are they writing with a book length manuscript in mind. Nor do they have to revise (although sometimes they really should) or work with an editor or make sure their characters are consistent. Writing is just as hard as any other work, more so than some. No one would say playing the violin in the New York Philharmonic is so easy anyone could do it. Really good writers work equally hard on our craft as professional musicians or professionals of any kind. Because it’s hard.

Successful marriages don’t just happen. They are in need of constant attention and dedication. Same for writing (and any artistic form). You have to practice it, do it consistently, pay attention to it, and work on it. You don’t sit down, write one draft, and call it good. Just as you don’t recite your vows, buy a house, and that’s it. You have to think about it all the time. I’m constantly writing in my head, even when I’m not at the computer or with a pen in hand. I’m always asking my characters how they would react to a certain situation. I’m communicating with my work. Just as I communicate with my husband all the time about various things big and little in our lives.

Marriage is a partnership, and sometimes others are needed to help the marriage thrive: counselors, friends, family. Writing is a collaborative process, in the end. Sure, we all sit at our desks and write as solitary beings. But to bring that work to the world requires the help of critique friends, editors, agents, production staff, sales staff, etc. It may feel like a lone wolf profession, but even self-publishing authors should seek the help and support of all those people in order to produce the best work possible.

Delayed gratification is a hallmark of both a successful marriage and a successful writing life. Or, as the Rolling Stones sing, “You can’t always get what you want.” You know what I’m talking about. There’s rejection, over and over again. Even when your work is acquired, there are often years of work still ahead before it hits the shelves. Marriage works the same way. It’s not a finished product, ever.  It’s always in a state of revision or work in progress. You don’t just get married and have the white picket fence dream at once. Sometimes you live in your parents’ basement until you can afford a house. Or sometimes you put off having children until you are done with graduate school. Or sometimes you never get the “dream house” you have always wanted. Sometimes you drive a broken down car instead of a new one in order to send your kids to college. Life is full of delayed gratification in order to achieve a goal or a dream. I wish more writers understood this. New writers, myself included all those many years ago, are so eager and anxious to get published that they send work out that isn't even near ready for publication. Delay that gratification and work on the writing. The rewards are great in the end.

In marriage, as in writing, it is totally acceptable to celebrate every small step toward success. Our first anniversary, we celebrated enormously. One whole year. Wow! The first time I got paid to write, I was so happy. Yes, celebrate each milestone, knowing that many more will come your way if you keep working hard, putting in the time and energy, focusing on growth and renewal, and waiting for the right time to move ahead. 

by Neysa CM Jensen
(in Boise, Idaho)

1 comment:

Scott said...

Great analogy, and one I've never seen before. Thanks for another great post!