Dear Amy: My darling partner, “B,” was a best-selling author and received a lot of appreciation (and public acclaim) from it.
During a lull, B took a job to make ends meet and has been doing the 9-to-5 job ever since.
Every few months, B will have an idea for a new book. B has an agent and the connections to get it published.
B will be SUPER excited about the idea, talk about it for days. I start thinking about how I can help, offering perspective and praise: And then it fizzles and we’re both sad.
B works hard to pay the bills, pursues hobbies and friendships – and takes great care of our home.
I wish I could find a way to help shift all that excitement into action, instead of watching my partner stagnate at the idea stage. I know that B would be deeply proud to carry out a new project. I hate to see them feel so bad about the inability to progress.
How can I help? And failing that, how do you avoid being sucked into the enthusiasm and disappointment of the “B”s?
– Happy to help
Dear Happy: Nothing crushes a writer like the pressure of success, especially when that success is followed by a lull (and they all are).
The pressure to both create and succeed critically and commercially can be exhausting. This is why some successful writers drop everything and become garlic farmers.
I shared your question with my friend the writer Anne Lamott, author of many books, including an important book on writing, which has guided many writers stuck at home: “Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life (25th anniversary edition, 2019, anchor books).
Anne responds, “B is lucky to have so many good ideas, but that doesn’t mean they would make good books. I would create a folder of plot ideas and see if they excited me a month later. If a plot isn’t leaving me alone and the characters are compelling enough to spend a year with, I might be onto something!
An agent won’t watch it until there’s a solid second draft, so you – the “happy” partner – can practice releasing B for the job itself.
“Help” isn’t helpful – hyper-excitement and support turn the project into typing speed, instead of the daily elbow grease all writers need to write a few pages every day.
Frenzy and despair take the place of writing. Dial your “help” back: Express silent support for new ideas, but no more than that. Maybe B goes all the way, maybe not.
Here is the distilled advice that Anne Lamott gives herself (I have it on a post-it on my desk): “I tell myself to write ‘bird by bird’; a really shitty first draft; keep my butt in the chair; then go through and remove the lies, adverbs and boring parts.
Dear Amy: I just learned that a family member is writing memoirs. Yesterday, she said to me: “You’ve been in it several times.
Now that a day has passed, I wonder what she wrote about me.
Don’t I have rights here?
Dear Worried: I wrote two memoirs. In both cases, I shared excerpts with family members where they were named, inviting them to weigh in. I did it because relationships were more important to me than digging up family history.
There were also instances where I named people but didn’t invite them in because I didn’t care how my writing would impact the relationship.
You have the right to ask your family member to see the sections relevant to you. If she refuses, or if you don’t like what you read later, you have the right to tell her and keep your distance. If the material is defamatory, you have the right to see it in court.
Dear Amy: I support your response to “Moving On”.
My husband reluctantly visited his absent father on his father’s deathbed.
He got information and background that helped him understand everything that happened at the time of his conception.
He’s still not a fan, but he’s found some inner peace.
Dear Moved On: Your husband’s experience underscores something I learned long ago: when it comes to complex and painful family histories, total resolution is rarely in the cards, but getting there is a goal worth achieving.
You can email Amy Dickinson at [email protected] or send a letter to Ask Amy, PO Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068.