Writing is a relationship, so treat it like one

This post appeared on the RWA NYC blog on January 23, 2013.

I’m currently in a long-distance relationship. It’s not an ideal situation, but given the many technologies available to us in this day and age, it’s much easier than it would have been in the past. There’s no waiting for weeks on end for letters to travel by ship: the magic of email allows us to write each other all the time. In fact, I recently realized that I had probably already written a novel’s worth of emails to my beau, and that’s when something struck me.

Writing is a relationship.

Just as you need to check in with your loved ones, update them on your latest exploits, and ask questions that give you an insight into their mindsets, you need to dedicate time and commitment to your writing. Eventually, it will become a simple part of your day, like checking in with your husband or your child, instead of an intimidating (and thus easy to put off) task looming ahead of you.

Here are three ways to put your relationship with your writing into perspective using the rubric of flesh and blood relationships:

1.) Relationships require constant attention. No, not the Fatal Attraction type of attention. There’s no need to boil bunnies quite yet, but you must put forth a certain amount of energy in order to maintain both a relationship and a writing career. Most people would not be okay with their significant others checking in only once a week because they were “just too busy.” Consider your relationship with your writing in the same light. Try to work on things a few times a week and consider the work you’re doing as investment in an important aspect of your life.

2.) Sometimes you are just too busy. Most writers aren’t getting paid to do what they love full time. There is the day job, as well as the significant other, the children, the friends, and the family members—a long line of commitment comes before writing. But when you are too busy to have a lengthy conversation or a long, leisurely brunch with someone you care about, you still try to maintain the connection by making a quick phone call or typing out a short email. Do the same with your writing. You may not always have time to pound out 2,500 words, but you can outline a paragraph while the coffee is brewing. You can brainstorm how the hero and heroine will overcome their first obstacle while in the shower (or otherwise indisposed). Taking a few minutes every day to actively check in with your writing project, even if only mentally, will help you maintain a vital connection to the story.

3.) There will always be rocky times, but you will make it through. In just about any relationship, be it with your boss, your significant other, or a family member, there will come a point when you are so frustrated that you think the easiest thing to do would be to throw in the towel. But in reality, and in a healthy relationship, you give yourself a little breathing room and then try to work through whatever problems you have. Hiding from the problems won’t help; they’ll still be there lurking beneath the surface. The same is true for the writing process. When you hit a wall or get frustrated, instead of shoving your project under the bed, or into a hidden folder in your documents file, take a bit of time to cool down, and then try to come at the situation from a different angle. Sometimes you’ll have to compromise on a story idea, or things won’t work out how you expected them to, but that doesn’t change the fact that writing is often a gratifying and transformative experience.

As we kick off 2013, take some time to reflect on your relationship with writing. Are you giving your work the attention it deserves? Are you sticking with it through the good times and the bad?

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