Don’t Kill Your Darlings: Writing in a Relationship

Image by Calvin YC via Flickr Commons
Image by Calvin YC via Flickr Commons

When I was single, writing was easy. I kept my own schedule and I wrote when I wanted. My room was my own: I had a desk in the corner, though I preferred writing in bed, and I would have writing binges deep into the small hours or across big swaths of time at the weekend.

But then I met someone. Tall guy, lovely eyes, big beaming smile. I wanted to spend all my time with him. I went out with him, I stayed in with him, and suddenly all of that alone time I’d been used to before became a much more precious commodity. When I did have it, I was usually exhausted, and wanted to spend it conked out in bed watching Gilmore Girls. (Great dialogue; don’t judge). Getting time at the keyboard became harder and harder, and I noticed my writing starting to suffer.

I tried to handle this by saying no to things – no, I don’t want to go for a walk in the park. No, I don’t want to hear that band play at the warehouse party. No, I don’t want to come for a curry on Brick Lane. But I wasn’t very good at it. When I said no to things, it just made us both disappointed. And unhappy. And that’s no way to live life in your early twenties, so I went back to saying yes again. I was happier, but no more productive. I kept telling myself I’d do something about it, but I never did.

And then I moved in with him. And all of a sudden, everything was different. He was there all the time. My room was not my own any more: I couldn’t stay up until 4 in the morning writing a script, and there was always someone in the house with me: someone I always wanted to spend time with. Love does terrible things to your self-control. Writing became the ultimate antisocial activity, and I lost all my momentum: I stalled completely. I had a full-time job and a full-time grown-up relationship, and my writing was slipping away from me.

As Simon Stephens said, if you want to be a writer, you have to actually… you know, write sometimes. I can’t put my finger on what made me get my arse in gear and pull myself out of the slump, but I realised that the shape of my life had changed – and that if I wanted to stay a writer, my writing would have to find a way to change too.

I committed to taking writing seriously again, and I tried to write every day, because I read somewhere that you should. This sounded like a lot of work, but it turned out it was a lot like jumping into a cold pool: terrifying before you do it, but fine once you’re swimming lengths. The trouble, I found, when I looked through my diary, was finding the time to put those hours in at all.

I decided to use the thing that had almost killed my writing to try and revive it: my schedule. Back as a shift-working MA student singleton, my diary moved in fits and starts, and I was free to binge at the keyboard freely and randomly. But that’s no longer true. I have a schedule and so does my boyfriend, and so I had to find a way to create sacrosanct writing time that fitted around both of them.

I decided to target the mornings. My boyfriend is a musician, and works sporadic hours, but he’s often out late on a gig and sleeps later than I do. I started waking up earlier to grab some time in the next room while he’s still sleeping, quietly eating breakfast and whispering my dialogue out loud for an hour or so every morning before I head off to work. I try and block out at least one evening a week, too, and I mark this out in my calendar as far in advance as I can so that he and I both have fair warning.

Scheduling around one another works well, but sometimes you just have to leave your other half alone to spend time with your writing – it’s your life’s other full time relationship. And I know this kind of thing can cause rifts.

As a musician, my other half is a creative type himself, so he understands how this works, even if his process is completely different – louder, for a start, and much more sociable. But the fact that he knows what it’s like to write something, to shut yourself away and try and conjure something from nothing, is a big help in empathising. And that empathy is what I’m most grateful for. If the person you love doesn’t understand or won’t support your writing, then that’s a serious problem no amount of scheduling will overcome.

The reality is that it will probably feel much worse for you abandoning your other half of an evening than it will for them – you’re the one making Sophie’s Choice between them and the page, and they’re the one who gets to watch telly while you work. But you have to be brutal about your writing, otherwise it will never happen. Brutal to yourself, and sometimes to your partner. Your life is going to go through many shifts in shape and size over the years, and you have to help your writing through them – even if it means spending a little less time with a person you love.

2 thoughts on “Don’t Kill Your Darlings: Writing in a Relationship”

  1. Echoing difficulties in article and sentiment from Shaun. As a husband, father, father-in-law, and grandfather, the universe seems to have a regular stream of antagonism aimed in my direction. However, without being able to write, I’d be functionally useless. Again quofing Shaun,”There are no easy answers.”

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