Pursued By A Bear: “My partner hates it when I write”

Pursued By A Bear is our weekly advice column with playwright Adam Taylor.  He’ll tackle your playwriting questions – from practical issues to existential dilemmas – relying on nothing but his bare wits, brute strength, and questionable personal experiences.

“I’m purposefully not saying what gender I am, because I don’t want this to be about that. Thanks for understanding. I feel like my partner really hates it when I write. They don’t say this directly, but they find excuses to interrupt me. They ask stupid questions or start talking to me. Or schedule things during time I’ve booked to write. Maybe this is because of issues with one of their parents, who actually was quite a successful writer and wasn’t around a lot. I’m not like that, it’s mostly for fun, but it’s still important to me. I don’t want to hurt my partner, who is great in every other way. How do I get them to be more supportive of my desire to write?”

I feel for you. It can be really difficult to find time to write these days, modern life is just so busy. We spend most of our time at work, then we have to do the chores, wash, watch Judge Judy, spend a few hours arguing about Taylor Swift with strangers on Youtube comment boards, and sleep.

When we do have that precious little bit of spare time to do what we want, it’s understandable that our friends, family and partners want to spend time with us. After all, their lives are likely just as busy as ours.

It can easily feel like the world (or just your partner) is against you when there’s never any time to write. I often think my friends and family are trying to sabotage my creative efforts because whenever I put time aside to do something creative I seem to get a phone call or someone pops round or the football’s on or it’s someone’s birthday or a wedding or someone’s in the hospital or the car breaks down or whatever.

In reality we should count ourselves lucky, there are plenty of lonely people in the world who would love someone to disturb their silence and drag them out of the house. The fact someone wants to spend time with you is a blessing, even if it sometimes feels like a bit of a pain, or at least a disruption.

And don’t forget, having a writing career and having a life are not mutually exclusive. Life informs art, so a bit of social activity from time to time is actually essential – it sparks ideas and gives you more to write about. Here’s where I shamelessly plug this previous post about balancing writing with life.

That said, when you have lofty artistic goals you do need time, and often silence, to work. I wonder if anyone’s ever done a study to determine what percentage of artists, writers and performers were single when they first became successful? It would definitely make for interesting reading.

I know in my case I had a lot more free time before I got married. I don’t even know how it happened, it’s like my wedding ring sucked me into an alternate dimension where the days are half as long but there’s twice as much to do.

Obviously I’m joking (not really but my wife might be reading).

What’s my solution to this?

I don’t really have one at the moment. All I can manage is snatching odd moments when no one’s around. She’ll go to visit her mum or to the shops or out with friends at the weekend, and I’ll get a few hours’ work in. Sometimes I’ll sneak off while she’s making dinner and do a cheeky half an hour, but I have to make up for this by washing the dishes at least.

This is making my wife seem like a bit of a tyrant, which she totally isn’t. She just likes to spend time with me, and I feel the same way. But I also like to spend time writing and making music, and they’re pretty solitary pursuits.

There’s no easy way around this issue. If you feel your partner is genuinely trying to stop you from writing I’d say you need to discuss this with them. Frustrations can easily build up until you find the relationship has become too much work, and it doesn’t seem like you’re unhappy with him/her so I’m guessing you want to avoid that.

Your partner’s frequent interruptions might be annoying to you, but try to consider the situation from their side as well; they have limited time to spend with you, maybe they’re out all day at a job they hate, and when they finally get home all excited to see you, you’d prefer to sit in silence in front of a computer.

Have the conversation. Try to find out why your writing might be an issue. It’s not a one-way street, relationships require compromise. If you want to spend time alone writing make sure you allow some time to do something together to make up for that. Also, make sure your partner understands when you want a bit of quiet time and why. Explain what you’re working on, get him/her invested in your story. If you can get them hooked into the plot they’ll want to know how it ends and even see it up on stage.

Pitch the play to your significant other. If nothing else this will be great practice for when you need to do it professionally. Get them on board with what you’re doing, discuss plot points and character development. Be careful not to overdo this though, always show an interest in what they’re doing as well. No one likes a broken record.

Explain how important the writing is to you. Make this very clear, and be honest. You said in your question you write mostly for fun. That’s absolutely fine but if you’re describing it that way to your partner they might be thinking it’s not that serious so you won’t mind being interrupted. Let your partner know that although you’re not aiming to be the next Tennessee Williams, you do value your writing as a creative outlet or therapy session or just a way to unwind.

My only other suggestion would be to encourage your partner to find a hobby. This could be anything, from learning a language to indoor skydiving. Whatever it is, they’ll have something to do once or twice a week which gets them out of your hair. You’ll also have more to talk about when you are together. And sometimes they’ll want to get away from you to do their thing which will balance out the times when the shoe’s on the other foot.

It sounds as though there could also be some insecurity on your partner’s part resulting from a writing parent. It’s sad if your partner’s harbouring some resentment towards a distant parent, but it’s unfair of them to reflect that onto you. I’m not a psychologist but my instinct would be to reassure your partner about your ambitions. Talk to them about your work and get them involved where you can. They need to know the writing isn’t more important to you than they are.

Unfortunately there’s no easy way around this, all of us have different ambitions and desires, we enjoy different things and we all have our own expectations. It can be difficult to balance writing, whether doing it professionally or as a hobby, with our personal lives. I think it comes down to compromise and balance. You have to be willing to give and take.

Always be considerate of your partner and make sure they understand you expect the same in return.

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Photo credit: Tambako the Jaguar via CC license

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