Discussion → What is the role of the spouse in writing?

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    Ann Bogle
    Mar 22, 03:30pm

    Steve Stark and I were discussing this topic, and he suggested I pose it at a group. What is the role of the spouse in writing? What is the ideal? What is the role of former and would-be former spouses? What if there is no spouse; what are roles of friends and lovers? Does s/he -- do they -- edit, proof, read drafts, suggest, make cuts, spy, listen, serve: as cook, housekeeper, caregiver, supporter, financier, ambassador, agent, textual liaison? Other?

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    Edward Mullany
    Mar 22, 10:54pm

    Great questions, Ann. My guess is that there are almost as many answers to these questions as there are writers to answer them, although maybe there would only be endless variations of the same answers.

    I think the role of the spouse in a writer's life is often probably dictated by the eccentricities of the writer, though this assumes the writer is the more eccentric of the two, or that his or her eccentricities take priority over those of the spouse.

    If there isn't a spouse, I imagine there is someone or something else to whom the writer vents.

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    Ann Bogle
    Mar 23, 12:31pm

    Spy. I lived with three men. The second was a spy. That was in 1989. I worked second shift at a newspaper, and he worked first shift at a publishing house. In the evening he read my diaries, stashed in a regular-sized banker's box under the bed. When I got home from work, he sometimes read something he had just written based on what he'd gotten from under the bed or our dialogue. Then we'd argue about his source or his attitude or his thinking that there was "no such thing as ethics in fiction." He was a poet, a protégé but not a fiancé. He was four years my junior. He said, "I have the best body you've ever seen" and tried to show me a shoebox full of nude and other photos of his girlfriends. He was incredulous when I refused to view them without the women's permission.

    A few years ago, he came to me in a dream. He was with Ellen Dayan, not his wife. In the dream, I was resting on top of a rent-a-wreck, waiting for MJK or BAmo to come out of the house. The young buck, as I called him, kicked one of the tires and it fell off the car and jolted my reclining posture. He had a pointy fingernail. The pointy fingernail meant in Mormon terms (he was a convert) that he was rich from his work as a home redecorating contractor.

    My mother doesn't steal or spy. She is a master gardener. I have her permission to photograph her garden. She is a genius of privacy. I lived with her for twelve years. She cooked, we both cleaned. She cooked, partly because I had once served her enchiladas made from a bad onion.

    To read the other's work is the most useful practice; to listen to it read aloud is another; to spot and line edit if that's welcome; to attend each other's readings.

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    Robert Swartwood
    Mar 25, 01:54am

    Like Edward said, there are endless variations for different writers. I know writers whose spouses don't care at all about their writing, which is hard to imagine but true. I'm lucky that my wife not only reads my stuff, but she wants to read it. And she's a very hard critic, never hesitating to tell me when someone doesn't work or just sucks. And that, I think, is the best role a spouse should play in writing.

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    Stephen Stark
    Mar 30, 12:44pm

    One of the things that's curious to me, after two failed marriages, is how strange it must be to be married to a person who spends an uncommon amount of time playing with his imaginary friends. That is if you are a person who left his/her imaginary friends behind in childhood, or never had any. I have had more than one woman say to me that my work was like another woman, except she lives with me—and said woman.

    Historically, I'd be willing to bet that there were plenty of women who cared deeply about their husbands' work and made it better and either got no credit for their input, left their own work behind because that's the way things were done.

    Mrs. Tolstoy was apparently of many minds about Leo's work.

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    David Erlewine
    Mar 30, 01:06pm

    I've never dated another writer. My wife is a social worker and tolerates my writing. She rarely likes or gets what I write. She doesn't hate it...just doesn't get it. I usually write on the train to/from work and/or after she and my kids go to bed. I'm not sure what it would be like to have her as a critic of my writing. The idea of her criticizing/editing my writing is too much. She already gets on me about the coffee creamer and the lawn, etc. I guess I'm glad she doesn't get involved my writing. Tone is often hard to gauge so I'll lamely add I mean this fairly tongue in cheek. I don't know how hubbies and wives work together at the office and then come home and have a happy marriage. I can't ever imagine spending so much time with anyone.

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    Darryl Price
    Apr 03, 08:22am

    This is so tough a position for anyone to be in. I think even under the best of circumstance--good marriage--it puts a strain on things because the writer is a solitary creator creature. Yes there are certainly unseen minute collaborations with your partner happening at all times--for both good and bad--but for the most part this is an undertaking that requires personal courage and conviction regardless of one's love circumstances. It is in fact like having another lover in the room the bed the house the car or on vacation with you because the writer's heart and mind are always picking up descriptions of every kind--at the bar in the hotel in the clouds, whatever. You cannot help it. You notice the living words crossing your path and you do your best to remember them. Your partner cannot help you do this or do it for you. The only thing they can do is be there. That takes a lot of acceptance and patience and goodwill and love. I'm sure there are days when that just simply isn't forthcoming for whatever reasons.

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    Finnegan Flawnt
    Apr 05, 08:09am

    ms flawnt is an ex-editor turned painter and a reading addict whose favorite authors are thomas pynchon and henry james and whose father was a writer and journalist. this means i'm both lucky and unlucky. lucky because she appreciates the written word no end without being competitive and my long-winding sentences in particular. unlucky because i can't really run anything by her - my inner kid writer secretly calls her "the destroyer".

    however, her generally generous and supportive attitude sustains me and my writing. together, a painter and a writer caught in the sometimes alien bodies of two hard-working grown-up city-dwelling parents, we hatch escape plans: our current plan will transport us, magically, to the south of france within five years. the funny thing is: whenever we made such plans in the past, we followed up on them. so: a bientot, mes amis.

    being married to another creative and also having a creative kid is a wonderful bonus to a relationship that has its ups and its downs like the bumpy road down to the cemetery where joe and joan are buried side by side holding hands, but that overall, is one of the world's miracles happening daily, here, now.

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    Kane X. Faucher
    Apr 22, 08:54am

    Support. My wife may not always understand whatever boiling stew my brain conjures, nor be able to keep up with my production, but she is there to offer me any emotional support I need whether I'm writing or not. I think expecting one's partner to function as editor, reader, and what-not can put a strain on things, especially if your spouse has their own career to attend to.

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    Julie Innis
    Apr 29, 08:23am

    Fascinating thread. I'm curious about marriages like TS Eliot's to Vivian, FS and Zelda, Plath and Hughes, the Woolfs - if not for their marriages, would what they wrote have been written? JJoyce and Nora are another interesting combination. I don't know much about Carver's relationship with Tess Gallagher, though it often seems like the real marriage was to Lish and that Gallagher was a sort of Yoko Ono. Just throwing out ideas here. It probably says more about me than I care to reveal, but I've always been skeptical of the two-writers-living-in-perfect-harmony model. Also 'curious' (she said, tongue in cheekily) are the older male-writer mentoring to young female apprentice writer marriages/partnerships - are there examples in reverse?

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    Edward Mullany
    Apr 30, 01:32pm

    I like the romantic element of Julie’s question - "if not for their marriages, would what they wrote have been written?" - or at least interpreting the question romantically. Who could Fitzgerald, for instance, have possibly married besides Zelda? Someone else, of course, but it's as difficult to imagine him marrying someone else as it is to imagine him writing something other than he wrote.

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