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  • Mary Bergida DeLuca

Your Writing Relationship

Our writing needs nurturing and investment.

It needs us to speak its love language.

“What are you thinking about?” asked Luciano, while we sipped glasses of champagne at a chic French bar. We’d just spent the last few hour giggling our way through a Broadway Musical reproduction filled with love triangles, squares, and circles with a main course of murder. Naturally.

It took me a moment to realize Luciano had asked a question. “Oh, I’m not thinking,” I said. “I’m eavesdropping on the bartender.”

He laughed and remarked on how deceptively innocent I appear. He also wanted to know what the bartender was saying.

“She’s serving relationship advice and it’s actually pretty good.” I shot a directional glance toward the bar top, where two middle aged men were leaning forward in attention.

This bartender-therapist was outlining everything from the seasons of a relationship to understanding and practicing the Five Love Languages. She exuded poise and wisdom. She was marvelous.

As we drove to our hotel, Luciano and I talked about our own primary love languages—including both how we like to give and receive love from each other. It was quite the appropriate chat for an anniversary get-away weekend.

The Love Languages

I hadn’t thought about the love languages for a while, though I’ve definitely seen in past relationships where one boyfriend or another and I kept speaking past each other, as if we expressed our desires in foreign tongues. I’d long for more words of affirmation, while he’d want more of my time.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately, not only about romantic relationships, but more broadly about the way we engage with friends, colleagues, clients, students, family members, and in particular, with our writing. I’m more and more convicted that a healthy writing life mirrors a healthy human relationship.

Our writing needs nurturing and investment. It needs us to speak its love language. So often we think that the only way to love our writing is to give it unbounded time. And that if we were a true lover of writing, a true writer, we would spend every available moment pounding out words. And it would feel like pure bliss.

But our more reasonable selves also know that healthy relationships, of any kind, should and do have boundaries. It’s not always time that makes us feel close to those we love.

For me, a thoughtful text from a friend can mean more than a weekend spent together. Certainly, do give your writing time. (After all, without time, writing is just an idea, an infatuation.) But keep in mind this time doesn’t need to be limitless.

What does your current Writing Project Need?

No one has to think hard to describe what a dysfunctional relationship looks like for them. However, sometime the parameters of a thriving relationship can be more elusive to define. So what do I mean by a “healthy writing relationship”? Do I, God help us, intend to put you through an excruciating point-by-point comparison of “real-life” relationships to that of writing? I’ll spare you.

When I say “a writing relationship,” I’m not speaking so much in general about the practice of writing, but more specifically mean a commitment, an engagement with the ideas and perhaps even characters, of a specific project.

You Were Chosen

Here’s the thing—the ideas that form whatever essay or story you are working on came to you. Perhaps they came through a funny phrase you heard on the bus, while musing on your odd neighbor, eavesdropping on a bartender, or even reflecting on your own life. And then the idea wouldn’t leave you alone, maybe more like the lonely kid on the playground in desperate need of a friend than a Casanova, but still. The story pursued you and said: “Write me. Engage with me.” We always have the option of responding with, “I’m flattered, but no thanks.”

Or we can say, “Okay. Let’s give this a fair shot.”

True, not all relationships work out or some may not even be a good fit, but often a relationship fails because we don't give it the quality time or commitment that might give “us” a chance. Unlike potentially fickle humans, the words we write will most frequently return our faithfulness and investment in kind.

To be fair, I can’t claim this hypothesis that “ideas have a life of their own” and that they go through the world knocking on the metaphysical doors of writer’s minds and hearts, looking for someone to join up with them and give them life on the page. Many creators have espoused this belief.

Big Magic

If I haven’t completely weirded you out so far and you might be open to the idea that stories have some sort of self-existence, I recommend Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, Big Magic. In addition to the concept that stories seek out writers, Gilbert also claims that stories choose to stay with and be faithful to those who tend to them.

I know, this whole concept might sound a little “froufrou” but I find it quite helpful in practice, whether you take it literally or not. After all, even Michael Angelo said that The David already existed in the stone; he was just revealing it.

Living out the Writing Relationship

When I engage writing as if I am the co-partner in revealing a story, I feel a shift in my commitment and engagement. When I see the story (or even essay) as something that already exists and is just in need of an ally, the way I talk about and “talk to” the project itself is transformed. For instance, when I’m frustrated, I say to my characters: “I’m having a tough day figuring you out, but I’m dedicated and I want to keep working with you.”

Sometimes I even say: “Please be patient with me. I can’t seem to write today, but I’m still committed to you.” And other times I just sit there and listen. I notice again and again how this respect bears fruit. When I engage in these practices of commitment, often later that same day I will be inspired with the very idea that will solve a problem or move the story/essay forward.

Your Writing Love Language

For me, loving my writing means offering it my best self — that means jotting down ideas as they come and engaging my writing practice when I am most awake and open to ideas. Certainly, all days aren’t great, but for me the chances of a good day are greatly increased if I write in the mid-morning rather than the afternoon slump or after a filling dinner.

I used to trudge through my to-do list and then reward myself with writing, like a child earning dessert. But the result was personal crankiness by the time I sat down to write. Now, I do realize not everyone can make writing the first priority of their day. However, even with your other commitments, there is a best time for you.

Your optimal writing time might be in the middle of the night when the city sleeps, or when your toddler sleeps, or any spare time you can grasp.

Julia Cameron shares that some of her best writing happens in stolen snatches, as if she were meeting in secret with a forbidden lover, where each brief moment is incredibly precious.

Relationship Inventory

This week consider taking a relationship inventory of your writing. What still thrills you about the project? Are you perhaps feeling hostile, disengaged, bored? Consider sitting down with your writing project (or projects) and ask:

“What do you need? How can I show you that I care? How can I better commit to you?”

You might be surprised by the results. You might realize that a project has moved on or that it’s not hours on end of writing time your story needs. It could just be a daily ritual of telling your project what you love about it and that you’re so glad the writing of it has been entrusted to you. It might be that you need a new writing space or need to do some research to infuse fresh life into your creativity. Perhaps it is gaining new “relationship tools” by finally signing up for that community writing class.

Get Ready

Whatever it is, engaging your writing projects as an individual, unique, relationships can enable your writing to thrive. You can be confident that your project wants honesty and open communication. And it wants you. And after all, aren’t the most satisfying romances those where-in our partner is really in to us too?

And if you discern that it’s time for a new writing relationship, keep your eyes and ears open. Next time you’re at the bar or on the bus or at the park, put away your phone and shamelessly eavesdrop. (Within respectful and reasonable bounds, of course.)

You never know; your next story idea might just be hoping you’re listening and ready.

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