This post is a twofer–I’m going to give you some advice about writing and about love.
Good books make you question yourself and your beliefs, and the process of writing them forces you to do the same. Every good book poses at least one main question about life (but indirectly, please, don’t spoil it by spelling it out) and then attempts to answer it, even if the answer is, “I dunno, what do you think?”
Often in science-fiction the question starts with, “What would it be like if…” In fantasy it could be, “What if _____ really existed?” But if it’s any good, it will go a little deeper than that. Even in romantic fiction, where the primary speculation is whether or not two people will get together, there should be a secondary question of, “If they do, is that a good thing?”
It is so disappointing to read a romance where the couple obviously does not belong together, for whatever reason: he’s awful, she’s awful, or they’re both great but have too much or too little in common. But it can be difficult, as a writer, to create compatible couples who seem destined for each other and no one else in the universe. We ask so much of our romances.
First, you have to make them both likeable: one reason commonly cited for not liking Gone with the Wind is that the reader/watcher could not stand Scarlett O’Hara and her childish ways. And you have to make them like each other, for reasons that go beyond their having a meet-cute and occupying the same space for five minutes together once or twice.
Writing a good, solid couple, can be as difficult as finding such a couple in real life. You find yourself analyzing all the good relationships around you and asking yourself what makes them work. And it doesn’t help that two people can seem perfect together and still not make it.
I was fortunate enough to have such a disappointment once. We had a wonderful romance, built upon a strong foundation of compatibility in beliefs and character, and almost everyone identified us as two people who absolutely belonged together, a real power couple. I was crazy about him, and he seemed crazy about me, told me pretty things about how much better his life was with me in it. All was perfect.
One day, he came over to my apartment and ended it. Gently, sweetly, patiently told me that it just wasn’t quite right somehow, that he never felt the “fireworks.”
I was blindsided.
Fireworks?? He wanted fireworks?! With all that we had together, it wasn’t enough. Did he need God Himself to come down with a banner that read “THIS ONE WILL DO, IDIOT”?
(Apparently he did.)
Some people need that in order to know they have a good thing, but time and a great marriage have taught me that explosions and signs, while fun, are unnecessary. Not to mention unhelpful; goodness knows I’ve been distracted by them a time or two.
No, I have more than enough going for me when I have a good, loyal, kind partner who makes me laugh. Who needs fireworks when you have a cozy blaze going in the fireplace and a tall stack of wood to feed it with. As Austen wrote in “Pride & Prejudice”–one of the world’s favorite romantic stories–when Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy finally got together, “[she] rather knew that she was happy, than felt herself to be so.”
Such is the love, as I see it: quiet, unassuming, steady. You may quarrel. You may need time to yourself. You might stare adoringly at them for hours one day and the next day lose your mind about the way they fold or chew. But it will still be there. Without fanfare or ostentation.
I sometimes have to remind myself that this applies to other loves, too. I could have been–and may still be–many things: a teacher, a therapist, a social worker, a scientist. I love all those. And I do love to write–enough to choose it for a career over the dozens of other possibilities, to marry it, if you will–but there are days I will do anything to avoid pen and paper (or computer).
I think in part that’s because there’s a tendency to romanticize some careers and, in turn, demand too much of them, just as we sometimes ask too much of romance. We think that, to be real Writers-with-a-capital-W, we must eat, sleep, and breathe writing. There must be nothing else in the world for us. If we must go a moment without it, we should lose our minds in the agony of separation.
And, most importantly, there had to be a kaboom-ah-ha moment where we fell in love with writing and knew it was the one and only career for us.
I’m learning to accept that I’m not that kind of writer any more than I am that kind of wife. And to ask myself to be anything more will only make me despise writing and spurn it, much as I was dismissed for not having created an elusive spark for my ex.
Writers, don’t ask so much of writing. Don’t ask it to be your all. Let it be as much of your life as it wants to be. It is only the idea that we are lacking something that makes us unhappy–the idea that it should be another way. I tell my husband that it’s not that he doesn’t like sweet tea, it’s that he expects it to taste like unsweet. Sweet tea is a completely different animal and is perfectly enjoyable if you accept it for what it is.
The same goes for our careers and hobbies. Few of us will have that obsessive kind of love for what we do, and those who do often wind up taking it too far and making a bad end because they have nothing else going for them–rather like Romeo & Juliet -esque couples.
So if you’re making yourself feel like you and writing don’t belong together because you don’t have a 24/7 fever, the cure for which is more writing, then stop that foolishness.
And that goes for me, too.