Wednesday, August 10, 2011

What They Don't Tell You About Writers Before You Marry Them

by Bethany Maines

So first things first… Ladies, take your calcium and do more weight bearing exercises! Osteoperosis is not a joke – a fact that I’m sure my mother-in-law will attest to considering that my husband and I spent most of last weekend in the hospital with her and her fractured pelvis. She slipped and fell while taking a walk on a beach with a friend – yes, the rocks were slick, but stronger bones would have helped.  More preventative care for the rest of you please!

And now to the part about writing… a dirty little secret of writing, in fact. I also made great progress on my manuscript weekend.  I whipped through chapter 4 and straight into chapter 7.  We’re in Act 3 folks and that’s a good thing, as The Martha would say.

The hospital was about an hour away and there were several “breaks” where my husband and I were sitting in the waiting room twiddling our thumbs.  Only, I didn’t twiddle my thumbs – I drug out my laptop and worked on my manuscript. And this isn’t the first hospitalization that helped increase my writing quota. Waiting on someone else’s baby is the best – they’re good news, they take forever, and peripheral family members usually bring food.  But it occurred to me, as I hammered out a few paragraphs during a nurse visit, that there is something slightly… inappropriate about the way I’ve capitalized on other people’s hospital visits. Something slightly callous, carnivorous, and more than slightly selfish. 

I’ve known for quite some time that writer’s are an exploitive lot.  My brother put down my first book, looked at me in exasperation and said, “Damn it, now no one’s ever going to believe that I came up with that line.”  Two days later he called me up...  “You said you using my story about Bangkok, but I didn’t think you were, you know, using the whole thing.” But somehow in my head, putting to print the story about my friend having to climb underwearless up an elevator shaft (“It was a long skirt! Who knew I’d be stuck in an elevator with my boss and company’s VP?”) while possibly a friendship infraction is sort of… well, it’s what you get for telling a writer that story.

I also tune people out during boring conversations. I’m sure they’re saying something vastly important about TPS reports or whatever, but I’ll never know because I just came up with a great way to kill someone off.  And once I named a really despicable little character after an English teacher who told me I wasn’t very creative.  “I will eviscerate you in fiction,” are not just pretty words for a writer (thank you Paul Bettany/Chaucer in A Knight’s Tale).

And I can’t say I feel guilty about any of that. But as I sat in the waiting room I wondered if writing during tragedy might actually be bad.  My mother-in-law will recover (after 3-4 months bed rest, loads of pain medication, and physical therapy), and at the time I was writing I knew she was in capable hands, but shouldn’t I have been worrying more?  Shouldn’t I be pacing the halls like they show in the movies?  Is it bad that I hear “hospital visit” and I reach for my laptop bag?


  1. Bethany, you crack me up. I would do the same thing (and have! Although I bring a paper notebook and a pen instead of a laptop). My hubby's learned that when I'm on deadline, it means I keep crazy hours, talk to myself a lot, and wander around the house in my pajamas from dawn to dusk. Writer's spouses/partners must be easygoing and unflappable. I think that's in the rule book. Hope your mom-in-law is repairing quickly!

  2. I usually take a book (Kindle) along with me for hospital waiting. But what my poor husband leaned is having to schlep my luggage around when we go to mystery cons, hang out with my writer friends, tote and put up tents and tables and chairs at book festivals. After and exciting life of being a U.S. Navy Seabee for 20 years including the Vietnam War, I bet he never thought he'd be doing what he's doing know.

  3. Bethany, I got the idea for my third book while having treatment and then discussing it at length with a friend on the way home on the train (in a snowstorm). People always wanted to sit with me while I was being treated but I finally got the courage to say, "Don't come! It's the only time I get to be alone and THINK!" So, I did some of my best plotting in the chemo area at NYU and I don't begrudge you one bit your writing in the hospital. We're writers...we have to be a little mercenary when it comes to where we write, what we use and how we use it. Great post, as usual! Maggie

  4. Having sat through many a day with my ailing father, i wish I had something to do with that kind of nervous energy that I had. There was nothing I could do, but wait. I wish i had had my kindle or a laptop to utilize that energy. Hope your Mother-in-law does well. A broken pelvis is a long, difficult process.

  5. Yes... we're not looking forward to the coming months of rehab. Thanks for the well-wishes Lil!

    And I don't know about your husband Marilyn, but mine always looks somewhat mystified as to how he got here. Amused also, but still mystified. ;)

    And thanks for not thinking I'm too far out there. I think Maggie's right - we've got to be a little mercenary to get the story out.