Ask Amy: Author’s partner needs help on book idea rollercoaster

Dear Amy: My beloved partner “B” was a successful author and received much satisfaction (and public acclaim) from it.

During a hiatus, B took a job to make ends meet and has been doing the 9-to-5 slog ever since.

Every few months, B gets an idea for a new book. B has an agent and the connections to make it public.

B will be SUPER excited about the idea and talk about it for days. I think about how I can help, offer perspectives and praise: And then it fizzles out and we are both sad.

B struggles with a job to pay the bills, pursues hobbies and friendships—and takes care of our household wonderfully.

I wish I could find a way to get all that enthusiasm to act instead of watching my partner hesitate at the idea stage. I know B would be deeply proud to complete a new project. I hate to see them feeling so bad about not being able to progress.

How can I help? And if that doesn’t work, how do I avoid getting sucked into “B’s” enthusiasm and disappointment?

– Happy to help

Dear Happy: Nothing crushes a writer like the pressure of success, especially when that success is followed by a lull (and they all are).

The pressure to be both creative, critical and commercially successful can be exhausting. Because of this, some successful writers give up everything and become garlic growers.

I shared your question with my friend, the writer Anne Lamott, author of many books, including an important book on writing that has brought home many stuck writers, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life (ed 25th Anniversary, 2019, Anchor Books).

Anne replies, “B is lucky to have so many great ideas, but that doesn’t mean they would make good books. I would create a file of plot ideas and see if I was excited about them a month later. If a plot doesn’t leave me alone and the characters are compelling enough to spend a year on, maybe I’m on the hunt for something!

An agent won’t look at it until there’s a solid second draft, so you – the “lucky” partner – can practice releasing B to work yourself.

The “help” isn’t helpful – the hyper-excitement and support turns the project at frappe speed, instead of the daily elbow grease that all writers need to get a few pages written every day.

The rage and desperation are in place of the writing. Shout your “help” far back: Express silent support for new ideas, but no more than that. Maybe B will pull through, maybe not.”

Here is the distilled advice Anne Lamott gives to herself (I have it on a post-it on my desk): “I tell myself to write ‘bird by bird’; a really s***y first draft; to keep my butt in the chair; then go through and take out the lies, adverbs, and boring bits.”

Dear Amy, I just found out that a family member is writing a memoir. Yesterday she said to me, “You’re in a couple of times.”

Now that a day has passed I wonder what she wrote about me.

Don’t I have any rights here?

– Concerned

Dear Concerned: I have written two memoirs. In both cases, I shared excerpts with family members who named them and invited them to comment. I did this because I cared more about relationships than digging up family history.

There have also been cases where I named people but didn’t invite them to comment because I didn’t care about the impact my writing would have on the relationship.

You have the right to ask your family member to see sections that concern you. If she refuses or later you don’t like what you read, you have the right to tell her and keep your distance. If the material is defamatory, you have the right to see them in court.

Dear Amy: I support your response to Moving On.

My husband reluctantly visited his absent father on his father’s deathbed.

He was given some information and history that helped him understand everything that had happened around the time of his conception.

He’s still not a fan, but he’s got some peace of mind.

– Went on

Dear Move On: Your husband’s experience underscores something I learned long ago: When it comes to complex and painful family histories, a complete resolution is rarely in sight, but getting there a little is a goal that it is is worth achieving.

You can email Amy Dickinson at askamy@amydickinson.com or send a letter to Ask Amy, PO Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068.

Leave a Comment