Last year, at about this time, Dinty W. Moore became The Right Reverend Moore so that he could marry me to my then-fiancé, now husband, Dominik. In the living room of his house, surrounded by friends, family, fellow graduate students, and faculty, The Right Rev gave us some good advice. Marriage is like writing: you need to show up at your writing desk and at your marriage desk. Marriage is not like writing: writing needs to be attacked, relentlessly, while people need to be handled tenderly, coddled a bit. Show up, be tender.” He then pronounced us husband and wife and everyone dug into the pot luck supper and cupcakes.
He wrote about it here, in Bending Genre, a few weeks later in the essay “Dearly Beloved.” And because everything—marriage, writing, life—moves in circles, here we are again.
Dominik and I are about a month away from our first anniversary, so when I tell you that now I’m going to reverse the thing— to talk about how writing is, and isn’t, like marriage—you’re going to be tempted to roll your eyes and think to yourself Get back to me in seven, fifteen, thirty years. But one has to start somewhere.
A lot of being married is about cleaning the bathroom and paying the light bill. There are date nights occasionally, but there are dishes in the sink every day. Writing is like this. There are big-deal moments—a piece published, an agent acquired, a book contract—but mostly there are pages to fill, filled pages to revise, revised pages to revise again. There are submissions to manage, rejection letters to mourn and then move past, and a pile of literary journals by the bed to read. It’s all about the day to day.
Marriage demands that you don’t let yourself get sidetracked by appealing alternatives. Writing isn’t like this at all. The best work often comes from letting the process guide you to unexpected places.
Much of being married happens in pajamas. This is true of writing, too.
Being married means that there is someone else around to take bugs outside (Dominik), keep the car running (me), vacuum the floors (Dominik), remember family birthdays (me). Writing isn’t like that at all. Even if you’re working with an editor, ultimately all the bug wrangling, oil changing, vacuuming, and birthday remembering of it fall to you.
Don’t try to fix your spouse. Do fix your work. Keep fixing it until it’s exactly the way you want it to be, and then fix it one more time.
There are bookshelves and bookshelves filled with advice on how to have a happy marriage. There are almost as many filled with advice about how to be a successful writer. Very little of it, this essay included, is actually useful. You have to find your own way. There is no single path.
When you tell people you’re getting married, they will tell you how exciting that is while still harboring a fair amount of unspoken skepticism. The same is true when you tell people you’re writing a book, except they are a lot more likely to voice the skepticism.
Everybody else’s marriage looks better on Facebook. So does everybody else’s writing career. Remember that.