The Writer’s (Devoted) Spouse

I found the Jezebel response to the fantastic Paul Krugman piece in the New Yorker interesting. Basically Irin Carmon asks if the wives of great male writers should get more credit. Krugman’s wife, Robin Wells, a fellow economist, edits Krugman’s piece and can be credited with making him less dry and more appealing to the layperson. It is not an uncommon situation that male writers from Eugene O’Neill to Stephen King tend to have devoted wives in the background, taking care of their children, making sure they eat, reading their first drafts, and encouraging them every step of the way. But Carmon wonders if female writers can say the same.

My response: Wait, there are writer’s whose spouses DON’T support them in these ways? Unless I specifically ask him not to be, my husband, CH, is pretty much my first reader on everything. Back when I first started writing for American Top 40, I would call him to brainstorm whenever I got stuck on a punchline for a joke. CH found the web designer for Fierce and Nerdy and he’s the one that makes sure that it runs smoothly on the technical side. He’s also the one that designed the 32 Candles site, including the recent redesign, now that we have some sense of what the book cover is going to be.

He takes care of our daughter when I’m writing on the weekends and when we’re on vacation. If I’m dragging my feet about doing anything that makes me uncomfortable — like asking my agent or editor a question, taking my author photo, or earlier in my novel writing career, just sending out query letters; he pushes me over that road block. And if I’m fretting late at night, he talks me through it, going over what we’ll do in the worst case scenario for whatever I’m worrying about until I relax and go to sleep. I often divide my life into Before CH and After CH. And the majority of my writing success came After CH.

This is why I (only half) joke that writers shouldn’t marry other writers. I don’t want to make too broad a generalization, but I know very few paid writers who don’t have a devoted spouse, toiling away for them in the background. We tend to need a lot of nurturing, and I know that I’m not the only one who wouldn’t eat, shower, or write regularly if it wasn’t for my spouse.

I tend to advise all women against settling, but I especially think it’s crucial for female writers to find someone who they don’t only get along with personally but also writing-wise. Ursula LeGuin credits her husband’s support for her writing success in a then male-dominated genre. Lorraine Hansberry was supported by her husband (who she met on a picket line) emotionally and financially while she wrote Raisin in the Sun.

There are so many examples, I could go on and on. But my main response to the Jezebel article would be, “Yes, women writers have devoted spouses, too.”