The Writing Life: Life with a Writer 101 — Oh My! by Lisa Ahn

This writer’s life is messy, full of loose strings and unmade beds. For the sake of getting words down on the page, I leave a lot of other tasks undone. Dishes pile up in the sink. My kids’ science projects grow penicillin. The dog usually needs a bath, and no one fed him breakfast. One foster kitten is climbing up the curtains, another just upset a vase of flowers, and the other two are . . . damn, where are those cats? Doesn’t every writer need a cat?

I am a wretched juggler, often late and usually forgetful. But, for all the balls I drop while writing, my husband and my kids are still my cheering squad, my pit crew, and my refuge. They share me with imaginary people, the characters inside my head. They recognize the glazed look I get while making up a world. I rely on their support, their patience, and their humor. But what exactly do they think of all the guts and glory? What’s their take on living with a writer? I asked, and here’s what they had to say:

Let’s start with the good news. What do you like about living with a writer?

World’s Best Husband: I get to hear about all the creative and cool ideas, characters, and plots that you come up with.  I am in awe of how you create such fantastic and engaging stories.

Rainbow Girl, age 9: You help us write stories and books.

Boo Monkey, age 6: I like hearing the stories when you read them out loud.

My two cents: I should really pay my husband for those comments, but so far this writing gig isn’t very lucrative. As for Rainbow Girl, she’s crafting her own novel about a young enchantress. There are magic carpets and talking dogs and gigantic snakes. Boo Monkey has a series about a Toad Gnome who lives up in the cemetery, can transform into a mushroom, and fights with bears. I can’t top that.

Okay, now the bad news. What’s the worst part of living with a writer?

World’s Best Husband: I don’t get to spend as much time with you during the summer when I am on break from teaching–but I am very happy that you get to do a lot of thinking and writing during this time which I know is so important to you.

Rainbow Girl, age 9: You’re always writing.

Boo Monkey, age 6: You don’t get to play with me as much.

My two cents: Ugh. Can you feel the guilt? Crushing. Me.

I write a lot. How do you keep busy while my fingers are tip-tapping?

World’s Best Husband: When I am not working during the summer, I like to bake/cook, play with the girls, play video games, watch tv, read, go to the lake, etc. During the school year, I usually do work.

Rainbow Girl, age 9: I play with dolls and board games and I read a lot.

Boo Monkey, age 6: I play with my dollies.

My two cents: My husband is a teacher, and he works a lot. Rainbow Girl reads several books a day and then turns them into games. When Boo plays with her dolls, I eavesdrop — you know, for dialogue ideas.

How do you help your writer survive and thrive?

World’s Best Husband: When the dining hall is closed and school is not in session, I do the cooking and the post-meal clean up.  I try to keep the girls out of your hair while you are trying to write by taking them outside, to the lake, baking with them, etc. I also try to be as encouraging and positive as I can when the “writer’s blues” kick in.

Rainbow Girl, age 9: I let you write in the afternoons.

Boo Monkey, age 6: I give you time to write.

My two cents: Without my personal chef husband, I’d live on peanut butter from the jar. I’d also be yanking out tufts of hair and weeping in the a corner. Rainbow Girl is pretty independent. Boo Monkey does give me time to write — in between the emergency clean-ups, costume changes, doll costume changes, requests for candy, requests for gum, requests for ice cream, requests to go outside . . . wait, what did she say?

What’s your favorite story or essay I’ve written?

World’s Best Husband: That is a tough one.  You have written so many terrific funny parenting essays, thrilling fables, and an amazing novel.  I really loved the first version of Grace Blinks and I am looking forward to reading the next version of it.

I think my favorite fable is the most recent one “Cracked“.  It is so ingenious how you took Brenda’s photo and came up with the story of giants who care for the sun.

 

But I also really love the Fat Charley series of fables. Like I said, it is tough to choose!

 

Rainbow Girl, age 9: “Curses” (How I — inadvertently — taught Rainbow Girl to swear.)

Boo Monkey, age 6: “Curses”

What’s the weirdest thing I’ve done in the name of writing?

World’s Best Husband: No matter what time of day it is or what activity we are in the middle of (walking, eating, sleeping…), you stop and write down your ideas or go to the computer to type them out. I like how much you enjoy your research, whether it is about bee-keeping or fracking. You soak up knowledge like a sponge!

Rainbow Girl, age 9: You carry pencils and paper everywhere. (Me: Wait, that’s weird?)

My two cents: Boo didn’t have an answer to this one, but she regularly quacks like a duck, so weird is relative to her. She provides excellent material for stories of all sorts.

Okay, now let’s talk about all the animals. Opinions? Thoughts? Are they a secret key to writing or just another cog in the crazy-head machine?

World’s Best Husband: I think they are a little of both.  They can be inspirational, fun, and cute, but at the same time, they can suck up a lot of time that you don’t have to spare.  I guess it’s a trade-off that, in the end, turns out to be worth it.

Rainbow Girl, age 9: Sometimes they might inspire you, and other times they might annoy you, but they entertain us when you’re writing.

Boo Monkey, age 6: Hee, hee, hee — funny! We foster a lot of kitties. I love it.

My two cents: I don’t know what’s up with all the cats. They drive my nuts, but I keep getting them. I think it’s some sort of writerly madness.

Well, there you have it — living with a writer, 101, the “Oh, my!” family edition. Now, I’ve got laundry to fold, a dog to bathe, homeschool assignments to arrange — and those litter boxes won’t scoop themselves. I’ll get to everything in just a minute, really, once I finish writing . . . .

Lisa Ahn, Columnist emeritus

Lisa Ahn's writing has appeared in Quiddity, PANK, Limestone, Prick of the Spindle, Toasted Cheese and Literary Mama, among others. She was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband, two spunky daughters, three cats, and a dog who steals everybody's socks.

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  • Vaughn Roycroft

    They’re an amazing family, Lisa! I grinned as I read. World’s Best Husband sounds so supportive. I’ve got one of those. We’re the lucky ones, aren’t we? Wishing you a wonderful summer of writing and family love!

    • Vaughn Roycroft

      Um… In case she reads this, when I said “I’ve got one of those,” I meant a supportive spouse, not a World’s Best Husband. 😉

  • Marina Sofia

    I love this! What a wonderful family you have. And yes, I suspect that up to about the age of 13 children will always want more of us, while after that age, they will get embarrassed to have us around.

  • Kathryn Dyche Dechairo

    Loved reading the inside scoop. I swear we couldn’t do half of the things we want without an amazing husband or family to support us. They’re the best. As for animals they often drive me crazy and I often curse when I have to deal with the litter box or they are bugging me for food but at the end of it all their individual characters, the love they give us, the laughs and those content moments . . . . they’re worth it.

    Fun insight.

  • Brenda Gottsabend

    How lucky you all are – to support one another in all your individual and family endeavors. I agree with “World’s Best Husband” – trying to pick a favorite piece of Lisa-writing is basically an impossible task. It was interesting to “see behind the curtain.”

  • Chris Cox

    Loved the Q & A style and your imagination as always. Thanks for another fun and instructive read.