About the time I started writing my first novel, a friend of mine, who had been working on her first, was just starting to swim in the dissolving bits of her marriage. It turns out that she was married to a person I call the “anti-cheerleader.” Maybe he thought he was being helpful, but he wasn't. You can't do this. It's a long shot, you shouldn't really try. When are you going to move on to something else? I don't want you to be disappointed.
When we met recently to catch up, she marveled that I was at the point of being able to pitch my novel to agents. She had never gotten that far. How did you ever do it? she asked. Guiltily, I immediately knew the answer and didn't really want to confess it to her. It had nothing to do with me being a better writer, or more disciplined. I just had this ace in my corner: a spouse who knew how to be a good cheerleader.
Whenever I tell my friends that he's the reason I was able to finish a novel, they all offer a that's nice kind of smile. That can't be the only reason. But, really, I'm here to tell you it is. The voice of the spouse or significant other is insanely loud, for good or ill. Her novel was in a drawer. Mine was ready to pitch.
Why do the cheerleaders and anti-cheerleaders in our writing lives have such an impact? For me, it had something to do with staying on the course I set for myself. There are moments during my writing life when I definitely start scanning the room for the exit. It's not because I don't like writing. I love it. Stringing together words that work just right is the best drug there is.
But sometimes writing can seem just plain difficult, and rewards and validation only seem to come so often. I hate to admit it, but sometimes the question Why am I doing this? does enter my mind. I can't tell you how many times I've called my husband, reciting a posting for a “real job” from Monster.com. But he knows I want to write, so he hangs up on me.
When a writer has those moments when they might want to throw in the towel, that’s when cheerleaders make the difference. Even by hanging up. Spouses, significant others, friends, family, whoever.
But like I said, the spouse’s or significant other’s voice in particular is insanely loud and powerful. This person tied their life to mine. They must know something I don't know.
I thought about myself in those moments of doubt and having the anti-cheerleader saying things to me like what my friend's husband said. I would have headed for the exit in the first five minutes. A lot of good, talented people would have. Like any long, lonely race, writing can challenge your fortitude. Like a long-distance runner, you might hear a little voice that says Owww, this hurts. When can we take a break?
But I got very, very lucky. Every time I get close to the exit, I hear the voice of the person I had the dumb good fortune to tie my life to whispering Keep going. Come back around after you've done a little more. You can do it. And the other cheerleaders who've since looped arms with him say the same thing. You can do it. Don't give it up.
I'm nothing special. If I make anything out of this journey, it's because of the cheerleaders in my corner who keep me on course. If you know a writer, especially if you're the spouse or significant other of a writer, be their cheerleader. And if you can't, then say nothing. Don't be an anti-cheerleader. Because as full of doubt and fear as a writer can be, they really don't want to find the exit. What they really want is for you to bar the door that leads out to someplace that's not the dream in their heart.
Melissa Romo writes about her writing journey at http://thebookorbust.blogspot.com. She lives in Hoboken, New Jersey with her cheerleader and two cheerleaders-in-training.