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Lithium Writers dating writers: (not) a how-to

Oct. 14, 2020
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A quick Google search of “dating a writer” will yield dozens of listicles on how to handle the blue-lit troglodytism of a modern wordsmith. Most of this advice is geared toward non-writers who need help understanding why you never call a partner’s writing “cute” or interrupt somebody who is typing furiously and hasn’t blinked for half an hour. These articles also seem to characterize writers as some kind of otherworldly being that has to be handled or taken care of, a different species to be observed and entertained, but not necessarily understood. In truth, most habits that have been typified as writerly aren’t all that different from those that characterize the typical college student: bad posture, forgetting to eat, occasionally hate-submitting a piece at 11:58 without reading it over for edits. Occasionally. 

But what these lists of tips and tricks and coping mechanisms fail to acknowledge is that, a lot of the time, creatives are drawn to other creatives, people who exist with the same desire (or insane urge, depending on how you look at it) to fling art into the void and hope something bounces back. What happens when artists date artists? And, more specifically, when writers date writers? 

My current relationship was born from the written word; we reconnected after I shot him a text congratulating him on a farewell reflection he wrote for our university’s webpage, and from there our messaging progressed to seven-hour FaceTime calls and making the decision to date, despite the impossibility of going on any actual dates beforehand. We wouldn’t have made it without sharing our work. Passing words back and forth gave us the sense of intimacy that the three thousand and ninety miles between us attempted to thwart. We offered feedback, encouragement, edits, kindness, poetry, reality checks, and gentle reminders not to make two jokes in one sentence when writing formal articles. Although it can be difficult to take edits from somebody so close to you, it also feels like an honest and personalized attempt to engage with your partner’s work and to show them that you care about every part of their identity—even the ones that make them sleep-deprived and moody. 

Of course, there are unique struggles within our relationship as well as struggles that I believe to be endemic to the condition of writerhood. In a relationship between creatives, jealousy manifests in a way that we don’t usually talk about. Andrew and I have different voices, both unattainable to the other, engendering a kind of insidious envy that gets in the way of appreciating each other’s work. Acknowledging the differences between our work—for example, the beats we follow and the platforms we prefer—has helped me realize my goal of appreciating his writing without coveting it. 

Andrew and I also have different priorities when it comes to writing. I’m still in the stage of my career where I’m focused on building a body of work; this means writing for a smaller audience, and, a lot of the time, for free. He’s a few years older and has more experience in the field, having worked as a book consultant and journalism intern and published in places like Huffington Post and Jezebel. He puts out less work, but on larger platforms. We’re each closer to the paradigm of the professional writer in different regards. He relies more on the unsolicited pitching process, and, frankly, makes more money off it; I publish consistently thanks to my staff positions at various zines. At this point in my career, I wouldn’t trade zine culture and its dynamic, passionate network of young creatives for the world. After all, the right audience isn’t always the biggest one, and vice versa. 

But as a younger female writer just stepping out on the cobblestone path that is freelancing, it can be hard not to feel like the writer’s girlfriend instead of the writer, like a Tabitha King to Andrew’s Stephen, or a protegee in lieu of a partner. He’s more proactive than I am when it comes to making connections, and often extends those connections to me to assist in my own career advancement. Am I exploiting my partner? No. Do I take advantage of opportunities that wouldn’t otherwise present themselves or that I wouldn’t have found on my own? Absolutely. But accepting help, as long as it doesn’t corroborate nepotism, is okay. I have to constantly remind myself that, just because Andrew found this job for me, doesn’t mean I shouldn’t apply. Just because I hadn’t heard of this magazine before I met him doesn’t mean I shouldn’t submit. My work has merit with or without his help; the same goes for his. 

If dating another writer has taught me one thing, it’s that writers don’t have to suffer. Andrew told me once that he never thought of himself as a writer before we started dating, that he was able to recognize my potential and then, through watching me scribble and strive, his own. Watching me go through rounds of edits and, more intimately, my reactions to the metamorphosis of my work made him appreciate the beauty of the process. It was like witnessing a flesh-and-bone version of the track-changes feature, he said. Even before we were together, he sent me links to literary quotes and newsletters soliciting submissions. When he sent me the information for a writing class, I signed up and texted back, Let’s make me a writer. His response, months later: you already were. 

It’s true that it’s easier to recognize excellence in somebody you love than in yourself, but it’s also true that a relationship can’t nullify the fear of failure, of being broke, or of being alone. Inevitably, we all will fail, and, inevitably, we all will work harder to succeed. The money part I can’t give a ton of reassurance about; these are tough times. What a relationship with a fellow writer can do is counteract one terrifying part of a career in writing: solitude. Like Andrew, a self-professed hobby jogger (although that classification is kind of insulting to actual hobby joggers, as he runs a four-and-a-half-minute mile), says, it’s the same reason that people join running clubs. It’s easier to do something hard with somebody huffing and puffing beside you. 

Of course, there’s no one-size-fits-all guide to dating a writer as a writer yourself. Neither is Andrew and I’s relationship solely founded on our mutual interest in writing or in our ability to support each other in the same vocation. We also both really like New York City and cheese. But, if I had to give you some words of advice about dating a writer as a writer, it would be this: be patient. Only give feedback when asked. And remember that your work comes from you—having a partner who understands your goals is amazing, but another person’s faith in you doesn’t negate the need for faith in yourself. 

Undying gratitude to Andrew Wang: for inspiration, feedback, and bringing me Diet Coke while I write. 

Illustration by Damien Jeon