Sunday 14 August 2011

Tips for a Writer Wrangler: Advice for Family and Friends of Writers

Writer Wrangler (N): someone who has voluntarily, or involuntarily, come into possession of a writer

By Katy Wyton,
Guest Blogger

In the summer of 2005, I was just a poor, unsuspecting 13 year-old. I had two older sisters who doted on me, and spent their 'hard-earned' money on me. Then it happened: my eldest sister became infected with the sickness known as "Writing". Of course, my parents took her straight to the library, where they ran a number of tests, and eventually diagnosed her as a "Novelist". It was the news we had been dreading, but somewhere deep down I'd known this was coming: she buys me a book. Every. Single. Christmas.

Since then, my life has changed. My social life has vanished, as I now spend all my time listening to her telling me stories, other people's stories and eve ideas for new stories.
I now live my life by a series of well-strategised rules. These have taken my six years to perfect. I hope that by sharing them with you, I can save others from the same fate.

Tip #1 Symptoms

It is important to spot your Writer early; this will give you the best chance of controlling the situation. There are several signs to look out for:

  • carrying a notebook on their person. At. All. Times.
  • phrases such as 'I've had this idea,' and 'I've been thinking'.
  • the woman behind the desk in the children's/sci-fi/historical fiction department of the bookstore knows them by name
  • phone conversations no longer starting with a query as to your general welfare, but with "Hey, have you had a chance to read it yet?"
  • an unhealthy knowledge of publishing trends (you will know this has happened when you no longer recognise any of the authors/books they are talking about)
Should you notice any of these symptoms in a loved one, be warned that their transition into a Writer has most definitely begun, and there is no way for you to stop it. The writer has to want to stop.

Tip #2 Habits

  • You may find your Writer sitting in a dark room talking to themselves. Do not be alarmed; this is normal behaviour. They are most likely talking to their characters. In the event that they should notice your presence in the room, retreat slowly, avoiding eye contact. In the event that they should start shouting at the computer, run.
  • When intoxicated, Writers may become incoherent. It doesn't matter. You probably wouldn't have a clue what they were talking about anyway.
  • You will find that entire walls in the house slowly become inhabited by storyboards, sticky notes and imaginary timelines. It is necessary for your Writer to feel free to decorate thusly. Not doing so can have adverse effects. If you wake up to find that you yourself have also been covered in sticky notes, it is time to call in the professionals.
Tip #3 Caring for your Writer

  • Writers are untamed. It is your responsibility to ensure they appear human at all times. They may need to be forcibly pulled away from their computer to sleep, wash, etc. There are various ways of handling this. If, for example, they are reluctant to come to the dinner table, try laying out a trail of synonyms for them to follow.
  • Get your Writer into a routine. Encourage frequent naps. This will not necessarily benefit the Writer in any way, but should give you some peace and quiet for a few minutes.
  • Convince your Writer that a walk in the fresh air will help them to focus. You may even want to plan their route yourself. Try to keep them away from inhabited areas, where they may infect others, or worse, talk to them.
  • Encourage your Writer to go on gatherings known as "retreats". This will give them the room to vent their ideas in an enclosed, safe environment. Warning: they may return.
  • Feed your Writer frequently. It may sedate them.
Tip #4 In Case of Difficulty

  • If all else fails, there should be no shortage of large books around the house to hit yourself over the head with. Do however note that after spending several exhausting hours offering "plotting advice" to your Writer, hard-back books may be difficult to lift.
  • If the urge to kick/slap/strangle your Writer occurs, put your head between your knees and breathe deeply. Ask your Writer to do the same. If you are lucky, it will leave them dazed and confused long enough for you to make your escape.
  • Persuade your Writer that procrastination is a good thing. There are plenty of tasks to be done around the house. This will not only distract your Writer, but will mean your housework gets done much faster.
Tip #5 General dos and don'ts

  • Some have suggested that Writers should be kept isolated, and should only socialise with other Writers. However, this is cruel, and Writers should be treated as normal people. The RSPCW does not take kindly to Writers being kept alone or in cages. Remember to regularly refill their chocolate supply and wine glass.
  • If faced with a demand for a simile/metaphor/character name/variety of garden bird, pull your best 'thinking face' until your Writer comes to their own conclusion. It won't matter. They wouldn't have liked your idea anyway.
  • Writers bear striking similarity to small children. You may find that waving small, shiny objects distracts them long enough for you to hide their laptop. You can then keep them occupied for hours with a fun game of Hide and Seek. Or, as I like to call it, Hide.
  • Avoid long journeys with your Writer. Once on board a moving vehicle, there is little room for escape.
  • Avoid engaging your Writer in conversation about their book. As much as you may feel obligated to do so, do not ask them how their writing is going. You are unlikely to shut them up for at least a week.
  • Never show fear. It will only encourage them.

Writing is a disease. It spreads fast. Once somebody you know has been contaminated, watch out for signs and symptoms in others close by. There is no way of preventing the illness, and no known cure. Nobody is safe.

Some people may run when faced with the prospect of a friend or family member becoming a Writer, but I implore you to stay by your Writer's side. They may not know it, but they need you. If your Writer becomes too much for you to handle, refer back to these guidelines. (Please note that actual results may vary. If problems persist, consult a thesaurus.)

I shall now return to my normal life, dreaming of the day when my name is in print (I have been promised a dedication). Always remember: Writers are people too.

Katy Wyton is a student, sister and plot-whisperer extraordinaire. She was forced to write this blog by her big sister, who insists that she is a writer, however much she may say that she isn't. She therefore intends to avoid it as much as possible in the future.

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