Why Writing is like Dating
And how to succeed at at least one.
Here you are, single and dateless again. With your best dress on, trying to make the best possible impression. A blank page stretched out before you and a clock ticking away the seconds as you get to know each other. The seconds until you get to decide if this is worth taking a chance on, worth asking for another date.
But are you dating your significant other? Or are you dating books? Your books, specifically. Your writing. I know I have.
I haven’t dated in the traditional sense in some time. Since 2010 to be exact. It’s not because there haven’t been any men interested in me, but I haven’t been interested in anyone. As I ended my last relationship, I made the stark realization that I’d never really been interested in any of the guys I dated. I had no intention of marrying them and certainly no intention of sleeping with them. Yet there I was, so attached at the hip to them, people were already setting wedding dates two months into a relationship.
I was done with dating. I was done with the string of emotionless relationships. And I wasn’t the only one. It’s the same scene I’ve seen go down in a hundred relationships between my friends and their significant others. My high school best friend, who’s boyfriend cheated on her after almost four years together. A friend in the army, whose wife cheated on him with his best friend (And later divorced after she showed up pregnant). One of the longest married couples in our neighborhood divorced after forty two years of marriage when the husband stepped out with one of the young girls who worked at the dollar general.
And none of this particularly urged me to care much about relationships. That was the problem. I didn’t care.
I’d just ended my last relationship that December with Daniel. The relationship was pretty physical, as most tend to be, and getting more so every day. However, the relationship lacked an emotional and conversational quality that didn’t go beyond picking our movie nights.
I remember our last date. I’d had a pretty rough day. Work had been hell (as flipping hamburgers is) and I had a massive headache. The date ended up being a movie at Daniel’s home, so I guess I should’ve known the expectations in retrospect. And maybe I did. I told Daniel I just wanted to relax and watch the movie as we ate dinner, but as usual, it ended with a makeout session on the couch. And yes, we only went as far as making out. I think that was the moment I decided the relationship was over.
Just a little before December, we broke up. We met once to exchange Christmas gifts and that was it for me. On December 31, 2010 as the clock drew close to midnight that year, I made a new year’s resolution. I wouldn’t settle for love or romance. Ever. Again. So when Daniel showed up on Christmas, with a string of apologies and letters, the answer was no. I was not going to date him again In fact, I wasn’t going to date anyone who didn’t make me happy and vice versa.
I was living the KonMari method long before it was the latest fad. Guys asked me on dates, even a girl or two, and the answer was always no. I wasn’t interested. They didn’t spark joy for me.
These days, any time I’m out and about, I’m likely to run into someone I know. Someone from the church I used to go to, or someone from school. Maybe an old neighborhood friend. They always ask if I’m dating. For some reason, my dating life – or lack thereof, always seems to be a topic of interest for people. I honestly used to be so annoyed by it until recently. Of course I gave the generic answers. No, I’m not dating. No, I’m not interested in anyone. No, I’m not thinking about kids. Yes, there’s plenty of time. It was like I needed to validate my choices to them.
A couple days ago, as I sat struggling through the first pages of my second novel, I began thinking about how writing is similar to dating. And the similarities really hit home.
Imagine you’re sitting at a table with your new writing project. You’re nervous as hell, wondering if this will be the one. Will this be the next big idea that ends up a best seller and making tons of money? Will this be the idea that sticks and launches your writing career?
After a successful date, you bask in those warm first date feels. The next day, you do the same exact thing. You do this, three or four times, however long it takes before you even type the first word on the page. You’re getting closer, getting to know the characters, the villains, the major plot points, what drives the story. And then, you’re ready to start dating it. You finish the chapter and the next. Finally, you commit to the project the way you commit to a promise ring or engagement ring. It’s official.
For some people, writing is the longest relationship to ever exist in our lives. This is the primary reason that I now answer with full confidence, “Yes, I’m dating. I’m dating my book.” It’s earned me some weird looks, odd questions. But once I explain it, that answer not only changes the topic of discussion, but people seem to understand the writing process better. The next time I see them, the questions they ask are different and more involved. Isn’t that what all writers ask for?
Even though it started out as a way to avoid an awkward question, it rings true more and more every day. Below are some great tips on how you can succeed at building a relationship with your writing.
- Just like dating, there are multiple facets of writing. Choose one to focus on everyday. Don’t want to write? Cool. Do 20 minutes of research instead. Market research, plot research, whatever. There’s plenty to work on besides writing.
- Recognize the need for rest and learn from it. Didn’t write that 500 words today? That’s okay. Sometimes self-care is more important. After all, you have to care for yourself before you can care for others.
- Priorities first. Sometimes in dating, we have to put other things before ourselves. Significant others, families, prior engagements, etc. It happens. In the same way, sometimes writing can’t be our main focus. Bills come first. School comes first. Don’t stress. Instead, find other ways to focus on writing. Whether it’s reading about editing or looking up the latest publishing trends. There are always other ways to stay proactive. Take care of priorities first and do whatever you can later.
- Talk to it. Yes, talk to your writing project. Go over characters, plots and key notes. Is everything still working? Does something need to be changed before you continue to the next piece? Make sure everything is strong and still makes sense to your readers.
- Focus on the big picture and don’t forget the small stuff. It’s great to get caught up in big things like one year anniversaries, engagements, reaching an end goal, and action points. Don’t forget the small things that also matter, like that minor character who still needs a name or the town square that still needs a background. The small stuff adds up.
There’s definitely a lot more that I could add here. These aren’t hard, fast rules, but they are simple steps you can take to improve your relationship. They’re easy challenges that you can edit for yourself and use at will, but they are also gentle reminders to love your WIP as much as you love your significant other or anything else important in your life.
So please do share, lovely readers, what dating advice do you give that could be transformed into solid writing advice? Will you choose to start dating your WIP the same way you take on romantic dating? Do you agree that writing is like dating or not? Let me know in the comments.
We appreciate your comments and thoughts.
And, as always, remember:
Say it with words.