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Ask E. Jean For DearSugar: How Do We Compromise?

Dear E. Jean,

Though you won’t be able to tell it from this email — I’m a little frazzled right now — I am intent on becoming a serious novelist. I’m also in love with a very wonderful man who works for a polling company. And it is crazy now with the Republican and Democratic primaries. Just absolutely nuts. Every night he comes home from work not tired . . . but pumped. He wants to go out on the town to clubs, restaurants, parties, bars with banjo players, etc., etc. He loves the whole nighttime scene!

But in the evenings I want silence. Peace. I need to think and read. Nights are the only time I have to write. (I work in the fund-raising office of a university during the day and it is exhausting!) So what do we do? When we stay home, he is so jumpy and plays the television so loudly all the ideas fly out of my head. Plus he keeps walking into the bedroom (where I work) to tell me something “interesting” he just saw on The Daily Show! We are heading into a whole year of politics! Help!
— Wants to Be the Next Margaret Atwood

To see E. Jean's answer

MARGARET, MY YOUNG TROLLYMOG: If you are serious about becoming a great writer, you have four options:

The Toni Morrison Option:
Switch your writing time to the morning before you go to work. Toni Morrison wrote for three hours every day before she left for her editing job at Random House. When she was younger and teaching at Howard University, she raised two kids and wrote The Bluest Eye.

The Doris Lessing Method
Keep your night-time writing schedule, wear headphones which block out noise, and any time the chap enters the bedroom, shout: “Begone Beastly Man! I am struggling towards the golden dawn!”

The Virginia Woolf Prerogative
Rent a small room, go there after work to write, and then meet the lad for a late dinner. Turn out brilliant work. (Do not drown yourself later by loading stones in your pockets.)

The George Eliot Program
Move out, get your own place, write a piece for the Westminster Review called “Silly Novels by Lady Novelists” and go on to compose one of the grandest books of your century.

Whichever you choose, you must lock yourself up, do battle every day, and follow your aesthetic bliss. . . . or, you will never emblazon your name across the Great American Novel.

To see more advice from E. Jean visit Elle magazine and

Join The Conversation
Padmagal Padmagal 9 years
Thanks, Lipgloss77! If you're interested, here's a longer thing I wrote on having to compromise in relationships. It's called "Compromise, Shmompromise."
Lipgloss77 Lipgloss77 9 years
Great & thoughtful comment, Padmagal. And these ideas apply to more than just writing. Scheduling and setting time periods for whatever your personal priorities are is important.
Padmagal Padmagal 9 years
Next Margaret, I understand completely. I also try to find time to write (which requires a lot of privacy) and balance it all with having a husband who requires a lot of togetherness. On one hand, we're lucky to be with people who want to be with us! But non-writers don't understand that you can't just schedule "writing, 7p-9p" and be done with it.It's a strange process. For me, it requires more than just time, it requires a kind of mental privacy. Here's what I do to make it work: 1. It's taken maybe 1000 times, but I've explained to my husband that I reserve a certain period of time (for me it's the super-early mornings) for writing. I try to leave something around that lets him know I'm still connected to him (breakfast, some book he's been looking for, whatever). My parents taught me this lesson. My mom knows dad has to put his work first (he's a ob-gyn and those babes don't wait) but she said to him, I know I rate second sometimes, but as long as I'm not made to FEEL like I come in second, it's okay. I start each writing session with Morning Pages (a la Julia Cameron), also called free writing. 3 pages of blah blah to siphon off the top layer of goo. Seems to ready my mind for writing what I really care about. Lock the bedroom door! You mean business. And as others suggested, get headphones and listen to white noise like raindrops or waves. I listen to one piece of music over and over, just an instrumental piece that seems to slow me down. Sorry for the overlong answer! I LOVE this topic. Good luck Future Margaret!
Sabrina-L Sabrina-L 9 years
Miss Jeanie, Miss Jeanie, Miss Jeanie! Mensa answer!
Lipgloss77 Lipgloss77 9 years
Yes snowbunny, I agree, this was the perfect way to answer this question. I think that if there's a will there's a way.
Lovaajn Lovaajn 9 years
you need to learn to compromise.
graceunderfire graceunderfire 9 years
You could get him a really great set of BOSE headphones to plug into the TV...that would eliminate background noise and keep him glued to one spot so he wouldn't be walking in to disturb you.
popgoestheworld popgoestheworld 9 years
TheMissus, I love it when my BF leaves the house, too! There was nothing in my post that indicated women were required to give up privacy when they got a boyfriend or when they had kids. I'm pretty shocked and disappointed you would take what I said and extrapolate those conclusions from it. ALL I was saying is that it sounds like she doesn't really want him around during the week. Is he supposed to sit in the next room quietly while she's working in her office with the door closed? Every night? And if that is what she wants, there's nothing wrong with it. I just know that I would feel uncomfortable in a house that I SHARED with someone if I felt I had to tiptoe around and not talk to them every night in order to not interrupt them. And for the sake of repetition, let me say again that I don't believe women should have NO private time, or NO private space. Just that given her career aspirations, she and her partner might be better off living apart (you know, so he can watch TV with some volume) until she doesn't have to work two jobs!
kimberley kimberley 9 years
PS, another thing that my help you concentrate is either some sort of white noise like a rainfall or birdsong CD, or even a soundtrack you create of favorite songs that relate to your story or is inspirational to you. If something throws you out of the story, or you have writer's block, etc. then relaxing with a cup of tea and your soundtrack on may get you in a more writerly frame of mind again.
nancita nancita 9 years
I love E. Jean's advice here. I also think that you might talk to him about not distracting you...he may not even realize how difficult it is to focus when you keep getting interrupted.
kimberley kimberley 9 years
Working a second career takes compromise and dedication. You will have other distractions after the primaries are over -- friends, family, other distractions from your sweetie, that great TV show you've been looking forward to, etc... -- but if you plan well and also remain flexible, you can make your novel blossom. A good writer's group may also help, not necessarily for giving feedback on your work if you don't feel like sharing, but for support from your peers who may be experiencing the same conflicts balancing opposing desires. Did you know there is a writer's group here on the sugar network? :) link -- EJean has some excellent advice. You clearly love your boyfriend, but you also really want to write -- with some creative planning you can make a schedule that has room for both. Plan some fun nights out together or special date nights, and also some quiet work nights for you. Can you take time to write during your lunch hour or during breaks in your workday? Maybe you can give yourself a little more writing time that way. Don't forget that periodic downtime from your writing is helpful too -- sometimes you can get inspired from unexpected or new things you see or experience. Finally, thank you for posting this, you have given me some great ideas to discuss at the writer's corner. Hope to see you there. :)
TheMissus TheMissus 9 years
PopGoesTheWorld: I've been married 3.5 years... And I LOVE IT when my husband leaves the house, and I have it all to myself. I find it interesting that people just accept that what a woman is supposed to do in life is: 1. Get married. 2. Share all personal space with S.O. 3. Have kids, share personal space with them. 4. Never have privacy or a space of their own in the house. I think it's silly! Everyone should have (if their resources allow) a personal space/room in the house all to themselves. Just because you are in a relationship and living with someone does NOT mean you have to spend all your time with that person when you're at home. Just because she wants her quiet doesn't mean she doesn't want her S.O. around. It just means she wants quiet to focus.
popgoestheworld popgoestheworld 9 years
So you work all day and all night, and you want your boyfriend to just come home and not bother you? No loud TV, no knocking on your door to share funny things. I wonder, do you even want him around? Or do you want him around just on the weekends? That's what it sounds like based on what you wrote, and if that's the case, maybe you really should consider getting a separate place until your career gets going.
snowbunny11 snowbunny11 9 years
Thanks for the interesting info EJean! In addition to her suggestions, I definitely agree with the other posters to just have him go out without you. Save one or two nights a week when you go out with him, and maybe commit to having dinner with him every night so you guys can see each other a little.
remedios remedios 9 years
Boy does that sound familiar. My husband's a social butterfly who loves being out and around other people. I'm trying to write a paper (when I'm not posting here). It drives me nuts when he constantly interrupts. But back to your point... As other posters have said, why doesn't he go out and you stay home? I assume there's a reason this seemingly obvious solution isn't what you're doing. Does he go to a lot of happy hours? That might be a good way for him to decompress while also keeping with those interested in the same things. If you think this means you never see him, you probably need to work out a strict schedule. Plan for dinner, don't just throw it together. Plan to watch a movie at home. Then when you're done with dinner and/or a movie, get back to work and he can go out. Or you two can even go out for an hour and then you head home and he stays out.
TidalWave TidalWave 9 years
I was going to say the same exact thing! Just go out with him every once in a while OR tell him you'll meet him there later. That way he can go out and get it all out of his system, you can get some stuff done - and then meet him a couple hours later. Seriously, what is the point of you going out or him staying in if neither of you can enjoy yourselves?
TheMissus TheMissus 9 years
Why do you have to go out with him when he goes out? Seems to me that he should go out with co-workers or friends, if he's so wanting to be out. That would give you the perfect quiet to write. Seems like a "no-brainer" to me. Commit to going out once or twice a week with him. Make him go out with other people the rest of the week.
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