By Steven Pressfield | Published: June 30, 2010
Are you in love with a writer? Are you sure about this? Sure you don’t want to try someone easier on your heart, like a bull rider, a Black Ops commando or a motorcycle stuntman?
Herewith, from painful experience, a few guidelines for those who have given their hearts to servants of the literary Muse. (The following observations apply equally, of course, to actors, artists, musicians, comedians, entrepreneurs and all others of this particularly unruly stripe). Please, lovers, keep the following in mind:
1) Writers are not normal.
E.L. Doctorow calls writing “a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” What he means is that artists and entrepreneurs are a little crazy. They hear music that the rest of us don’t. And sometimes the pursuit of that music carries them apart from their kinder, gentler selves. We must exercise great patience when we love artists. They are driven by forces that they don’t understand and cannot control.
2) Writers live in their heads.
What is fun to normal people—sky-diving, say; a weekend in Aruba—means nothing to your writer. Her fun is in her head. An epic is playing on the big screen and she is taking dictation as fast and furiously as she can. “When I work, I relax,” said Picasso. “Doing nothing … makes me tired.”
The unifying principle beneath artistic nuttiness is that writers/artists/entrepreneurs are struggling with Resistance–and with inspiration. They are walking a tightrope over a thousand-foot-deep fiery gorge, simultaneously dueling the devil and courting its divine opposite–inspiration, magic, “flow.”
3) Writers are not governed by reason.
We imagine that artists and entrepreneurs are smart, even brilliant. But in truth they are operating on instinct and raw nerve. Don’t be fooled by their mastery of the Panavision 3D camera or their ability to string together a dozen complete sentences. They are skating over cracking ice. “Every time I face that yellow pad,” Maya Angelou said, “I think, ‘Uh oh, they’re going to find me out now.'”
How do you handle an artist? Like a trainer handles a racehorse. Remember, you’re the one with the feed chart and the stopwatch. Your mount will burst his heart for you if he knows you care and you will let him, even help him, run his race.
4) Writers are primitive.
Have you read Bob Dylan’s Chronicles? Mister D’s recounting of how he puts together an album reads like the saga of a Neolithic shaman prepping the plans for the tribe’s autumn mastodon hunt. Gods and monsters appear; epic treks are undertaken; incense and incantations are offered. Compared to Bob’s working method, Hunter Thompson looks like a paragon of civilized order.
Artists and entrepreneurs require adult supervision. No matter how eloquently they put forward their case, underneath they are struggling, like you, to find and keep their emotional footing. They are insecure, grandiose, jealous, charming, fickle, romantic.
Are you an artist? Then cut your mate some slack. It’s no day at the beach, loving you. You’re a handful, baby.
Try to visit Planet Earth as frequently as possible and, when you do, camp out for a while. Really stay. Really listen. Remember that your g.f./b.f./spouse is struggling with the fact that you’re serving the Muse. Your mate worries that she’s #2 in your heart. Reassure her. A little sex, flowers, champagne go a long way.
Remember your partner can be as insecure, grandiose, jealous, charming, fickle and romantic as you.
5) A last word to lovers of artists.
Why are some of us attracted to artists in the first place? Do we seek proximity to the magic? Are we intoxicated by our mate’s power to produce wonder out of blue smoke, big hair and a Fender Stratocaster?
Two warnings: if you want to be close to that magic for the rush and the buzz, be ready to pay the price.
But here’s the Big One. If you’re drawn to your artist’s power because you feel a similar gift inside yourself, but you don’t know how (or lack the courage) to access it, stop and think hard. That twist in your guts might not be love. It could be Resistance. Your own Resistance to embracing your unique, authentic, as-yet-unmanifested gift.
In that case, love may be a trainwreck for both of you. Be your artist’s friend instead—and do your own work.