Living with a novelist can be hard. I know. I am one. So I’ve put together eight great tips for friends and family of novelists, to help them avoid falling out with their literary loved ones (or, even worse, ending up as that character nobody likes in their next novel).
1) Response Times – novelists are often so involved in their story writing – so immersed in the worlds they have created in their heads – that their response times slow dramatically while writing. As an example, a novelist at the peak of their creative powers will display reaction times only slightly quicker than the giant tortoises of the Galapagos Islands. So remember, if there is a mealtime, shopping trip or household chore coming up soon, issue a call to action at least ten minutes (preferably fifteen) before the time you actual require them to get their backsides into gear. If this doesn’t work, threaten to hide their coffee and chocolate. That usually does the trick.
2) Diet – over the centuries, novelists have evolved digestive systems that mean they can survive on three cups of coffee, half a dozen biscuits and a jumbo bag of Maltesers a day, with no loss of writing productivity. But do try and persuade your novelist to leave their computer and eat a proper meal, if you can. However, don’t tell them they will just be eating – they will often see this as a waste of valuable writing time. Tell them you want to sit down and talk about their novel. Then, before they can even begin to outline their latest plot twist, put the food in front of them and say you’ll be all ears after they’ve finished what’s on their plate. Works every time.
3) Liquids – it’s important to remember that a) novelists function in the morning much better with coffee and b) they waste so much time before actually sitting down at a computer that they often forget to make themselves a cup. Fill that coffee void, and a novelist will love you forever. If you’ve run out of coffee (and try not to), tea can be offered as an alternative. In the evenings, wine or beer is normally consumed if today’s ‘word count’ target has been achieved (this number is extremely flexible and can range from 50 to 2,000 words, depending on how badly the novelist wants a drink in the evening).
4) Napping – while your novelist may have a study and claim writing is a full-time job, be prepared to find them crashed out on their study chair or sofa-bed any time after lunch. Never refer to this as ‘being lazy’. The correct terminology is ‘recharging one’s creative batteries’. Also, never wake the novelist while still sleeping – this can result in grumpiness for the rest of the day, accompanied by comments such as ‘I’m grumpy because you woke me up’.
5) Dress Code – while the novelist may refer to their study or special corner as an ‘office’, please be aware that dress codes do not reflect those in more traditional working environments. Writing in pyjamas or underwear is entirely normal for a novelist – partly because they must get those words down on the page whenever the creative urge strikes them. And partly because they oversleep a lot and feel better if they sit straight down at the computer without spending too long in the bathroom. If you are expecting guests, it is best to turn off the internet, shut down their computer and shout ‘Get in that shower…NOW!’
6) Social Media – while your novelist may look like they’re spending half their day posting on Facebook, tweeting on Twitter, and Googling things like ‘How much will I get if my book is made into a film?’, ‘What’s the minimum number of words for a novel that I can get away with?’ or ‘Can Angelina Jolie appear in my novel and, if so, will she come to the book launch?’, this isn’t them wasting time. No. This is work.
7) Watching Films – it’s difficult for a novelist to switch off sometimes. A trip to the cinema or a night in with a DVD might sound like fun to you. But for a novelist, it’s a minefield. Their hawk-like eyes and razor-sharp brains will be searching throughout for plot holes, one-dimensional characters, bad dialogue and anything else that proves that the people who make these multi-million dollar dramas are total schmucks who couldn’t write a decent story to save their lives. Listen to the novelist’s post-movie analysis and nod understandingly for as long as necessary. Then distract them with an ice cream and move the conversation on to what biscuits are on special offer in the local supermarket.
8) Novels – if you know a novelist, it’s a seriously good move to buy their novel. It might seem like a very simple gesture to you. But to the novelist, it is an act of great support and generosity that they will never forget. In that way, novelists are the elephants of the literary world. And like elephants, you should never startle them. For example, by revealing that you haven’t bought their book. If you get cornered by the novelist at a party and they ask ‘Have you bought my book?’ when you haven’t, the correct response is to say ‘I haven’t had a chance to buy it, but I will’ or ‘I’ll pick it up on my next Amazon shop’. This should calm the literary beast within them. If they still haven’t calmed down after five minutes, stroke their head gently and keep repeating ‘But I’ve heard so many good things about it. I’m sure you’ll be bigger than J K Rowling this time next year.’
So, that’s it for the tips. If you enjoyed this blog, you’ll also enjoy my debut novel We Have Lost The President – click here to find out more.