Feb 3, 2012

Writing in the Dark

by Debra Erfert

Are you a closet writer—afraid to tell others you make up stories and actually enjoy it? Fear not! You are not alone! Blow out that dim candle of incognitoism and throw open the curtains, and rejoice in being “An Author!”

Last month I wrote about my first work. It was a sequel to The Pirates of the Caribbean movie I loved so much. The one thing I didn’t mention is that I wrote it basically in secret, without my husband knowing what I was doing. There were several compelling reasons I didn’t say anything about it—the biggest being was somehow I felt unfaithful to my husband for even wanting to think about a single character however unreal he was. I have this British friend, she's married to a firefighter, and she’s absolutely crazy about Johnny Depp. She goes out of her way to find information about him. Her computer screen saver has his pictures fading in a perpetual slideshow. I could go on, but I’ll spare you!

After I got over the idea I was cheating on my husband because I was writing about another man (character), I kind of felt embarrassed that I was trying something that was so difficult and obviously over my head. No, writing a novel is not like writing a comparative argument between two short stories—it’s not even close! If I knew how hard it was way back then, I might not have kept at it this long. There were times when my husband would ask me what I was doing. Do you want to know what I told him? I’ll tell you anyway. I’d say, “nothing.” Or, “writing an email.” Or, “reading.” I didn’t want him to know—at least not back then. It took a long time before I felt comfortable admitting out loud that I was “writing.” Even then I didn’t exactly shout it.

Last month a question was thrown out on Facebook. I won’t embarrass the good sister who originated the question, but it could’ve been me—might as well have been me, considering I totally identified with her quandary. I’ll paraphrase what she asked.

What do you do when your husband doesn’t support you in your writing?  

You wouldn’t believe the heart-felt comments she germinated with that single question. I was one of them. Talk about a sore spot. Evidently we aren’t the only ones sitting behind our computers writing stories and wondering why we’re doing it and why we don’t free to talk about it.

I’ve been writing in the dark for so long—sneaking behind my husband’s back to put the words I’ve had piling up in my head down in my computer. I’ll write when he’s at work, or at the Church fulfilling his calling, or out of town teaching classes. Anytime I can, I’m typing away and almost everything else takes a back seat. It is my obsession.

It is a big part of my life, yet my husband barely admits to it. I know this for a fact. Recently he was interviewed in the newspaper about one of his firefighting photographs he took that won international recognition. It was a truly great article. When he talked about his family, he raved about our grown sons’ successes and about how I’m an award-winning artist. I was flattered with his even mentioning me. But after I set the paper down I began to reflect about what he omitted. He didn’t mention anything about my writing. I had a short story published one month earlier. I recently asked him if he knew anybody who had written even one novel—just one! He had to admit that he didn’t. I told him I had eight competed novels saved to my hard drive. Eight!

I just submitted two novels to an LDS publisher via email on Tuesday morning, and when I told him about it at lunch . . . he didn’t say anything. I felt crushed. I know there are sisters whose heroes are inspired by their husbands. I desperately want to be one of them. Their husbands are the first to shout hurray when they finally submit a manuscript no matter the outcome, but I find myself envying them.

I’ve grown weary of writing in the dark. I want a career as an author where I can say without any inhabitation that I write books. I don’t care if it doesn’t pay a fortune. Pin money would be great for this stay-at-home mom.

If you are in my situation, how do you handle the loneliness of not being able to talk to a real live person about what you wrote today, or of a problem you have with your plot, and such? Or, if you have one of those enlightened men who totally support you, was it always like that? I’m curious to know if there is hope for my dear husband, who seems to otherwise adore me.


  1. I was kind of in the same boat. My husband looked at my writing as a kind of hobby - which was fine. He even didn't have a problem with me going to Storymakers last year - and this year (so excited!). I've had a couple short stories published too(paid in books and expecting a $15 check any day), but he hasn't read anything I've written.

    But then a few weeks ago I was offered a contract for a Christmas pamphlet. He was, of course, excited for me, but didn't really think about it beyond the fact that I will actually get paid for it (in 1.5 years). I went over the list of changes they wanted me to make and got through my edit but I had to read it out loud so I could hear what I missed. So I announced I was going to read it out loud. He listened and got really excited about it! He even helped me come up with some marketing ideas.

    So I think the key here is you have to convert them. Don't hide it, let them know it's important to you - even if you don't get published. And read some of your work to him. He'll come around.

  2. My husband has always known I write. He doesn't always read everything, though, which is a real bummer because he's an editor and could totally help me out. I think it's normal to fall in love with your characters. If you don't, the book won't be as good. It's good for a marriage if each spouse has their own creative outlets, so I don't think writers should feel they're cheating when they make up stories.

  3. Not married, so can't help there. But I feel reluctant to share my plans for a career rather than only a hobby when I talk about my writing to others that don't write until I have published proof that I have what it takes. Only spoke of my writing a select few before the last couple of years. Even if I never make much money, and always work another job I want to be good enough to be published.

  4. Janice--I tried reading a passage to my husband once or twice. When I noticed he wasn't listening, I stopped trying to get him interested. He's never read a complete anything, although I have been able to get him to look over a cover letter for me. He does have a very critical eye for business letters and such, and I thought I could handle the critique. It was more difficult that I thought it would be considering he wanted to change just about every sentence. Sigh...

    Rebecca--I've been told by more than a few people that I should have my own outlet. I've raised out sons to adulthood, and now I'm looking for a career that I want to enjoy. This is it--as long as I can actually get something published. Well, longer than a short story kind of published. I'm still trying. I guess I'll see with two manuscripts I sent off to the one LDS publisher on Tuesday. I went to Kinkos and printed the same two manuscripts off on paper to send to Cedar Fort. (They don't want an electronic submission.) So, really, if out of these two stories I don't get a little nibble, then I'm going to seriously reevaluate my pursuit of writing as a career and maybe stick with art. I know I can make money with that.

    Susan--Maybe I don't talk to my husband more about my writing right now is just because I haven't sold that first book, you know? It won't really feel real until you have some stranger say they want to publish your story. Oddly enough, on our way home from Kinkos this afternoon my husband asked, "If you get published, can we move to Utah?" I casually told him, "It would make it easier to do book signings and such. And I'd be very open to moving." Do you know that is the very first time EVER that he even acknowledge the possibility?

    I SEE PROGRESS! Or is it the hope I was looking for?

  5. This scares the crap out of me.

    I have been "writing in the dark" for about eight months now. I've been steeling myself for the last few days: I'm ready to tell my husband. The time feels right, for a lot of reasons that I won't go into here.

    But now I'm scared.

    My husband is sweet and supportive and wants me to have hobbies and passions, but it sounds like your husband is the same way. Now I'm very, very worried that my "admission" about writing will not be acknowledged in a positive way.

  6. Gina,

    I hate to use this phrase, but "I feel your pain!" But you know what? I've been told over and again that sometimes it takes time for our husbands to come around. And yes, it has taken--a deep breath here--a long time for my husband to do just that.

    Good news! This morning we were going through boxes of books looking for a few boy scout manuals he needed for a Scout-O-Rama going on today, and while he moved books around he found several old college books of his. They were Forensic Anthropology, and Fundamentals of Criminal Investigations. (My husband is a retired cop.) He lifted them up and said, "You should keep these handy for your writing." Oh, my, heck! I was too excited that he actually said something encouraging to get up from my chair and retrieve them from his hands.

    I guess what I'm saying is we need to take that first step, as scary as it is, otherwise we will always be writing in the dark!

    Good luck with your talk. Let me know how it goes, okay?

  7. Do you think maybe it is a venus vs mars kind of thing?

  8. It sounds like he's a supportive hubby, he just needed a few reminders that you write, especially since you kept it in the dark for so long. My husband has always known I wanted to be a writer, so it felt different when I actually started writing. He was supportive from the beginning, probably because I wouldn't shut up about it. LOL But that also has its drawbacks, as some people who heard I'd started writing would laugh at me and put me down for having such an "impossible" goal. My father-in-law being one of them. I'd love to be published, but to me the real reward of writing was the furthering of my talent, and of being an example to my kids of setting positive goals, so the negative words really hurt. I'm glad it wasn't my husband being so openly non-supportive.


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