Do you need a rock?

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

My book group just read A Paris Wife by Paula McLain, the fictionalized account of Ernest Hemingway’s first wife Hadley Richardson, and we all agreed to having mixed feelings about Hadley and her role as Hemingway’s ‘rock’  during his early career in  Paris. 

The book evokes the bohemian world of 1920s Paris and name drops a lot of literary giants but at its heart is the relationship between Hadley and Hemingway. The book made me question the extent to which Hemingway relied upon and needed Hadley’s stolid support during those early days. 

I wondered how many writers feel they need someone close to them to be that kind of ‘rock’  – to provide emotional as well as (often) financial support (although Hadley certainly didn’t appear to contribute financially). Then there’s the more mundane  support in terms of housekeeping and family duties (Hemingway could, after all, leave Hadley and his child at home while he went to a cafe to write without being bothered by any of those pesky fatherly duties!). In this day and age, I’m not sure anyone quite gets that kind of all round, ‘solid as a rock’ support – we are all juggling so many work/life issues that we usually have to find that support from within, rather than from someone else. 

Hemingway also found mentors for his work in Paris (most notably Gertrude Stein) so it’s not entirely clear the extent to which he fed off Hadley’s unwavering (if unimaginative) support for his writing (although he certainly seemed to feed off adulation and praise of any kind!). Hemingway also never lacked self-confidence or the belief that he was destined to be a ‘great’ writer – but how many of us can say the same? 

So how many of us writers feel we need a ‘rock’ in our life to reinforce our confidence and help propel our careers forward (especially early in our careers when we are still finding our literary feet)?  Do we require a ‘rock’ of unwavering support? Or a mentor who respects and promotes our work? Or do writers really only need a ‘room of one’s own’ in which to flourish?

In my own career I’ve certainly had very supportive friends and family, but I don’t think I’d classify any of them as a ‘rock’ in the vein of Hadley Richardson. Most of the time I feel I have to rely on myself more than others to keep the writing going. Likewise, I’ve some terrific writer friends who I turn to for much-needed support but none of them have ever really acted as a mentor for my own work. I’m not sure in this modern age whether the same kind of ‘mentoring’ really exists like it did in say 1920’s Paris. But then again, maybe I just don’t hang out in literary enough writing circles!!

So TKZers what do you think? Do you have, or indeed need, a ‘rock’ in your writing life? Have you been lucky enough to have a mentor for your career? And if you were to give advice to someone contemplating the writing life, what would you tell them regarding having either of these? 

14 thoughts on “Do you need a rock?

  1. All I can say is I do have a rock–wife, best friend, first editor, motivator. I cannot imagine what my life, not just my writing life, would be without her. I’d probably be a reclusive curmudgeon typing in the dark and emerging only to yell at kids to stay off my lawn.

    It’s been awhile since I’ve read Hemingway biographical material, but I believe in later years he looked back with great regret at having left Hadley. I can understand why.

    • Hemingway did regret it I think – and was much fairer/sympathetic to her than he was at the actual time of the split. So great to hear you have your own rock:)

  2. NIne years ago when university reorganization resulted in my contract not being renewed, I was casting around, trying to figure out what came next. I was I going to have to slink back to the newspaper I had left in triumph two years earlier? And my wife and best friend (that’s a cliche, but it’s true) said “Why don’t you try this?” Words I wanted to hear but didn’t have the courage to say myself. She knew that. And in the years since she’s been my partner in all of it, my first, trusted reader, applying praise and butt kicks as needed, as we negotiate the tricky path of family and finances. She’s a real partner in all of this. I don’t know if “I couldn’t do it without her (another cliche) but I sure know I wouldn’t want to try.

  3. I’m relishing the challenge of finding out what I can when I have no choice.

    I’ve never been married or had a longtime partner, and at age forty-nine, I have a hard time seeing that ever change. And my few family members are not close, and not capable of providing that kind of support even if they were.

    That said, it’s pretty damned difficult to find uncluttered headspace and unfettered time for my own writing. I plug away about sixty hours an week (at least) at my book-editing business, and have about five and a half working brain cells left at the end of a given day. At that time, I’m lucky if I can remember to take out my contact lenses, let alone write a coherent sentence.

    But … I have friends.

    I have a unique sort of deal, housing-wise. I live in my rental house for eight months a year, then move out for four when the owners, Arizona snowbirds, come back for the summer. So I decided to take advantage of that four-month window to find a way to live without the cost of a lease — so I could throttle back on work and make time for my own writing.

    And as soon as I put out feelers to my friends, one — an author friend — stepped up with an insanely generous offer to put me up in her lakefront Florida guesthouse for as long as I’d like. That may be what puts my first novel across the finish line, at long freaking last.

    So, to take the long way around the barn … yes, I have a rock. I just didn’t know I did until I put my head up and looked around a little.

  4. I think my husband qualifies as my rock, but not for my writing life, for my personal life.
    A mentor would be very helpful but I don’t have one. There are several places I check out on line (like this site) and books I read, and classes I take for writing information.
    I’m a reclusive curmudgeon.

    • I think my hubby is a bit the same – he’s bit baffled by the whole writing thing so for him far easier to be my emotional rock in every other aspect than to step into the danger zone of fiction:)

  5. My hubby is the Mt. Rushmore of rocks–he is supportive of whatever I want to do, in whatever capacity. Couldn’t live without him. Thanks for this post, Clare!

  6. Although my family can be very supportive (usually because they want to know what’s going to happen next—it’s a fine line between pushy and supportive), I have to be my own rock. I don’t feel it’s realistic for me to expect that from someone else. It has to come from within.

  7. I have a rock for writing. My editing partner. But also my wonderful husband. He keeps me going on days when I think it’s not worth it anymore.

  8. None of my family members read. (Sad, I know!) And only two of my friends, one guy and one girl, BUY my books once they are released, read, and then tell me what they think–they want no hand in beta reading and feedback stuff, they just want a finished book.

    I do not have a husband or anyone like most people to kiss me on the forehead and give me words of encouragement in my down days. Neither do I have any writer friends to seek advice from.

    I’m terribly solitary in my writing.So I am one of the few who doesn’t have a rock or mentor. It’s just me and my words.

  9. Thanks to my husband, I have been able to write full-time for years. And now that he’s retired, he drives me everywhere. It’s nice having a personal escort and support system when I go to book events.

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