Dear Writer’s Mate …

By Sue Coletta

The other day I jotted down a juicy detail from my research on the corner of yellow scrap paper. Hours later, after I’d used the tidbit in a scene, I spaced throwing away the note.

You know how we get when we’re obsessed focused on our WIP.

Anyway, later that night, while hanging with the hubby in the sunroom, I went to blow the steam off my tea and the note traveled with the mug. Somehow the note had adhered itself to the base. I slid my fingers down the ceramic, but my husband — always the helper — beat me to it.

When he peeled off the paper, he read my scribbling aloud. “It’s called raccooning. The head acts as a vacuum.” Visibly forcing down a grin, he said, “Well, someone’s had an interesting day.”

I laughed so hard I could barely speak through the tears. Once I managed to regain composure, I shared all the gory details of my research into decapitation, the guillotine, and a chicken who lived 10 months with no head. After 21 years together, this conversation didn’t even faze him. He gets me. But it made me wonder what a different spouse might think if they’d found a similar note.

Let’s face it, writers can be fascinating and entertaining at times, but there must be days where a writer’s mate must shake his/her head in disbelief. It’s in this spirit that I share helpful advice for the good-natured, supportive, and understanding folks who live with a writer.

Dear writer’s mate, you may find your writer staring at the ceiling, or out the window, or even at a blank wall. And you may be tempted to think it’s okay to barge in and chat about your day. Make no mistake, there’s a lot going on behind-the-scenes that isn’t visible to the naked eye. Your writer is hard at work, creating, visualizing the story, agonizing over that one missing piece that’ll bring it all together.

Please don’t interrupt. Instead, back away from the desk — nice and slow — with no sudden movements. Trust me on this. You don’t want any part of causing your writer to lose focus. It’s not a pretty sight.

At other times, your writer may have some “unusual” documentary requests. Dear writer’s mate, just go with it. Creative decisions are not easy to explain. Your writer may not even know what s/he’s searching for; it could be anything from plot details to a twist that hasn’t yet revealed itself. Being immersed in similar story elements, situations, locations, conflicts, unsolved mysteries, or even a killer’s modus operandi may help spark ideas.

Dear writer’s mate, your writer may experience a spontaneous yet overwhelming urge to drag you to desolate swamplands, woodlands, back alleyways, or back roads that lead to nowhere. Don’t panic. Your writer is simply looking for the perfect place to dump or pose a corpse, and 99.99% of the time it’s not your dead body s/he’s envisioning. I should warn you, though. Should you ignore the advice contained herein, the latter could change. You don’t want to be amongst the unfortunate .01%, do you?

Rest easy, dear writer’s mate. Nine times out of ten the victim is the rude waitress who served you and your darling writer on Friday night. Fun fact: while you were figuring out the tip, your dinner date was plotting the waitress’ excruciating demise. Did you not notice your writer’s unflinching stare? The eyes tell the story. When the lids narrow but your writer’s gaze doesn’t seem to focus on anything in particular, it’s a telltale sign that s/he’s thinking about murder. Oh, while we’re on this subject, it’s safer for the entire family if you never — I repeat, never — peek at your writer’s search history. If panic sets in, you might be tempted to phone a friend. The next thing you know, your writer’s face is plastered on the FBI’s Most Wanted list.

Dear writer’s mate, your normal routine is subject to change without notice. You know those three-course meals you love so much? Yeah, well, at times they may be replaced with frozen dinners, crock pot dishes, and takeout menus. Leftovers will almost always make their way to the dinner table, especially if your writer is on deadline. Also, your writer could try to make it up to you by firing up the grill, but you may want to keep an eye on those steaks. They can, and will, turn to ash if your writer jumps back into the WIP.

Granted, at the time s/he slapped the meat on the grill s/he had every intention of fixing you a nice meal. But then, something within range diverted his/her attention — the disembodied call of a pileated woodpecker, an unusual tree stump with a silhouetted face embedded in the grain, a stick snapping in the yard for no apparent reason — and this propelled your writer into the office where s/he only planned to write one quick paragraph before the story enveloped him/her into its warm embrace. The time continuum is difficult to explain to a non-writer, but just think of it as your writer’s Bermuda triangle.

Dear writer’s mate, at some point you may need to save your writer by gently reminded him/her to step away from the keyboard. Please use caution. Only use this step in an emergency, like if your writer has stayed up all night, downing copious amounts of coffee or tea and resembles a strung-out raccoon. Or if your writer has skipped breakfast and lunch because the words are flowing faster than s/he can type. Or if your writer has spent a full week in his/her pajamas. Otherwise, please refer to my initial advice.

Dear writer’s mate, I realize I’m throwing a lot at you. What I haven’t mentioned is how fortunate you are to love a writer. Writers are fun, loving, dedicated, intelligent, witty, weird, nutty, unique, passionate, humble, and above all else, loyal. Consider yourself lucky to share in your writer’s imaginative world, where nothing has limits and anything is possible.

Over to TKZers. What advice would you give to a writer’s mate?

This entry was posted in #amwriting, #writers, #writerslife, Writing and tagged , , , by Sue Coletta. Bookmark the permalink.

About Sue Coletta

Sue Coletta is an award-winning crime writer and an active member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writers. Feedspot and named her Murder Blog as “Best 100 Crime Blogs on the Net.” She also blogs at the Kill Zone (Writer's Digest "101 Best Websites for Writers") and Writers Helping Writers. Sue lives with her husband in the Lakes Region of New Hampshire. Her backlist includes psychological thrillers, the Mayhem Series (books 1-3) and Grafton County Series, and true crime/narrative nonfiction. Now, she exclusively writes eco-thrillers, Mayhem Series (books 4-7 and continuing). Sue's appeared on the Emmy award-winning true crime series, Storm of Suspicion, and three episodes of A Time to Kill on Investigation Discovery. Learn more about Sue and her books at

24 thoughts on “Dear Writer’s Mate …

  1. Great post! For my wife, even if she was able, she definitely would not want to check my search history. I’ve found myself on websites that gave even me nightmares. But they were ever so interesting.

    • Hahahaha. I bet they were, Douglas! I’ve reviewed searches I didn’t even remember typing into Google. Must have been “in the zone” at the time. 🙂

  2. Several days ago, I had a character idea, a bumbling domestic bomber who didn’t really have an issue just wanted to make a bomb. I thought he could be a foil that my MC couldn’t figure out.
    I did my usual and Googled ‘fertilizer bomb’ and read several posts. I ditched the idea for now because I didn’t like the character, I couldn’t think of an endearing characteristic.
    I was watching a rerun of ‘Ancient Aliens’ when it struck me that I might get turned in to the FBI for looking up bombs. Or maybe put on a watch list. Or maybe what I check out at the library would get scrutinized. I realized our writer’s quicks can reach even farther than a spouse. Not everyone is going to understand we writers.
    I haven’t heard yet from the Feds, yet. I’ll let TKZ know if I get a visit from some guys in suits and sunglasses. I might get a good character out of that!

    • Hahahahahahaha! The only thing worse would be if you also Googled “airplane crashes” along with your bomb research. Good luck, Brian! If we don’t hear from you, we’ll call the FBI to act as character witnesses, although I’m not sure if we’d cause more harm than good. 😉

  3. My mom and I lived together through her final years. One day I was gushing about this really cool book on poisons I’d gotten. She looked me dead in the eyes and said, “You’d better pray it looks like natural causes when I die, or you will be in so much trouble.”

  4. Dear Writer spouse,
    Don’t mind if s/he doesn’t want to talk for a few days. That means good stuff is happening behind the scene.
    If s/he is on the verge of breaking down, or is grinning his/her head off at an inappropriate time, nine times out of ten the cause is not IRL. Or if s/he suddenly develops new mannerisms, s/he is just testing them out for a character.

  5. Too true, Sue. It takes a special person to be married to a writer. My ever patient spouse answers questions at 3 AM, when I get second thoughts. “Do you think I killed the guy soon enough?”

    • Hahahahaha. Elaine, you’re a braver woman than I. My husband puts up with enough during waking hours, never mind rousting him from a dead sleep.

  6. Wow, first I had to get past the image of a headless chicken that lived 10 years…

    Just for fun, I went back and looked at my browser history from yesterday:

    1. Pete Rose
    2. Head in jar in Silence off Lambs
    3. West Meade Waterfall Tennessee.

    The last one was when I was Google-street-viewing, searching for a good place to dump a body. The head in the jar thing was to respond to a Facebook friend after I had a vodka gimlet. Pete Rose? No idea…

    The writer’s brain is an amazing mess of a maze.

    • Ten months, not years, Kris. How the chicken survived, I have no idea … yet. 😉

      Hahahahaha. Love your searches! The writer’s brain is indeed a rare and beautiful thing.

  7. My wife and I share an Amazon Prime account. She owns a company that cares for senior citizens, so it’s not uncommon for her to buy bed pans, portable toilets, adult diapers and walkers.

    I, on the other hand, order lots of research materials on explosives, detonators and terrorist techniques. It’s not unusual for me to buy a new holster, or the occasional firearm and ammunition through online resources.

    In my quiet moments, I love to think about the analyst sitting in an NSA cubicle who’s tasked with finding out more about the paralyzed, incontinent terrorist who lives in my house.

  8. Hilarious, Sue! So true! I don’t have a mate but I do have a BFF roommate and she is a consummate reader. I brainstorm ideas with her. Sometimes she stops me and tells me she’s confused. Is this the same novel we talked about last time? Haha. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve changed my mind and thrown ideas at her. She is a trooper, though. She is a great help and since she is a critical reader, she will be a wonderful beta reader for me when I finish. I will someday, right? 🙂

    • Haha. Thanks! You will finish that novel, Rebecca. How can’t you, with such a supportive BFF? She sounds like the perfect person to ensure you keep going. 🙂

  9. What a delightful love letter! So there re the food thing. If I haven’t proclaimed what dinner will be early in the day, I get worried texts. If he suggests bringing something home, I know I’ve put it off too long and just say, Great!

    • Hahahaha. Sounds all too familiar, Laura! My poor husband has choked down some awful, crispy meals over of the years after a delicious idea slapped me across the face. 🙂

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