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? 

How do we measure success?

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

A friend of mine told me about a recent conversation she had with her husband which struck a cord with me. She is a published writer with a couple of books under her belt and, like me, she has young preschoolers. After spending a number of weeks in final editing mode, she had to work a couple of weekends straight leaving her husband in charge of the kids. He wasn’t, she told me, all that impressed about doing so and when she confronted him he said that while he was happy to help out he just hoped “she would be successful after all her hard work” (NB. The manuscript she was working on was not under contract). “Hmm…” she said, “But I thought I already was ‘successful’ – so far my books have been published!” Then she realized her mistake…what her husband was talking about, what for him was the true measure of success, was financial. He meant “let’s hope you finally make some money this time!”

When she pressed him further he basically said that he justified her staying home to write while he was the primary bread-winner on the basis that she was really a ‘stay at home mum.’ In other words, at least she was doing something useful – namely raising their children- while she tiddled around writing her novels. Okay, okay, I admit maybe I’m overreacting a bit:) but this started me wondering – if their roles had been reversed would the same be true? Would a women who was the primary breadwinner in the family supporting an author husband think the same way?

Given that a career in fiction writing rarely leads to financial success, how should we measure success for a writer? How should the financially supportive spouse view their ‘other half’s’ career? Is it merely a hobby until it earns real money?

Don’t get me wrong, I am eternally grateful to be financially supported so I can pursue my writing career – but like my friend I am also a ‘stay at home mum’ – my deadlines certainly get dropped if the boys get sick and, like every other working parent, I have to balance the demands of career and family – but does my writing qualify as a career or am I, like my friend, a financial drain until the writing can pay its way?

I’m throwing the debate wide open as my friend’s predicament certainly resonated with me, probably just as it would have in Virginia Woolf’s time when she argued for not only a room of one’s own but also income to support it. So how do other writers reconcile this issue? What do those who are the bread winners think?