The Writer's Life

The End of the Affair

Your novel doesn’t love you anymore.

There was a time, once, when you were inseparable. Back then you’d stay up late, long past midnight, talking about everything and nothing, dreaming big dreams, telling each other “you’re brilliant” until the words started to sound funny.

You spoke often of traveling together. We’ll take a cross-country tour of bookstores. Local bookstores with cute cafés. You couldn’t wait to sip coffee and talk with readers. Your novel couldn’t wait to make new friends.

Every morning, long before the sun, you’d rise and sit across from each other, pillow creases wrinkling your forehead, adverbs wrinkling your novel’s pages. You’re beautiful, you’d say. No, you are, your novel would reply. You didn’t merely endure each other’s imperfections, you embraced them.

There was nothing more important than your time together. The laundry pile grew in direct proportion to your love for one another. Your spouse’s frustration grew, too. I’m sorry honey, you said. I’m on a roll here and I really need to finish this chapter. Maybe tomorrow night? But tomorrow night came and once again you excused yourself from skin on skin to spend time instead with ink on paper.

You were in love. Everyone could see it by the way you talked on and on about each other. You, at the dinner table while eating take-out for the seventh straight night. Your novel, while being passed around at your weekly crit group meeting.

But then something happened.

Your novel stopped wanting to do things with you. It was subtle at first. A missed appointment with a perfectly believable excuse.

I’m tired. Maybe tomorrow.

But then morning came and your novel sat across from you and scowled. You look like death warmed over, it said. Your tired clichés need a shower, you snapped back.

Of course you apologized to each other later. After coffee. You’re both so polite. But slowly, or was it rapidly? you became estranged.

Maybe it’s best we take a break, your novel finally said after days of frustrating silence.

You nodded and said yeah, reluctantly. Oh look there, your novel said, an adverb. You both smiled a half-smile, then said goodbye.

That was months ago. You’re still behind on laundry, but the piles aren’t as high and your spouse doesn’t complain. It’s a fair trade for skin on skin.

Still, you miss your novel. You think about it in the shower. You think about it while making coffee. You stare longingly at the local bookstore every time you pass, imagining the two of you on that road trip.

It’s not that you’ve stopped writing. You’ve started three other novels. They’re not bad. One of them is actually quite good. But they’re nothing like the novel you once knew. You’re pretty sure it was “the one.”

A lot of time has passed since you last saw each other. You know some things you didn’t know then. You’re smarter. You’re more understanding. You’re more confident. You’re a better writer.

God, you loved that novel.

Maybe you were wrong about it. Maybe your novel still loves you. Oh, if only you could fix things. If only you could work through your disagreements. If only you could rediscover that magic again.

Perhaps you can.

Just do me a favor before you attempt to rekindle your romance: Talk to your spouse.

You’re probably going to need some help with the laundry.

19 thoughts on “The End of the Affair

  1. I thought I was the only one going through a separation like this.
    You really struck a chord and made me think about what the next step should be.
    I absolutely love this and I would love to share with my friends.

  2. I am convinced my first love has been spreading rumors to my newest book, because it certainly is blowing hot and cold towards me. One day my work agrees I am brilliant and the next I meet resistance on everything I write. Maybe I need to finish the rewrites on my first book so it will leave me in peace and quit interfering.

  3. Our ending was so dramatic that we don’t speak now. It just sits in the corner with its back to me. I imagine it glowering. Which is fine. I never liked it anyway.

  4. My novel is still playing hard-to-get, so hard-to- get in fact that i’m not at all sure i want to see it naked anymore. i might go for the day job that keeps flashing its pecs at me instead. nice post Stephen, thanks!

  5. I know the feeling. I have half a dozen just like it. As I read them now, they were so good but all I seem to be able to do is edit what’s already done. … burnout

  6. As a thought.. maybe it’s because, emotionally, I became so deeply a part of their stories that I never want them to end.

    Could be that’s your problem, too.

  7. My novel and I broke up twice in the two years we spent together, and I am going to admit it now… I cheated. I dunno… I guess it was more of a tryst than an actual affair… Yes, I edited another writer’s novel. It was during our second break-up and… and… I thought it was over between us.

    My novel just became so hard to get along with… and she said she didn’t love me any more… It hurt; deeply. And then came the ad on Craigslist. “Wanted: Editor for short term relationship” “Why not?” I asked myself. “I’m an editor, dammit… and I need to feel the affection of a warm novel.” I wrote back to the anonymous e-mail.

    Days, and then weeks, went by. I thought that the “other novel” had forgotten about me. That was okay because, frankly, it made me feel dirty. I thought about going back to my novel on my hands and knees to beg her forgiveness, to come back to me. Once, in a loneliness- (and Tequila-)driven stupor, I opened her up. “What the **** have you been drinking?” she asked. I pulled the plug before she could find her answers.

    The next evening, I opened Gmail, and there it was… three months later, but there it was: “Hey soldier, wanna rev my engine?”

    Yes, I did it. There was no love there, but I did it anyway. And I felt dirtier, but that novel had one thing mine didn’t… I just don’t know what it was, but I did that novel with everything I had and I gave it an edit that it will NEVER forget for as long as it’s in print.

    And then I felt complete emptiness. I woke up one early morning, around 4:00 and I thought “I don’t recall leaving my computer on. How’d that happen?” I went to shut it off. My novel was on the screen. It was an awkward moment; then she said “hi.” We talked. We talked through morning java and I ‘fessed up to the affair. And then, the strangest thing happened; she forgave me. And she said that it was okay, as the other novel made her want me even more. She was okay, too, because she knew there was no emotional attachment. Our love grew stronger, and my confidence was back. She was a difficult novel to write, but we did it — together.

    I finished her last week. Now the arduous task of finding an agent or publisher begins. But that liaison did help for something. You see, the “other novel” in my life was written by a famous Hollywood producer and the foreword was by an a-list Oscar winner, and, short-term romance or not, it has given me something that was missing from the relationship I have with my novel – a credential. With that, my novel and I now stand a better chance of touring the world together.

    My novel and I love each other again. I read her again yesterday, with only the most minor tweaks (she didn’t even feel it, but she smiled a little more brightly when I finished).

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