I wouldn’t want to be married to me

Tess Gerritsen

Let us sing in praise of the author’s spouse.

Mine has certainly had a rough time of it lately while I struggled to meet my deadline. For the past few months I didn’t take a single day off. Several times a night, I’d awaken sweating and sick with dread, certain that my manuscript was doomed and my talent was spent. I holed up sixteen hours a day in my office, emerging only for dinner, and then I’d make only half-hearted attempts at conversation because my mind was still on my characters. I turned down concerts, party invitations, sailing trips, and walks in the woods, forcing my spouse to do everything solo. The book was sucking the life out of me. Exhausted by sleepless nights, I made slow progress on the book. And slow progress on the book gave me sleepless nights. 

But last week, everything changed. I finally turned in the manuscript and my editor loved it.

For the first time in months, I’m sleeping all night. Suddenly I’m hot to party, to shop, to dine out, to travel. It’s as if a mood switch has been flipped. Or I’ve just swallowed a handful of the world’s best uppers. I’m a whole new glorious me.

My husband takes it in stride.

A writer’s year is punctuated by these wild manic-depressive mood swings. I know my own pattern so well that, a year ahead of time, I can mark out on the calendar when I’ll be my happy self, and when I’ll begin the annual and perfectly predictable descent into insanity. I’ve learned not to schedule anything at all during the three months prior to a deadline. I’ve learned that the best part of the year is right after my manuscript has been accepted, but before the first (sometimes painful) reviews start dribbling in. 

Which adds up to maybe three or four really good months out of the year. 

But once the reviews come in, once the book goes on sale and the promotional cycle begins, life around the Gerritsen household starts to get tense again.

And once again, my husband takes it in stride.

He and I have gone through this cycle so many times that he knows what to expect. But it doesn’t make it any easier to take. Recently, we had dinner with another writer and her non-writing spouse, and her husband admitted that in their household, too, things get really hairy around deadline time. These stresses affect every writer, and every writer’s spouse.

Yet so many writers I know have solid, enduring marriages. That surprises me, because I can’t imagine we writers are easy to live with. Maybe we just chose our spouses well. Maybe we got lucky. 

Or maybe we’re just incredibly exciting, sexy, creative beings…

For four months out of the year.

23 thoughts on “I wouldn’t want to be married to me

  1. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Tess, I’m not sure if I should force Michael to read this column ten times, or make sure he never ever in my lifetime finds it.

    I’m tending toward the latter, because I know for sure I can’t do to him what I did on my last deadline, and it’s really sobering to hear that after all your fantastic books and successes you still go through this cycle. On the other hand I think he and I both better look at this as being part of the life and start to talk honestly about how we can manage the demands of this author life and still have a great relationship.

    One thing is that I have to make sure I remember that I thought I’d NEVER pull book three off, but I did. I just have to KNOW that and somehow not act suicidal over the next one. I just can’t do that to him again.

  2. JDRhoades

    I think my wife puts up with my writing madness because she remembers what a miserable son of a bitch I was when I WASN’T writing. I’m no day at the beach now, mind you.

  3. JT Ellison

    I’m in that three month to deadline, the world sucks, nothing works, I’m a hack mode. And you’re right, it’s completely cyclical. Of course, doing two a year means there’s only a two month window…

    I think some of us are completely blessed with spouses who just get it, who aren’t intimidated or frightened about losing us to the big bad world of writing and conference going. Some aren’t so lucky. I don’t know where I’d be without Randy. I’d never be able to pull this off without his encouragement.

  4. R.J. Mangahas

    Here’s something interesting. I’m a writer, my girlfriend Jessi is a writer and cartoonist. How’s that for creative nuttiness? And since we’re both still trying to get published, you can only imagine what either of us might be like at sometimes. Although I’ll admit this, she is A LOT more relaxed and go-with-the-flow than I am. Bless her for putting up with my neuroticness (is that even a word? No, but oh well)

  5. Louise Ure

    I just got back from a four day writers conference to find a husband who had hot dogs for lunch and dinner for four days straight. He said he didn’t mind. But now I’ve got hot dog guilt.

  6. Stacey Cochran

    J.D. wrote: “It could be worse. Can you imagine if both of you were writers?”

    My wife and I received contracts from St. Martin’s this week on a book to be co-written by us over the next three years.

    This will be our first collaboration. We’re excited… and not a little unsure of how we’ll work together on this book.

  7. JDRhoades

    Louise: buy him some bologna and Easy Mac and give him the number of a good take out Chinese place. Yeesh.

    Stacey: that’s GREAT news! Best of luck. I’m interested in seeing how you guys work it, but I have every expectation that you will.

    I know there are some husband and wife collaborators, and they seem to work well together. Can anyone remember, however, any couples where both were writers, where they weren’t collaborators, and where it worked out well? Hammett and Hellman’s relationship was kind of stormy, IIRC.

  8. Pari Noskin Taichert

    My husband doesn’t “get it” vis a vis writing, but he “gets” me and that counts for a lot.

    We’ve been married for 17 years, lived with each other a year before that and have known each other since he was 6 and I was 8. So . . . if nothing else, we’ve got time on our side.

    I think it’s interesting to add children to the mix. I can’t go into hiding — much as I’d like to — because they need me.

    This obligation makes my writing less efficient, but reminds me every single day that there is life beyond my computer screen and topsy-turvy emotions/mind.

  9. Elaine Flinn

    It’s true love, Tess – that’s how your husband copes.

    My husband became a terrific cook through out my writing spells…so much so, I found myself dragging my feet now and then. 🙂

  10. K Thacker

    What makes a couple work, I think, when one spouse has a time-consuming, MIND-consuming job is that the other partner realizes this and accepts it. If your husband knows that writing is your life and accepts it, then he deals with a distracted wife for a few months out of a year because he loves you and you come with writing. There’s just no way around it. It’s as much a part of you as your hair color or the shape of your chin.

    That said, it’s always nice to hear of marriages that work. Thumbs up to you, Dr. G!

  11. Jake Nantz

    Man, you guys are fun and sexy 4 months out of the year? I’m lucky if I’m fun and sexy for 4 days out of a year. I’m at least somewhat fun for the two months we aren’t in school, but that’s about as far as I go. The good news is that my wife is a teacher too, so she’s only…er, I mean she’s ALSO really fun those two months….

  12. Jill James

    Tess, so great to ‘see’ you here, blogging again. Writers and other artists are not easy to live with, but we bring passion and fire to our relationships. Maybe that helps a little during the trying times. 🙂

  13. simon


    Just know you aren’t alone. I’ve just surfaced for the first time in 3 months and I’m glad my wife stuck it out with me.

  14. Lynn

    I have not been writing fiction for some time now, but my husband remembers my particular swings quite well. I did not have the deadlines (as yet unpublished), but with four children I had to take breaks from time to time to set things right again in the household. I became quite miserable if any break lasted too long. Sometimes I was downright distressed about it. Hmmm… maybe I would be easier to live with if I started writing again.

  15. Jude Hardin

    Hi Tess,

    Congrats on finishing the new one! I’m looking forward to it.

    Or maybe we’re just incredibly exciting, sexy, creative beings…

    For four months out of the year.

    .333 is a damn good batting average. In baseball and in love. 🙂

  16. Abe

    Hi Tess,

    Because of your hard work and sleepless nights, you have the kind of reading public all writers can only dream of. Enjoy the time off now, and my advice to Jacob….seize the moment. We love ya!Abe

  17. Emma Ray Garrett

    JDRhoades hit it on the head. My dh is supportive of the writing – to a point – but when you mix kids in the ebb and flow can be better/worse depending on what’s going on with them.

    I’ve been married for ten years to my opposite in most things big and small. Maybe that’s part of what works 😀 When I’m in deadline hell, he knows not to even bother getting my attention. In turn, when I’m not, LOL, he gets to fish and hunt – and I’ll even go with him – to his heart’s content.


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