Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The most important communication

Valerie and I and our youngest spent the new year weekend in Atlanta, staying in the home of Valerie's brother and attending a young cousin's wedding. Valerie's brother is a doctor, a career he came to late in life after pursuing design and architecture; his field is clinical research. His home is stunning, but though he identifies himself as "living in Atlanta," it's actually in a suburb several miles outside the city. Atlanta sprawls on a scale I associate with Miami or LA, and the sprawl evidently affects the minds and perceptions of those who live under its influence. The "good restaurant close by" was an hour's drive away, "up the road" required an afternoon in traffic to reach, and two places "right next to each other" had a half mile between them. I'd thought I'd have time to see a few people and places while in the city, but abandoned those plans once the scale of the requisite journeys registered.

The cousin getting married was on Valerie's father's side of the family, which meant I was only vaguely aware of who she was and how related. While family on Valerie's mother's side has always been involved with ours, most of the family who would be at the wedding hadn't seen Valerie or me since her father's funeral twenty years ago – many not since a family reunion a few years before that. Valerie grew up farther down the Carolina coast than we now live, closer to Savannah than Charleston. Before her mother moved to Wilmington we used to drive down every few months to visit. The fastest route from Wilmington to Atlanta follows our old run as far as Florence, which of course prompted memories of those days (which in turn prompted our 20-year-old daughter to don headphones). We passed South of the Border for the 900th time without stopping; I keep being surprised it's still standing. (Their official site and the Wikipedia entry.)

At the wedding and reception/family reunion/New Year's Eve party I kept introducing myself to people who knew me. (In my defense, I think that after 20+ years it's easier to remember "Valerie's white husband" than it is to remember 137 names.) More than one person commented on the fact last time they'd seen me I'd worn my long(ish) black hair in a ponytail; Valerie's aunt Stella gave me a playful poke and said: "You used to be a skinny thing," making her the only person to mention the additional eighty pounds. (Going to have to dig my bike out of the garage.) A few asked about my photography business, a venture I'd driven into the ground a quarter century ago, before I'd gone back to school to become a teacher. It struck me that that failed business had not been something Valerie and I had reminisced about while driving. As nearly as I could tell, no one knew I was a writer.

On the drive back to Wilmington Sunday night I couldn't help but reflect on the many jobs I've had over the years and my nascent Kvaad Press. Actually, it would be hard on the January 1st of any year not to be taking stock and considering the future; visiting my brother-in-law, meeting extended family I hadn't seen in decades, and attending a wedding merely sharpened the focus a bit. Normally I keep my musings to myself, but with both my wife and our daughter uncharacteristically awake and nothing but midnight interstate around us I ended up talking with them about the future – particularly my writing. I discovered both of them have read more of my work than I thought they had and learned one of our daughter's professors at William & Mary her freshman year liked "The Monkey Puzzle Box," my Dixon Hill (Star Trek) mystery. Neither of them is concerned about the lack of cash flow; neither of them had paid any attention to the fiscal milestones I'd expected for Kvaad Press's sixth month (January, 2012). At the same time, neither knew my goals as a writer or what I considered a reasonable investment of time and energy for reaching both my creative and business goals. For my part I'd missed some things my wife and family expected from me in terms of availability and involvement. In other words, though we'd talked about these in the past, we had either not communicated or forgotten elements we'd once understood.

The details of our discussion aren't relevant to this column; the fact the discussion took place is.

While writing is a craft, writing professionally is a business. And no business succeeds without clear communication both within and with partners, suppliers, and customers. None of us questions the importance of communicating with editors, book packagers, etc., and we put a lot of thought and effort into communicating clearly – making sure we understand and are understood. As freelance writers we work alone, but only at our craft. We live our lives as part of a family, a community, a network, whatever form it may take, made up of people we count on and who count on us. Communication is as key to personal relationships as it is to professional relationships; more so. Keep your family - your natural supports, whoever they are - in the loop. They don't need to know details about the passage that's giving you fits, but they shouldn't have to guess how your writing is going from your mood. Plan family events; be clear on deadlines and objectives; know other people's schedules; protect what you need to protect, but be flexible when and where you can. This may seem like a no-brainer, but tugs of war and contests of will are common in writers' families; avoidable stressors that negatively impact both our work and our relationships. Whether it's a weekly meeting, a master calendar on the kitchen wall, or a family-only private FaceBook community, create a structure for clear and regular communication with the people in your life you value. It will de-stress the writing process and strengthen your relationships.

9 comments:

Matthew MacNish said...

Hi Kevin. I just dropped by from Alex's blog, and am now your newest follower, so:

Nice to meet you!

Lynn Emery said...

So true. It's easy to get cut-off from others. I have to shake off the hermit living inside me and communicate with others. In fact, when I'm deep into a book, writing or reading, I can be a bit surly. I've learned to shake it off, but your post reminds me to stay plugged in to more than my computer and IPhone!

KeVin K. said...

Welcome, Matthew. Checking your page I see you follow what looks like several hundred blogs; mostly about writing from what I can tell. I'll read you and probably follow a few of those links to see what folks are talking about. Hope Novel Spaces adds something interesting to the conversation.

Lynn, I've recently discovered that a seven-hour road trip offers a great opportunity ....

Charles Gramlich said...

You know it doesn't hurt to repeat it and repeat it. Communication is at the heart of writing. I'll be teaching my writing in psyc course this spring and I try to hit the students over the head with that, pretty much every day.

Lynn Emery said...

Charles, your course sounds interesting. Which I could attend!

G said...

While communication is at the heart of writing, sometimes I find it difficult not only to discuss my writing with my family, but even with friends and co-workers.

People who know me still have a hard time in reconciling me as a writer with me as a person.

KeVin K. said...

G, I never discuss the mechanics of my writing with anyone. As I've said before, my first reader is always the editor at a paying market. By discussing my writing/editing with my family, I mean I let them know my deadlines or the fact I am working my way through a difficult/involved section that will required uninterrupted focus or that I have a light load at the moment or when I'm researching/brainstorming. Things that let them know what to expect of me when. Equally important -- and an area I fall down in -- is I listen to what they need from me and prioritize my time accordingly. But discuss my work in progress? Never happens.

Jewel Amethyst said...

G, I found I had a similar problem in reconciling me as a writer and me as a person. That came to the forefront when I no longer had a dayjob and at a meeting had to introduce myself and my profession. I did a poor job introducing myself and a person familiar with my work had to add, "she's an author and educator too.."

KeVin, communication is indeed extremely important, not just in what we communicate, but how we communicate it. Half the times issues within a family is not because of lack of communication, but because of ineffective communication.

Liane Spicer said...

Timely reminder for me, KeVin. I too am a hermit at heart and I live in my head a lot; this means I tend to resent the people who knock on my cave and shake me out of my thoughts.

I guess I'm difficult to live with sometimes. Need to keep working on that.