3 Reasons Why Co-writing with My Husband Is Scary and 3 Ways I’m Conquering My Fears

Hi, I’m Karen. For almost 40 years, I’ve been an imaginary writer.

Meaning, I spend lots of time imagining how great it will be when I finally write all the amazing stories that are locked somewhere inside of me. But not really doing that much, y’know... actual writing. Because words are hard. And it’s much more fun contemplating which studio I’ll license my film rights to, than writing anything film-worthy.

So when I asked Ron if he ever wanted to work together on a book, I thought he knew the rules. Sure, we could talk about it. But nothing could come of it. Obviously.

What was I thinking? This is Ron we’re talking about! Mr. Make-a-Plan, Set-a-Goal and Whatever-Happens-Blog-About-It. I should have known better.

Before I could blink, Ron was posting to Facebook about our book project and friends were congratulating me on (what they assumed was) all my hard work. And I started to panic about a gazillion things. But here are the Top 3:

  • What if I can’t? I have invested serious time into building my perfect writing-castle in the air. So taking the first shaky steps toward building one out of real, flawed words and effort is, frankly, terrifying.

The idea (if not the practice) of being a writer has always been part of my makeup and identity. But what if I don’t have the chops to back it up, or the guts to take a chance and find out once and for all? Who would I be?

  • What if I can, but it causes a rift? When I’m not worrying about how awful I’ll be, I switch things up a bit by worrying about being so good that Ron might start to resent me. (I never claimed to make much sense.)

There’s an old Chevy Chase comedy (Funny Farm, 1988) about a writer whose wife starts to write, as well... and gets a book deal right off the bat. Of course it all works out in the end, with much slapstick hilarity ensuing. But the dark undertones of that marital competition have always stuck with me.

  • What if it’s just a whole lot of blood, sweat and tears, and nothing comes of it? I mean, that’s a distinct possibility. I could do my best work, not suck, not spark any marital discord, work my butt off... and it still might be crickets. Is that a gamble I really want to make?

There were a gazillion-minus-three more fears crowding all around those.

Which has meant that, while Ron has plunged right into the writing pool—slogging through early morning writing sessions, throwing rough clay forms on the page and moving on, doing all the heavy lifting—I have been staring at largely blanks pages, trying to work up the courage to dip a toe in the water. Fretting.

Turns out, fretting is kind of exhausting. So when Ron asked if I would be willing to write a blog post, I jumped at the chance to contribute something to our process. Even if I didn’t have any idea what I could write.

The first part was easy... for me, fear is pretty much always accessible. But the second part has taken some stewing and a few well-timed podcasts, tweets and plain ol’ Life to figure out.

So here are 3 reasons why I’m going to keep trying, despite a gazillion fears:

  • Rewards > Risk. I’m not sure what terrifies me more...failing, or other people seeing me fail. But I am sure of one thing: all that fear comes with a pretty hefty price tag. It may feel like I’m “saving” myself from humiliation when I steer clear of potential failures. But I’m also leaving potential victories on the table, untapped.  

Here’s just one of many real world examples. I remember the first time I ran a 5K, I almost threw up within 30 seconds of the start. Not because I was exerting myself so much... but because I was horrified to realize that actual people were watching me gallop, sweat, gasp and jiggle my way through the course.

I was being flawed, and there were witnesses!

I wanted to disappear...escape the gaze of spectators who I assumed were judging me or laughing at me. I could have stopped. Or never tried. That would have saved me some embarrassment. But what about the benefits that came from finishing that race? And the confidence it gave me to continue galloping, sweating, gasping and jiggling over many race courses since then. In retrospect, those rewards far outweigh the risks I was trying so hard to avoid.

Ron and I after our 5K and, a few years later, after a half-marathon.

Ron and I after our 5K and, a few years later, after a half-marathon.

I am hoping the same goes for writing. Again, I am being flawed in public! But reminding myself that I am not here to run a seven-minute mile or write the great American novel overnight may help to refocus me on the rewards. Rewards I would never see if I listened to my fears.

  • Less ego, more art. I recently discovered a podcast I love called Death, Sex and Money. So, naturally, I’ve been binge listening to it during my long-ass commute. One episode that surprised me (because I almost skipped it) was an interview with country music power couple, Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires.
Jason Isbell  and Amanda Shires performing via Flickr.

Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires performing via Flickr.

Jason and Amanda are both solo artists. And one way of looking at it is that they’re competing against each other...for fans, record deals, market share. But what I loved about the interview is that there are so many other ways of looking at it, and this couple seems to have mastered a really healthy, balanced way of dealing with it.

Here's a bit from the podcast:

"Have there been moments where you felt competitive?

Amanda: Nope, I’m not competitive at all. I’m not competitive. Because he doesn’t have a vagina. My problems and my thoughts are all from a woman’s perspective, you can’t compete with that. Or without that. So I guess that’s part of why I’ve not felt competitive, because I understand the different places we’re in…"

A lot of what I’ve been letting hold me back—what if I’m better than Ron, what if Ron is better than me? These are questions born of competition, not collaboration. And they’re also a handy little distraction from the real work at hand, which is crafting a story based on the different places we’re in. Different...not better, not worse. Just each our own.

Another great line from Amanda: “Being married to somebody doesn’t change your art. It can change your topics, but it doesn’t change what you’re in the world to do.”

  • The journey. I spend a lot of time being overwhelmed by the sheer amount of work ahead of us, and how long it will take to get where we want to go. Oh, and don’t forget about how hard it will be, too.

But that’s like taking a cross-country trip and spending the entire time staring at the odometer.

Photo by  Bruce Berrien  via Flickr.

Photo by Bruce Berrien via Flickr.

There’s a whole wide world of discoveries passing right outside my window. And the more time I spend fretting about how long it’s going to take us to get where we’re going, the more likely I am to miss:

  • How much I’m enjoying the impromptu catch-ups we’re having over a beer or two...not agonizing work, just a brief discussion about progress and what’s up for the week.
  • How working together and allowing myself to be vulnerable and flawed in front of Ron is bringing us to an unexplored level of intimacy. After knowing each other for 21 years, it’s like navigating an obstacle course blindfolded...scary, but filled with opportunities to lean on each other in new ways.
  • How much I appreciate Ron’s creativity, value his support and am inspired by his work ethic.

I don’t know how this will turn out. But I am officially excited about trying. And I could use some feedback and accountability. So will you join me? Follow me on Twitter @KarenVitale. And sign up for Ron’s mailing list, if you want to know when I’ll be guest blogging next.