Does Absence Make the Pen Grow Stronger? by Pamela Mytroen

Ever thought about a long distance writing relationship? Like the old adage, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder,” I wonder if some major distance from writing would make the pen grow stronger?

According to a study in the Journal of Communication, (August 8, 2013, Molly Vorweck, USA Today, usatoday.com) long distance relationships were found to have more intimacy and depth than couples that saw each other on a daily basis.

One of the psychologists who authored the study, Crystal Jiang of the City University of Hong Kong, suggested that because long distance relationships have limited face-to-face interactions, they maximize the time they do have together by cutting some of the chitchat and diving straight to the heart of the matter. “In an effort to keep the romance alive, couples will . . . discuss deeper issues such as love, trust, and future plans . . . they also adapt their messages, for example, by focusing on more limited but relationally intense topics.” Though they have no physical contact, they do grow close psychologically.

If you are struggling with a project, consider a long distance relationship, where you would limit the amount of time you spend with it. Or, if you are getting along well with your current pieces but want to add another, you could try starting a time-and-space-limited piece.

Four suggestions that may help:

Feet Hanging Out Window1. Commit yourself to distance for a major period of time. Of the 63 couples surveyed in this study, most of them averaged a 17-month separation. That might be too long for the writer, considering writing deadlines, but three to six months might be a sufficient starting point.

2. Set interaction parametres. As in the study, time and space were very restricted; yet an intimacy developed. Most of the couples in the study were students; so their online or phone visits were scheduled around classes and internships. They were frequent but short. Establish a routine of check-ins with your writing, but limit them to say 10 or 15 minutes each. Another way to grow attached to your project from a distance is to focus on the important issues in the story, such as tension and conflict, and don’t worry too much about minor characters or subplots. Each writer would struggle through the time and distance barrier differently.

3. Thirdly, keep editing to a minimum. Jiang said that because couples did not see each other daily, they did not grow complacent or bored with their partner. Instead, they maintained a sort of mystique or an ideal picture of what the other person was like, which kept their relationship vibrant. Likewise, in a distance writing project, believe in your story enough that you are not constantly improving or fixing it, but rather continue to be optimistic about its larger-than-life dynamic.

4. Finally, set a date set for a reunion. Write daily to keep the relationship alive and growing, knowing that you will soon reconnect. Set a goal as to how many words you want to have completed by the reunion.

I see this as a promising experiment for those pieces that we struggle with. Setting up some time and space barriers could bring back the love.

Have you ever tried a long distance relationship with your writing? Did it work for you?

IMG_2790If Pam could spend all day in her kitchen baking pies, brownies, and making turkey dinner for friends, she would. But Murray Pura once told her to write first and then bake—advice that she is trying to stick with these days, except, of course, when her grandchildren stop in for milk and cookies.

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