Is there a mismatch between what you think you're capable of as a writer and what you're actually managing to write? The problem might be sitting next to you right now. (People. It's other people.)
Relational energy is real. Our intimate relationships have a material effect on our cognition, and as such, they can make or break a publishing career.
A long time ago, I worked with an author who had a promising platform, great ideas, and—for the first few years—zero follow-through. This person would send me approximately one excellent paragraph of a draft proposal, rework it a couple of times, and then ghost for six months or more, returning only to repeat the cycle with an all-new paragraph from an all-new idea.
This went on for more than three years, to our mutual bafflement. Then something awful happened: while this author was off in another country visiting family, their spouse surprise-dumped them—over email, IIRC.
Think about how devastating and destabilizing this must have been: Just a couple of weeks after they left town, they returned home to an empty apartment and divorce papers. Oh, and: a social media feed full of pictures of their still-technically-spouse snuggling with a (surprise!!) new squeeze in various luxury hotels.
Nobody deserves to endure something like that. Nobody. I wish that trauma had never happened to this author.
Still: I have to admit that this development proved miraculous for their career. Within a week, they were at last making real progress on a proposal. Within months, we had sold that proposal to a big publisher for phenomenal money.
This author’s talent was (and is!) cavernous and crystalline. Their first marriage, on the other hand, was like a landslide across its door. It didn’t just block their talent’s egress; it blocked all the light that could have otherwise come in and made their mind a glittering palace. But then fate pushed the boulders aside, and voila.
Watching all this unfold was the first time it really dawned on me how much power authors’ intimate relationships—romantic, platonic, familial—had over their careers. Authors who share space with—for lack of a better term—people who yuck their yum, who scramble their energy, often find themselves unable to write at all, for reasons beyond their conscious understanding.
In case you’re one of them, I’m writing this newsletter for you. The intimates with whom you share space and time—romantic partners, close friends, family, coworkers, friends and office mates—can have an enormous impact on your ability to write and write well. Are you aware of that?! I wasn’t.
Here’s what I’m not going to focus on today: toxic positivity.
All of us have seen the cheugy Instagram quotes, #weightlossjourney Tiktoks, and what have you about how important it is to surround yourself with “supportive” and “positive” people.
And, I mean, I guess? If you’re a people-pleaser like me and actually want to do something big and different with your life, best not to make the attempt in a choir of negative nellies. (Especially if you’re a recovering addict and the “negative nellies” we’re talking about are in fact substance pushers. But I digress.)
Yes, and: all of you are smart people. I don’t think you needed me to tell you what I just did. Rachel Hollis has already "said"1 it many times.
If you weren't aware that it's nice to surround yourself with people who cheer for you as you pursue your goals, well, you are now.
What I want to focus on instead is a subtler layer of this dynamic: one that IMO a lot of people don’t even realize is down there. I’m talking about people’s vibes—their energy fields—and how they can interact in unpredictable, uncontrollable ways.
There are people out there who 100% do want you to be successful, at least consciously, and 100% aren’t negative nellies, at least consciously—but as long as they are sharing a big part of your physical or psychic space, you’re just plain not going to be able to write (or write well). That’s what I’m going to unpack for you today.
…In a moment! Because first, I want to highlight one other thing:
I am also not going to address overt abuse.
There are certainly plenty of abusive relationships out there ruining authors’ careers. (See this incredible Longreads essay from a few years back for an example of what I’m talking about.)
Relationships of this sort are tragic, awful, and tricky to disentangle. Attempting to do so as a literary agent, let alone give advice about them, would be insane and irresponsible, so I’ll refrain.
If you’d like to hold one or more of your relationships up to the light and see if it chimes with what professionals define as abuse, here’s what I recommend: go alone to a public library (if you can) and access this site to do a little research. Bonus: there’s a chat service and phone numbers for texting trained professionals if you have any questions or concerns after reading. All strictly private and anonymous. Nothing will happen afterward unless you decide you want that.
Remember: Your people are out there, even in the dark. Whatever you decide to do or not do about your situation, whoever you are and were and will be, we are here—and all of us with more than two neurons to rub together believe you’re so valuable, just as you are. Not to mention rakish and toothsome. :fans self:
Godspeed. I love you.
OK, now onto what I really want to address: how Bad Vibes between essentially well-meaning people can literally ruin creative talent(s)—and creative careers.
On the flip side, a great relationship or two can summon creative powers you never even knew you had.