Friends are the best to turn to when you’re having a rough day…
‘No man is an island’ said John Donne and that’s true even of writers. There comes a moment when even the most dedicated of scribes runs out of steam – the thought of one more click of the mouse, one more line, one more word, one more stare at the study wall in search of inspiration becomes intolerable. You push back your chair and stride from the room desperate to talk to someone; that is, if you can still remember how to conduct a normal conversation. The question is who with?
The sad truth is that writers, perhaps because so much of their energy is concentrated on their writing, are sometimes less picky than they should be when it comes to choosing those they spend time with and drift into relationships that are the equivalent of having tiny splinters of bamboo wrapped in silk pushed under your nails. You don’t notice how painful they are until you’ve been acquainted with them for a while. Any of the following strike a chord?
Oh Lordy, this guy is the Encyclopaedia Britannica, Chambers Dictionary and Roget’s Thesaurus combined! Not sure whether the quote marks go inside or outside the full stop? You’re about to be enlightened along with corrections of all the other little mistakes you’ve made. ‘What about the story, what about the action, what’s your view?’ you moan, but it all falls on deaf ears.
He’s going to do it for you anyway so you might as well take advantage of the situation. You’ve just found yourself an expert proof-reader free of charge!
THE SPOTLIGHT SEEKER
You’re both writers so everything’s fine… or is it? Pretty soon you realise that there are only two roles up for grabs – speaker and audience, and guess which one you are? Meanwhile, the relentless monologue describing every twist and turn of their writing and publishing journey in minute detail goes on and on – you now know where they buy their printer ink (at cost price), how many words they reached yesterday (2,761 while all you managed was a measly 750) and how the latest rejection letter made them feel (determined to try again, apparently), while your contribution to the ‘conversation’ can be summed up in one word – zilch.
Earplugs or chanting ‘La, la, la’ with ever increasing volume. Hopefully, he or she will eventually get the message…
“Oh, they’re not looking for books like that anymore…”
“You should meet my friend, Judy – she’s a real writer…”
“You really need to rewrite it all from the beginning…”
Drip, drip, drip, gradually eroding every last shred of your already shaky self-confidence – with friends like that, who needs enemies?
Avoid, avoid, avoid! You have enough self doubt and questioning of your writerly talent going on internally already without needing any additional help, thankyou very much!
Perhaps by now you’re beginning to think your own company might be the preferable option after all, but before you beat a hasty retreat, cast your net a little wider because for every confidence bashing soul-sucker, there is a potential writing buddy who understands exactly what the writing life is like – they’ve been there, done that and are wearing the T-shirt to prove it. But how do you find one?
- Look in writerly places.
Attend a writers’ group, go to a conference, explore online forums and communities – even delve into books by writers to find writerly wisdom and inspiration.
While not always the case, it is generally useful to find someone writing in the same field, e.g. if you write romance you may not get helpful critiques from someone whose area of expertise is putting together fact-rich articles as the criteria for the two types of writing are completely different. It’s worth thinking about what stage you’re at too – you don’t necessarily need to find a writing buddy at the same level in their writing as you, but it can be enormously helpful in spurring each other on to greater efforts as you can hold each other accountable to targets such as writing a certain number of words per day or achieving specific writing goals etc. Don’t fall into the frustrating trap of buddying up with the first person you come across and then finding there is a complete mismatch in outlook, e.g. you have a dream of making writing your full-time career, but the person you team up with turns out to be a writing dilettante who never completes anything and would much rather spend hours chatting about writing than actually doing it!
- Find a match
So what should you look for in a writing buddy? Key qualities include:
A true writing friend is not someone who will tell you what you want to hear but what you need to hear. The problem is that after working on a piece for days or weeks on end your judgement often goes awol. It becomes virtually impossible to see the work clearly, and, consequently, it can be very easy to unintentionally leave huge gaps in the plot because, although you know exactly what’s going on, you haven’t actually made the connections in the text, leaving the poor reader baffled and confused. A faithful writing buddy (i.e. someone you know wants you to write the best you possibly can and whose judgement you trust) will ask leading questions that help reveal such shortcomings. And even if it hurts, always be grateful for such honesty because it is rare and to be prized above all things.
- A sympathetic ear
Ideally, you want someone who completely understands writerly blues and will be there for you to let off steam when you send the outline of your precious idea for an article in to a magazine, only to have the idea pinched, including your proposed sources, and will rage satisfyingly on your behalf whilst treating you to a commiseratory glass of wine. And of course you will reciprocate when they in turn need a shoulder to cry on. Because that’s what writing buddies are for.
- A commitment to you & your writing
A good writing buddy will have almost as much commitment to your writing as you and will be rooting for you to be the best writer you possibly can be. This means that (somewhat annoyingly) they will tell you in no uncertain terms when you’re not giving it 100%.
- A sense of humour
A good writing buddy will also laugh at you and with you, sometimes over things nobody except the two of you find funny.
- A willingness to give
Essentially, writing is very much a ‘sharing it out’ experience and tends to flow in all directions – sometimes you will be mentoring someone who has less experience, sometimes brainstorming with peers working on a similar level and sometimes receiving wisdom and encouragement from a writer further on in their writing career. The key is to be generous in all your writing relationships.
And while we’re on the subject, thanks to my much valued writing buddies from different seasons and places – Wendy, Sheila, Carol, Marilyn, Deborah, Fay, Amanda, Julia & Edna. xx
I got you to look after me, and you got me to look after you, and that’s why.
John Steinbeck (Author: Of Mice and Men)
Illustration: Friends ©Michael Smith
#Carry on the thriftiness
Holidaying in West Sussex on Tesco Clubcard vouchers, oh well…
#Edit my book & write more short stories…
Nope, didn’t make the longlist for the Bristol Short Story competition again – it made me feel really down at the time as I thought I’d written a cracking story – obviously not cracking enough. Have decided to invest in the 2016 BSS anthology to read the stories that did win, and see if that gives me any ideas on how to improve my chances next year. Second story to People’s Friend was also initially turned down, but I was given some excellent advice on how to improve it by the helpful PF Fiction Team, reworked it from a slightly different angle & it’s just been accepted – woohoo!
#Do up the bathroom & loos (on a shoestring budget!)
Have had our builder round for a discussion but haven’t managed to get our heads round how to progress yet – meanwhile, the year is running away with us & it looks like we’re going to be stuck with a shower that only provides sufficient hot water for 3 showers at any one time for the foreseeable future – guess who always seems to end up with the lukewarm if you’re lucky, downright freezing if you’re not, 4th shower!!