writing friendships

This is not a positive sort of post–my apologies. Most of the time, I feel inspired about my writing and you will see those posts about “believing in yourself.” I like writing those, I like the idea of people reading those. But these past couple of weeks? I’ve been wrapped in some self-doubt. I hate self-doubt, but it’s not going to go away if I ignore it either. And since I don’t want it to show up in my writing–it’s going to show up here.

The self-doubt is going to show up with some legal of negativity. Maybe this isn’t too comfortable to read, but maybe there’s an ounce of truth in it.

These days, my life is school, work, writing, and my family (and more specific than that: my husband, for I pitifully neglect my parents and brother). I have become a horrible friend as my dedication to writing has increased.

Those who suffer the most are my “non-writing” friends, even though many times they are the inspiration for so may ideas and stories. When I am obsessing about my writing most of the time, it’s hard for me to make room for anything else. Bleah.

So that leaves me with writing friends as the core of my social life. This is a precarious center. I can talk about my novel, about the craft of writing, share resources–but how easy it to really be friends as writers? (And before I begin to explore this question, I want to CLEARLY state that I am blessed with a few excellent, wonderful, loyal, kind, and intelligent writer friends who lie outside of this questioning).

But for the most part–what kind of precarious center have I placed at the center of my social circle? The “writing pie” is not very big, writers are scrambling for any piece they can get. The investment is high, the returns are low. The criteria are mostly subjective. The heart is vulnerable. The writers are jealous and competitive of each other.

I have many writing acquaintances who I do not bother to ask for help anymore. I know they won’t provide help (or if they do, they will provide JUST ENOUGH to avoid judgment). Cocktail party banter could be more meaningful.

Then there are the offers for help. “Oh, I have a friend who is a writer at such and such magazine, you should submit your story there!” said a friend.

“Oh really?” I ask. I take her up on her offer. Weeks go by, no answer. “What did your friend say?”

My friend emails back, “Oh, sorry. My friend is totally competitive and didn’t give out my info, she gets like that.” Of course. I feel jerked around, naively surprised. Why was I even surprised, after all this time? I ended finding my own leads.

A friend loves to ask me to read her manuscripts. I’ve read quite a few of hers–and I would not count except that she does not read many of mine. Somehow, there’s been a convenient excuse to not read my stories. Once she did read a story of mine and she said she’d give me the feedback “soon.” It never came.  I’m trying to not read too much into that.
These are benign examples. Worse are the people who give patronizing feedback, intention being to NOT help the writer get any better, but to appease them. I could go on, but now I’m starting to feel more bummed out, and I’ve got to stop!

I’m not perfect either. I get busy, and can’t get back to all my friends or to every manucript, but I apologize profusely and I’ve become a lot better at setting boundaries and expectations with these things.  I get jealous too, even though I HATE that side of me. Shouldn’t I just focus on my own work and get on with it?

So what’s left? Hole up? Don’t make any more writing friends? Make more friends outside of writing? Catch up with my old friends? Get some balance into my life?

Or of course, there’s the old adage: count your blessings!



Filed under MFA, Writing

14 responses to “writing friendships

  1. mel

    My writing friendships are very valuable to me, so yeah I think that would feel really extra smarmy to have a writer friend pull a fast one on you – that “JUST ENOUGH to help” is so true. I hate having to think that way, and know that people like that exist!

    I agree, count your blessings. Stephen King says find the person who is your “ideal reader” and write for them. If you have more than one good reader in your life, that is a lot!

    Also: I enjoy reading other people’s manuscripts, bc I feel it helps me become a better writer, too. For me it’s reciprocal, or at least it should feel that way. I give the best feedback I can, bc that’s what I would want. Maybe I’m just foolish (err, but at least I’m not an asshole)… 😉

  2. Writing is such a tricky, sensitive business. It’s so personal. I TRY to be a good writing friend, and I think that often I am, but I also know that sometimes I fall short. Years ago I edited an anthology. One of my best friends EVER submitted a piece. The writing was good, but thematically it was only tied in by the slenderest thread. I was the editor – I COULD have taken it, but I felt like it was too much of a stretch, and ultimately we decided no.

    I regret that decision now. The piece COULD have worked. I could have made it work! I could have said, this piece is relevant. And I could have avoided years of hurt feelings and awkwardness. I wish still that I had.

  3. I find that very few people can stay friends long when they’re writers. It doesn’t even matter if you’re in different genres.

    Writers are in love with words. Period. When we see another writer making love to the language (that is, her writing blows us away), we become the jealous/envious girlfriend or boyfriend. It’s difficult to see what we love used by others in such a way, yet it’s inspiring too.

    The way I see it, we’d all do better not to bother talking to our writer friends about our work. Then again, I’m one of those people who’s psycho about keeping my best ideas and stories secret. *Shrugs shoulders*

  4. I think it kind of depends on who you take as your writer friends, maybe? The gang who have become my main writing group, they’re al pretty decent folks, pretty willing to crit and help one another, suggest leads even when it might cost them something personally, and so on. But having gone through an intense workshop together, we’ve kind of bonded. (And some part of me, idealistically, wants to think SF writers are just less like that than others, hee.)

    I’ve had other groups I’ve been involved with that were like this, too: people who were generous and really energetic about helping one another, giving useful feedback, and respecting one another. But I have also known plenty of (wannabe) writers who were just in love with themselves, and who were no good to anyone else. It may be a symptom of where you’ve met these people — many of the most insufferable were in a creative writing grad program (though there were a few cool people there, too), while people I met outside the program were cooler and more, I don’t know, humane about it all.

  5. I would agree with that. The circumstances of meeting these writer friends plays a big role in how the relationship will develop.

  6. I am speaking mostly of MFA acquaintances, I guess. Even the nicest people have their guard up in a program.

  7. mel

    I think this has alot to do with the fact that writers don’t have the same opportunity to work together/collaborate as other artists do (actors, dancers, or musicians, for example). I have this vision of my MFA friends being like the kids from, “Fame” – you know, we laugh and cry and struggle together, we break into song and dance in the cafeteria, that kind of thing.

    There’s this scene from an old movie where a stage actress can’t perform so she tells her understudy, “Honey, I want you to go out there and be so swell, you make me sick.” I think all artists have that mixed pang of respect and envy; but in the end, no one else but can have empathy for you like your fellow artist, whether you see them as peer, brother/sister, or rival, or sort of all of the above.

  8. I think a lot of it has to do with unpublished writers (like most writers in MFA programs) feeling insecure about their writing. I find that among published writers, people tend to be much more helpful and encouraging toward one another. So maybe that’s something we can all strive for, and look forward to.

  9. hrmmm i have heard that published writers are no more generous…!

  10. Pingback: writing friendships, mentors, peers « Writing Under a Pseudonym

  11. Thanks for sharing this information. Really is pack with new knowledge. Keep them coming.

  12. akrypti

    Jadie, I should NOT be reading your old blog posts while I consider whether to apply for MFA programs. This is NOT making me want to be around MFA folks. As if enduring three years of law students wasn’t bad enough.

  13. akrypti

    And btw no I’m not stalking you. You just have a ton of great posts that talks about writing and the MFA, which are of pressing concern to me at this moment. Also, I don’t know why my username keeps changing from “akrypti” to “burnt sienna.” Both are under the same account but one I deleted recently, or at least all the entries….I dunno. In case you were wondering, the two are the same. Moi. =D

  14. akrypti: I should write a summary post soon on what I did get out of my MFA program–what I expected and didn’t get, what I expected and did get…and all the other permutations.

    It was an intensely valuable experience overall–I didn’t exit with a ton of BFFs (not sure why–there are certainly other people in my program who did end up with a lot of BFFs), but I do have a handful of people I do like and keep in touch with. Plus I now have writing mentors, the key reason I did go for my MFA.

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