I am lucky enough to have several friends who are accomplished writers. Over the Thanksgiving break, I’m going to be taking a look at some of their works on this blog. But before I start looking at the individual works, I wanted to take a moment to just talk about what it has meant to have these writers as friends.
Writing is a lot of work. Some of the work is apparent; it takes place at the keyboard and produces a growing (and then shrinking) number of pages toward a completed work. It is easy, during this part of the process, to say to friends and loved one, “Sorry, I can’t do that right now, I’m working.” Much of the work, though, is less apparent. It might be done sitting on the back porch, staring out over the grape arbor, trying to puzzle out a specific memory that is needed in an essay but which you can’t quite pull up in adequate detail. It may involve laying on the living room floor playing an old Patti Smith album that triggers the sense memories of your college dorm room to adequately capture the smells of bong water and old laundry in your writing. Or, and for some reason it seems every writer I know has this experience, working may mean standing in the shower thinking over some plot element or structural problem while using up the last of the hot water.
Your loved ones may not be able to tell that you are working, and this may make you come to doubt that you are working. Your writer friends can reassure you that this does indeed count as “productive time” and that you aren’t being an unreasonably selfish person to find the hours of quietude you need. They may, though, if they are thoughtful writer friends with families of their own, suggest that you shower after everyone else who shares your hot water tank.
Writing is also scary work. What if you aren’t any good? Worse yet, what if you are genuinely bad… so bad, for instance, that you some day become known as the Rod McKuen of your day, or find your work being compared negatively with those paintings of big-eyed children from the sixties? What if you are both this bad and somehow still able to be published?
Your writer friends will tell you if something isn’t ready to send. They care about you, and they also don’t want to discover they’ve published a story that wasn’t yet ready to be out in the world.
Of course, this means finding writer friends you trust. There are, indeed, writers who are awful human beings and will find fault with your work just for the joy of feeling superior. Do not make these people your friends! Think charitably of them, be kind to them, but keep them at arm’s length. Work can ALWAYS be better. A good writer, though, is as good at pointing out what is working as she is at pointing out what is not. And you want the opinions of good writers, don’t you?
I am blessed to have as friends many wonderful writers, and during the upcoming week I will be sharing some of their work with you. Because this is also part of being a good writer friend: share your audience, your connections, your insights. The writers I’m going to share have been generous with their time, energy, and resources and helped me immeasurably. But that isn’t why I’m sharing them with you. I am sharing them because they are good writers, and you will be happy to have read their work.