Writing, by its very nature, is a solitary pursuit. Even those authors who work in tandem with others (co-writers, ghost writers, editors) must necessarily do their actual work by themselves. Fortunately, most of us who seek the writing life are not only mentally and emotionally equipped to handle the solitude, we may even crave it. Nevertheless, almost unarguably, a time comes for us all when the loneliness becomes a dark night and the battle seems too big to be fought on our own. That’s where writing buddies come into play.
Admittedly, I’m one of those lone wolf types who inevitably (sometimes frustratingly) prefer the safety and tranquility of my own company to the “madding crowd.” I identify strongly with the line from the 1994 movie version of Little Women, wherein a young Jo March (Winona Ryder) says, “Late at night my mind would come alive with voices and stories and friends as dear to me as any in the real world. I gave myself up to it, longing for transformation.” But there comes a time for all artists when even that glorious transformation isn’t quite enough to sustain us. There’s a time when we all need the encouragement and criticism and fellowship of flesh and blood co-conspirators.
That writing buddies aren’t that easily come by only makes them that much more treasured. Writers, being the strange lot they are, aren’t likely to find commiserative spirits—much less soul mates—lying around for the taking. In my experience, serendipity is just about the only factor you can count on in running across these special folks. But there are a number of things you can do to plant yourself in the path of a blessing:
1. Go where writers are.
2. Haunt writing forums and communities.
3. Establish relationships.
Writing buddies have come in and out of my life over the years. Some have been there since the beginning; some have stayed just long enough to help me survive one or two projects. But they’ve all left their impact. And I’ve been grateful for every one of them. Most of them have been long-distance relationships over the Internet. But I’ve also been blessed to have the face-to-face support of local friends.
So, what do I do with all these helpful friends of mine? Well, we commiserate, of course. (“Beginnings are the pits.” “This editor has no idea what he’s talking about!” “You read So-and-So’s latest book? Of course you noticed that blatant POV switch on page 62!”) Having someone whose mind runs in concentric circles with my own is a one-of-a-kind blessing. I mean how many non-writers do you know who obsess about semicolons and deus ex machina? Or who go around chuckling gleefully at the thought of “killing” a certain evil character? Or who are crazy enough to get up at obscene hours of the night to scribble important plot points? It takes a writer to understand a writer. And sometimes just being understood is the greatest gift of the century.
But probably the single most important contribution of my writing friends is not the fact that they encourage my flights into my imaginary world, but rather that they keep my grounded in this world—by taking a good, hard realistic look at my work. They love my writing, and they give me those oh-so-necessary boosts by telling me so. But they’re also not afraid to utterly lambaste me when they see something they hate. Their honesty—and the fact that it is only brutal because they care about me and my work—is a tremendous gift. As much as I crave and love my solitude, I need and appreciate my writing buddies even more. No doubt, I’d still be here tapping away at the keyboard even without their support, but the fact that they’re there makes the journey a lot more fun all the way around.
In short, to all you folks who are out there writing right alongside of me, encouraging me, understanding me, and—occasionally—lambasting me: Thank you. You know who you are, and I’m very glad we’re in this crazy writing life together!
Story by K.M. Weiland