Archive for September, 2010

This is an article I wrote for The Trunk, a literary journal, about 5 years ago. Felt like reposting.
If you have been writing for more than a few months, you know that the picture of a writer’s life—
the parties, the admiration, the inspiration that befalls you when sipping cognac while overlooking the
misty lake from your mahogany paneled office—is not reality. Now the hard work—relentless, lonely, but oddly satisfying—has probably replaced your fantasies and you are integrating this writing life into the one you used to live. Remember that one? Where you did as you pleased? Had hobbies that brought you into the light of day?
There are many changes that occur in our lifestyle when we embark on this vocation with a serious
intent to improve and become published. One that is regularly overlooked is the impact the writing life
has on friendships.
There are two kinds of friends who are detrimental to us now that we are writers. I would love to
write an article on the antithesis of these friends, one about the friends who cherish and support us, let
us be our eccentric selves, and understand deadlines and rejection slips. But, alas, I want to talk about
“the others” (to borrow a phrase from the television show Lost).
“The others” consist of two groups. The first are “the toxins.” These are those who drain our energy
and time. Though we have been brought up to have empathy for others and never break friendships,
there are people who look past what we do, think it is a mere hobby, maybe even call it “cute.” They
make us feel as though we are not contributing to life in a tangible way. They want us to do bake sales,
chair charity clubs, scrapbook our lives away. They also demean that inner part of us that has fought so hard to free up our minds so that we can write without barriers. These “others” are always there to
remind us of those barriers. You’re going to write that? What would the church say, your mother, my
bridge club?
I find that there is an easy test to figure out if a friendship is toxic. Do I find myself arguing with that
person in my own mind, whipping out insults and clever ripostes? There are plenty of great individuals who have nothing to do with the life of letters we pursue, but these toxic few who bring out the ire in us, or the rejection, are the ones eating through our souls like worms. We cannot keep up the strength to have these in-our-head arguments all day nor can we harbor that desperate feeling that we wish they understood us, for they never will.
Unfortunately the second group of “the others” are fellow writers. When we begin this quest, we
wrap ourselves in the comfy enclosure of writing friends. We talk about our obsessions and ambitions
and feel we have found a home with other writers—somewhere to put our feet up and relax. We must
realize that we have surrounded ourselves with the most sensitive people on the face of the earth. They do not all want to hear of our successes nor do they want us to comment on something we have learned. It is the rule of the writers’ playground. Most of those who find success in publishing are usually the lonely ones on the swings humming to themselves.
Finding those who have the same writing sensibilities as ourselves, and who are willing to hear of our
successes and tell us when we are getting big-headed, are the ones to cherish. However, it may take half a lifetime to find them.
As this life brings us into intimate relationship with words, not breathing humans, our time with people becomes that much more important. We should not use our relationships as fodder for future stories nor should we stay inside our minds, comparing a conversation to one we just read in a book. Like athletes who must take days off to rest, we too must step out of our heads and walk with a friend, talk of everything that has nothing to do with books, and fill our lives with tasks that bring us into society.
Though it may seem obvious, I can vouch that as you get more engrossed in this addictive life of writing, you will put more importance and find more solace in those neat, ordered relationships that you write on paper than in having to deal with the messy life of emotional, walking human beings.
Taking up this life forces us to spring clean. Old thoughts, old fears, childhood demons—they all
come to the surface. Friendships are no different. They will change, they will die, they will leave us hurt.
However, though many writers have used solitude as an excuse, the rewards of close friendship, of trusting another person with your dreams and insecurities, is tantamount to figuring out that perfect ending to a story in progress.