Most writers I know lead a comparatively solitary existence, which is why we, more than the average person, need our friends. I don’t mean we ‘need’ our friend—I mean we need our friends. DragonCon was a few weeks ago and to be perfectly blunt about it, 99% of the reason I went was to spend time with friends. The costumes are fun and the panels are interesting and the opportunity to do some professional networking never hurt anyone, but for me, DragonCon (and most other smaller cons, too) have turned into a convenient gathering place to find and spend time with my favorite people. And as much as we need to get out of the house more and interact with our fellow humans in general, we especially need our writers friends for certain things.
A few years ago a writer friend of mine called me up to tell me she had just landed an agent to represent her novel. And it was a big-time agent, with some serious heavy-hitter clients. Writers know this is a big deal. My friend, however, had made the mistake of first calling her parents. The conversation had gone something like this:
“Mom, dad, I just signed with an agent.”
“That’s, uh… that’s wonderful, dear.”
“He’s got all this big-name clients and has all sorts of connections with all the big publishers. I can’t wait.”
“Can’t wait, dear?”
“Yeah, for him to start submitting my book.”
“How much money did you make when you signed with this agent.”
“You don’t make money when you sign with an agent, mom. He’s the one who sells the book for you.”
“So when is your little book going to be published.”
“I don’t know, he hasn’t sold it yet. I just signed with him today.”
“You sound awfully excited about nothing, dear.” “Love you, too, mom.”
And so it was, that despite just signing with a major player in the industry, she called me on the verge of tears because her parents so clearly did not understand the realities of our “little book” business. I was appropriately thrilled on her behalf, and after a while the moment turned into the glorious event that it should have been all along, but I’ll never forget how important it was for her to talk to someone who really understood.
Of course, there’s a dark side to this writer-friend business, too. I’ve read novels written by friends that I desperately wanted to like but couldn’t because they were riddled with flaws. Just today (literally about an hour ago) I had to call a writer friend and tell her I couldn’t write a letter of recommendation for a grant she was applying for. I like her and she’s a talented writer, but the project she’s working on now is one that I had personal objections to and I knew if I tried to write a letter recommending it, it would sound half-baked and insincere and in the long run probably do more harm than good. I called her on the phone and talked to her in person, and fortunately she was very understanding about my position, but it was a terribly difficult call to make. On the other hand, that’s exactly why I called her up to talk about it instead of sending her an email: I need my writer friends and can’t afford to throw any of them away, so as they say here in the South, I’m a pleased as punch that it went well. (I don’t know how happiness became equated with punch (unless they’re putting moonshine in the Kool-Aid, which around here is entirely possible…)).
I guess in the end my point is simply this: be as kind to each other as possible while still being true to yourself. And since I feel like I’m on the verge of getting up on a very big soap box and boring people, I’ll aim for short and sweet and leave it at that.