Not long ago, I blogged about how to be your own best writing friend. Sometimes that’s easier said than done because we’re not quite sure what that looks like.
So, with that in mind, I want to chat today about the characteristics of toxic writing friends and supportive writing friends. This should help you to…
- identify some good potential writing or critique friends, and
- identify if you are being toxic or supportive with yourself.
We writers need to nurture our creative sparks, rather than snuff them out. This requires appropriate self-care: solitude, healthful eating and sleeping habits, and a mentally stimulating environment. Is that enough? No.
Early in my career (like 30 years ago), I had all those things. I was very disciplined, ate right, walked daily, studied hard, and took time to dream my ideas into stories and books that sold. Yet my self-doubts grew along with my list of credits, my enthusiasm eventually waned, and I feared my success had been a fluke.
I was puzzled. Although I worked very hard, I was also careful to avoid burnout. I took time to relax with my friends. But, as it turned out, that appeared to be part of the problem: toxic writing friends.
The Bible says there is a friend that sticks closer than a brother. Today I’m blessed with many such treasures, but in the beginning I noticed some of my friends said things to me like: “My nephew fell asleep in the middle of your new book”; “Your book will never sell with that ugly cover”; and “Jane’s advance was three times what you got.”
With writer friends like these, who needs enemies?
Safety and Security
Creativity grows and flourishes when we have a sense of safety and self-acceptance. The writer in you, like a small child, is happiest when feeling a sense of security, and this requires safe companions. “Toxic playmates can capsize our artist’s growth,” says Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way.
Every writer needs friends, but it’s the quality, not the quantity, that counts when it comes to your emotional health. Our choice of friends is critical. We have enough of a challenge when plagued by our own fears of failure or inadequacy without having to deal with someone else’s.
Reasons Friends Turn Toxic
Jealousy makes some people toxic. These friends usually want to write too, but aren’t presently working. If you’re producing pages of a novel or interviewing experts for your magazine article, it’s harder for them to collect sympathy for being the victims of some mysterious writer’s block. Undermining your self-confidence is easier than completing their own work.
Other writing friends have been working hard, but they haven’t sold their writing yet, so it’s hard to be happy for your success. Either way, confront the issue kindly and ask for their support instead. If their put-downs don’t stop, consider ending the pseudo-friendships.
Plug the Drain!
Toxic friends can be so emotionally draining that being with them extinguishes your creativity. Your friend with serious problems may dump on you until you absorb all her negative feelings and can’t write. If these draining friendships are valuable enough to you to keep, then choose your contact times carefully.
For example, during my rough draft stages where creativity must be high, I reduce time spent with such friends. I also learned to use my answering machine to screen the repeated ninety-minute, heart-rending calls that derailed my whole writing day. I returned these calls after my writing was done. I’m afraid that sounds pretty cold-hearted, but it was the only way I could get my writing done.
What about true writer friends–the kind every writer needs and deserves? How do you identify them? What traits in a writer friend do you need to show to yourself?
We all need friends, as writing can be a lonely business sometimes.
Traits of a True Friend
So…what are the characteristics of friends who best nurture our creativity and productivity?
A. Supportive non-writer friends show an interest. They may not understand exactly what you do, but they ask about your current projects (as you ask about theirs). They’re happy for your successes, no matter how small in the world’s eyes.
B. Supportive writer friends pump you up to do your best work, and even act as cattle prods. (“Quit stalling. Sign up for that conference.”) The encouragement of your peers is special. At one point, because of some health problems, I had virtually lost touch with my writer friends for over two years. Until I reconnected at a conference, I hadn’t realized what a grind my writing life had become. Just being together to “talk shop” reminded me that I was a writer. It rejuvenated my enthusiasm.
C. Friends in a working critique group can be a godsend. First, the members offer good constructive criticism to each other. Second, members hold each other accountable (in a kind way) for actually producing some material each week.
D. In a beneficial way, misery loves company! How much better I felt when I attended a retreat to discover that I wasn’t the only one whose books were going Out Of Print or who hadn’t signed a book contract all year. Instead of feeling like an abysmal failure, I then saw my experience as part of the general upheaval of the publishing world.
E. On a practical level, supportive writing friends often share valuable marketing tips (who’s looking for what genre, an agent’s advice about a hot topic). Alone, we writers have little “inside information”; collectively, we have a broader base of knowledge.
Where Are Such Friends?
If you need a change in the friendship area, don’t despair. You can find new supportive friends. As you nurture your writing life and grow in self-confidence, you’ll naturally attract friends (writer and non-writer alike) who are more supportive as well.
This is one area where the Internet has helped enormously. I know many writers who are in critique groups, but they haven’t actually met in person, although they’ve been critiquing for years! And if you are “friends” on Facebook with other writers, or leave thoughtful comments on their blogs, you’ll make supportive writer friends that way sometimes as well. I know many writers who found accountability partners that way, and those writers definitely became friends.
This may sound backwards, but we often have to believe in ourselves before anyone else will. Others often take their cues from us. So learn the characteristics of a supportive friend, and learn to be your own best friend first!
What is a trait you look for in an ideal writer/friend? And how could you show that kind of support to yourself today?