Writers: Choose Your Friends Wisely

As I pack my bag this week to head off to the “Sharing Our Hope” workshop, I give thanks for the writers I know that will be there and the new writing friends I expect to make. 

We writers need to nurture our creative sparks, rather than snuff them out (or allow someone else to do it). This requires a lot of appropriate self-care: solitude, healthful eating and sleeping habits, and a mentally stimulating environment.

Is that enough? No.

Self-Doubts

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.

Friendly Fire

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 that some of my friends said things to me like: “Come on and do this; you’re only writing. You can do that anytime”; “My nephew fell asleep in the middle of your new book”; “That book will never sell with that ugly painting on the cover”; “Jane’s advance was three times what you got”; and “How long does it take to crank out a kiddie’s book anyway?”

Each comment stung a bit. I thought I needed a thicker skin. But truly, with friends like these, who needs enemies?

Safety and Security

What does this have to do with health and self-care for writers? 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 block. Undermining your self-confidence is easier than completing their own work. Confront the issue kindly and ask for their support instead. If their put-downs don’t stop, consider ending the pseudo-friendships.

Sabotage from non-artist friends has more to do with your lack of availability. These friends may not understand your need to set aside time to work. Sometimes this becomes an unconscious test of your friendship. Will you stop work and be with them? (You wouldn’t expect your teacher friend to leave her classroom for two hours to go to a movie with you. That’s her work. Well, writing is your work, and every bit as valid.) So what do you do when your best friend shows up halfway through your writing time to go antiquing? Be gentle, be firm, but hang tough.

Plug the Drain!

Be aware also that some friends are so emotionally draining that being with them extinguishes your creativity. A hyperactive, life-of-the-party friend can leave you too wound up to work. Or your friend with serious problems may dump on you until you absorb all her negative feelings. 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 ninety-minute, heart-rending calls that derailed my whole writing day. I returned these calls after my writing was done. [Obviously I'm not talking about true emergencies here.]

But writers need friends! A good writing friend is the best kind of friend! On Friday I’ll talk about traits of a true friend–the kind every writer needs and deserves. Stay tuned!

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6 Responses to Writers: Choose Your Friends Wisely

  1. Maria says:

    Kristi-
    Another great post. It can be challenging to create that supportive circle of friends. I look forward to your next post.

    • kwpadmin says:

      Thank you, Maria. Yes, it can be challenging, and this same “cycle” may repeat itself at different times in your career as things change for you. But we all need at least one or two friends like this–and need to weed out (or at least, spend less time with) the ones that turn toxic. That can be the hard part.

  2. The other side says:

    I am the friend of an incredibly talented writer. I adore her books and am her biggest fan. But it is really difficult to be a good friend and an honest critic at the same time. Not to say that I have the absolute truth but if I feel that her latest work is sub par do I tell her or pretend I like it not to offend or be written out of her circle of friends? Oh and I know all about “constructive criticism” – that does not hurt any less.

  3. kwpadmin says:

    Wow, this is a great question! And a valid one. I guess my suggestion would depend on a few things:
    1. Are you a writer too? I accept constructive criticism from my critique partner (whom I also critique in turn) than I do from someone (like a husband) who isn’t a writer. If you’re a writer too, then be honest and say what you think is a weakness in it.
    2. If you’re not a writer, don’t lie, but you can be vague. Something like “I can’t put my finger on why, but this book doesn’t grab me the way the other books have.” Then she can figure out why or ask other writers for critiques.
    3. Does it make you wonder about the quality of your friendship? I’m not sure I would have a good friend that, if I were honest–yet kind, I’d be afraid of being written out of her circle of friends. I guess it would come down to how much you value that friendship, but I wouldn’t want one where I had to lie to keep a friend. And judging by your question, you’re the type who CAN be kind and truthful at the same time. I would go for that combo, I think.

    But thank you also for that comment. It behooves ALL writers to be the kind of people that others aren’t afraid to be honest with when we ask for their opinions! :-)

  4. Great post, Kristi. I’ve had my share of toxic ‘friends’ and, though it was hard to do, life is better without them. Your advice works for anyone who is striving toward a goal–short or long term–finishing a degree at night school, dieting or exercising every day, studying for a major exam. There are always people who come along and tell you to drop everything and spend time with them. “You need to have more fun!” “It’s only one time; it won’t make a difference.” It hurts because in doing so they are telling you that your goals just aren’t important. I completely agree with your advice: “Be gentle, be firm, but hang tough.” It’s hard to do, but once you lose the guilt and start respecting and valuing your work and your time, you really can reach your goals.

    • kwpadmin says:

      Boy, those are words of wisdom there, Heather! “Once you lose the guilt and start respecting and valuing your work and your time, you really can reach your goals.” Amen to that! :-)

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