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.
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.
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!