I Get By with a Little Help from My Friends

Recently, a friend put me in touch with a new writer—a local gal named Lydia who loves to write but has been avoiding her calling. She’s finally facing the fact that she must indeed live this tumultuous yet glamorous thing we call “the writing life.” So, we met for coffee. Lydia peppered me with a variety of questions about my writing process, my education, my literary magazine (The Ne’er-Do-Well), and my experience being published. We talked about big-picture stuff (“What does writing mean to you?”) down to the everyday (“How do you keep your writing notebook from becoming a hodgepodge of grocery lists?”). It was a total hoot. Not only was it flattering that someone actually cared to hear my thoughts on writing, but it was super fun thinking back to what it was like to be a brand-new writer. And Lydia is a delightful person, so I’m pretty sure we would have had a good time even if we were talking about garden gnomes or whatever.

I took away two big things from this meeting:

1) Writers need support. Obviously, as writers, we want to share our stories and poems and essays with people. But that’s very product-oriented. And as many of us know, we rarely have as much “product” as we’d like. (I myself take years to complete a single short story.) Sure, there are plenty of writing groups for people to share their drafts, but it’s less common for creative writers to just get together in any formalized way and talk process. We should do this! We should share our tips, neuroses, humiliations, successes, and…I don’t know, recommendations for good pens?

2) I’ve come a long way, and you probably have, too. Sure, when I look at my writing life, I tend to focus on the millions of pages unwritten. I think, “Why have I not written, like, seventy novels yet?” But the truth is, writing careers are built by degrees the same way a river carves out the walls of a gorge. It may seem painfully incremental, but when I take the time to look back, I can see that I’ve actually made some progress. It’s worthwhile to reflect on the good stuff and laugh about the bad. (Remind me to tell you about the guy in grad school who told me that one of my stories “took a major dump.”)

Writers, how do you connect with other writers? What do you gain from it?