I’m a lucky lady. I have loads of friends. I have childhood friends, friends in my family, I have people by the school gate, people I chat to at various hobbies. Loads of friends, or certainly as many as I need.
And I have friends who are writers.
This blog is about them. Because here’s the thing – writing isn’t only a lonely thing to do, it’s also an obssessive thing. I don’t know anyone who has got to the end of a novel without being obsessed by it to some degree (some are better than others.)
The lonely thing – I don’t think that bothers writers overly much. Because whilst we might look like we’re sad and alone, tapping away in the corner, we’re not. We’re with a whole bunch of people we know as intimately as only their creator can. We’re in a world we made. We’re not alone. We’re just not with you right now, thanks.
But the obsession. That’s a whole different game.
Now, my family and friends are very lovely and tolerant of my obsession. My husband is well used to conversations breaking off for me to muse on a plot point, or being asked what’s happening in a film because I went off thinking about what was going on in the next scene, or musing on what sexuality character-B really is. My kids know how to be self sufficient when I'm buried in a scene. Friends put up with questions and get ignored when the answer goes beyond what I needed for the book. My best friend has read two of my books – voluntarily; my mother and brother one. Another brother patiently talked over the nuances of sailing to me. They are all fantastic support.
But, they don’t live in the writing world. At the moment, most of my close writing friends are doing the same as me: waiting. Waiting for agents, or editors, or publishers. Some of us know what’s happening next, some – read for that, most – of us are in the hideous limbo of don’t know and can’t do anything about it.
This has been writing from when I started. Waiting to finish the book. Waiting for feedback. And again. Waiting to hear from agents. Waiting for pitch comps. Waiting to hear back from R and Rs. We know the moment the email lands and your heart stops and you want someone else to read it first, like the most important exam results you’ve ever got. The fall of your stomach when it’s another no. The time it takes to take the deep breath needed and sub again.
It’s hideous. Hellish in a way few things are. We put so much energy into writing, it’s what we want and… niente. Nothing.
So, from that angle – good writing friends are needed. Like the vultures in The Jungle Book we gather on the virtual fence, wondering if anything is happening, getting excited when something does for any of us, and then going back to waiting and wondering.
But, also – they’re fellow obsessives. They know that yes, it does matter if that scene isn’t just so. They know how hard it is to choose the opening scene, to work on it and still not know if it works. They know that the email at midnight was sent just as sleep was starting and then got kicked out of the bedroom by the sure knowledge pg 55 started with the wrong premise entirely.
Which means they’re tolerant. (Mostly; I can out-obsess almost anyone’s tolerance.) And they know they might be asking the same thing back of me in a week or two, and then I’ll be tolerant back.
Before I started writing, I never believed it was possible to have virtual friends. But most of my writing friends are that. I’ve met some of them once (thank goodness for WorldCon!), some of them not at all. I have only one or two who see me even semi-regularly. Our conversations are carried out on line. They’re carried out across time-zones and cultures. The shared speech of writing is what binds us together.
They know a side of me few others do. They see my early drafts, my badly-thought out plans, they know the softest, vulnerable side of being a writer. I trust them not to shred me too badly when things are new, and I trust them to maul me when the work is getting to completion and needs to be made better and better and better again. They know the part of me that screams for things to hurry up, for me just to know, for something to give soon. In short, they’re friends – through thick and very, very thin.
I don’t know if every writer has friends who write. I only know that, for me, they’re necessary to get from A to B, to sit in the traffic-jam, passing the sucky-sweets and fighting over the CD. In short, they’re part of the journey.