Good writing is risky. When an editor tells you to “dig deeper,” they mean: take more risks. To take bigger creative risks, you need someone on your side—whether you win or lose. Someone whose support is unconditional, constant and honest. This person, or group of people, is a friend to your writing. They will be there when your work is polished and published. Yay. And they will be there when it’s mediocre and rejected. Ouch. Along the way, they help you dig deeper, take more risks and write what you really want to write. They are the witnesses to your success—your grand effort. Your personal triumph. Your hallelujah.
Having confidence in myself as a capable, published writer is not the same as having my friend ask me what I’ve written lately and asking to read a copy. Commenting in a reflective and meaningful way. Gently asking, “Is this your best?” This person sees me as a friend and an artist; she genuinely thinks I have something to offer the whole wide world. As a writer, I can’t think of a higher compliment. And so I dig deep, partly for the sake of my friend and her confidence in me! It’s a virtuous creative cycle.
Friends keep us real. We need them at every stage of the writing journey, because the creative process means taking greater and greater risks. As artists, as soon as we stop risking, we stop growing. As we progress, a friend does not become less important, they become more important, even vital to our survival and success.
My friends to my writing simply love me—and my writing. They read. They listen.
They applaud. What more do I need?
KNOW YOUR NEEDS
When looking for a friend, consider whom God has already put in your path. Who is the person most genuinely interested in your work? If you need to find a friend, writing groups abound. Many of us are introverts and need to be sought out. But! Not all writing gatherings are created equal. Whether you sign up for a class, fly south for a conference, network online, join a local association, or form a small critique group, go in with clear expectations. Writers’ gatherings should meet your writing needs.
Writers change and grow. So do friendships, memberships and mentors.
For instance, if you need help getting ideas on paper or simply finding time to write, consider a community class that forces you to show up and write something once a week. If you need someone to critique your work, find a local writing group. If you are ready to publish or promote, research conference options that offer industry networking.
When my family moved from the Prairies to the West Coast, I needed to start from scratch in meeting other writers. I ventured out to a local writer’s group where a woman in a gauzy blue scarf and silver jewelry greeted me with a copy of the group’s latest publication. She asked why I had come. “What are you looking for?” I was glad I’d thought about my goals before I came. “I’d like to join a small poetry group that meets monthly,” I said. “Perfect! I’ll give you the email of two other women who’re looking for the same thing.” Our three-person poetry circle is heading into its fifth year, and has taken my poetry forward in ways I’d never have accomplished on my own. They read what I don’t publish, and polish what I do. They are friends to my writing, which is exactly what I was looking for when I researched local writing groups.
Finding a friend to your writing is like finding any other friend: it needs to be a match.
EVALUATE YOUR COMMITMENTS
Once you’ve found a friend to your writing—through a class, group or conference—evaluate after one year. Consider how you are growing as a result. Do not be afraid to assess professional associations in terms of personal needs. If you haven’t found a friend who helps you meet your goals, within a year, consider changing tack.
Writing is personal and time is precious. Barren obligations—without the fruit of friendship and growth— simply do not make sense.
KNOW YOUR LIMITS
Your season of life will also affect your friendship search. If you’re in a slower season of carrying extra burdens or sorrows, now is not the time to make high-energy commitments to others. Have grace with yourself. Find a group or friendship circle that makes few demands on you. On the other hand, if you’re in a highly productive season, you need to connect with people who can champion your next creative breakthrough.
Much of this is intuitive: you will know if you’re giving more than you’re getting. You will know when to move on and when to press in.
Along the way, whenever you find a true friend to your writing, give thanks. They are there for you!