While being a writer requires hours of alone time and separation from the physical world around us, not all of our time is spent in isolation. We still must interact with other people. In this day of self-promotion and social media, relationships for the writer are abundant. And yet, the depth of most of them is casual at best.
Some relationships in life are simple, like the one with the cashier at the grocery store or the waitress at your local restaurant. We don’t really need anything from them so we’re free from expectations or commitment of any kind. A basic mutual respect is the order of the day. Lighthearted conversation is a bonus.
Online relationships for the writer are kind of dreamy, though. We’re writers. Most of our communication is done through writing when we’re online, so we are in our element, as they say. We’re not standing in the corner of a party wondering if we will have to make small talk with someone or picking out character traits to add to our novels. We’re actually communicating with someone else in a way that we understand. Words are our swords.
Connecting with other writers is easy online and we love them and live off them at times. But maintaining those connections becomes tricky.
One, we want something from other writers. Plain and simple we need other writers who understand what we do and how we do it to give us feedback on our work and pull us back from the edge when we’re ready to throw in the towel. No one understands us like other writers do. Not our spouses, or parents, or siblings, or our best friends from school.
But that want, that need, causes us to have expectations that more often than not aren’t met. I haven’t met a writer yet that doesn’t long to have that one other writer friend that they can rely on to promote their work, listen to their rants, give them feedback at 3 in the morning, tell them that the new story is crap and how to fix it, discuss sources for researching poisons and space ships and aliens and spy agencies and etc …, pat them on the back, kick them into gear, just basically be there unconditionally to support their writing.
We all want it … so why is it so hard to find?
Two. The nature of online connections make them brief. We see a picture, read a witty line, and dive into short conversations… microscopic conversations really. Nothing heavy, nothing deep. A joke here, a comment there, a question or two everywhere. And that’s what we expect from other online writers.
But that brevity doesn’t hold up if we expect to hand them our babies and get feedback or hold out our arms to take in theirs. To be a beta-reader or give a critique demands a level of commitment and sharing that we may not feel comfortable giving.
I mean, we are writers after all. Why should we listen to some other writer we just met online? Why should they listen to us? Why does their opinion matter? And why does our opinion matter to them? Can we allow ourselves to be open to their suggestions and help? Should we waste our time giving advice they don’t listen to anyway?
It takes a good deal of courage to press the send key on our creative endeavors. It takes even more to allow ourselves to be open and honest with someone else who can ultimately help us in those endeavors.
But all relationships have a path they follow. Being a foster parent taught me that. The first six weeks is all about the honeymoon. Everything is happy and upbeat. Jokes are told and laughed at. Interests are shared and discussed. Everyone is smile-ly and enjoying life.
Then reality sets in. Someone says something or does something that the other person can’t deal with. Someone has a bad day and starts being grumpy. Someone pushes a button. The button.
War ensues whether it’s one with explosions or just a long dead silence, it’s war all the same.
The problem is in any relationship there is no winner in a war. Ever. For the relationship to continue, the war must end, a new peace treaty brokered, a new state of being declared.
For a writer, that’s not an easy thing. We like to hang on to our “notions” about how the world is, what our “ideals” are, how we want the story to unfold … instead of just facing life like it really is. That’s hard, really really really really … really hard. We plot, we map, we outline, we scribble, we draft, we revise, we write and write and write until our world is how we want it to be and anything that doesn’t fit gets dumped in the file called “deleted scenes”. Is it any wonder why two writers struggle to form that one relationship of mutual accord?
Being a critique partner is hard work and not like any other relationship a writer will ever form in their life. It’s not just about the critique or promotion or support or reliability. And it’s more than friendship and sharing common interests. It’s finding that someone other that
-will be annoyed at your whining and yet still push you to put words on the page,
-isn’t embarrassed to cry on your shoulder,
– sits up laughing at your stupid jokes on twitter or Facebook at 3 in the morning and then slams you because you didn’t make your word count,
– tells you “You’re the best writer ever” and means it while sending you your manuscript with so much red ink it looks like someone was murdered on it,
– keeps you from slipping over the edge into that world of your own making,
– inspires you to do more than you ever dreamed you could do on your own.