When I first decided to become a writer I expected several things: that I’d get rejected a lot, that my writing would be terrible, and that I’d be broke. All of these things did indeed happen. However, what I didn’t expect is that I’d make friends. It turns out the constant rejection and the grueling hours make for the best friendships. Who knew?
The technical term for this is network, but writing is a weird space between personal and professional and as someone who is allergic to networking, I find it much easier to think of meeting other writers as making friends.
Writing friends are important. They are one of the main reasons I’m still writing. Writer friends have passed along gigs, referred me to their agents, shared industry knowledge, edited my work, and most of all they get it.
They understand quitting a good job or turning down a solid paycheck in order to have more time to write. They’ve reminded me that I love writing and to keep at it. They understand working weeknights and weekends on a novel and they understand doing this even though your novel has been rejected 70 times because they are doing the same thing too.
But how do you make writing friends in the first place?
Go where the writers go
Writers tend to be hard to find in the wild. We tend to stay at home chained to our desks. But finding other writers requires actually going out and introducing yourself to other writers.
Don’t be afraid: if they are at events for meeting other writers they probably want to get to know you too. When I moved to Boston, I met my first writing group at an agent info session. The people next to me were talking about forming a writing group so I introduced myself and asked if I could join.
I also took classes. Initially, I was reluctant to take writing classes because I’d already spent a fortune on my undergrad and graduate degrees. However, taking classes at GrubStreet, a Boston writer’s center, connected me to a huge network of local writers. Any time I have an embarrassing question, want someone to look over some writing, or have an industry question, there are people I can ask/email/call etc.
If you don’t have a local writing center, look for events and classes you can take online. If you still can’t find anything, start your own. Twitter is also a great way to get to know other writers and get closer to writers you’ve met only once or twice.
Also don’t be shy about cold emailing people: most people love to talk about their writing. The worst they can do is say no.
Figure out what’s appropriate for the relationship
Writing friends are worth their weight in gold, but most writers are fighting to carve out enough time to write. Developing relationships goes much better when you take into consideration what you can give someone else and what’s appropriate to ask them for.
I divide writer relationships into roughly two categories: mentors, and peers. Okay, three: mentees, but I don’t actually have any mentees! Perhaps one day when I’m older and wiser and maybe have some luxurious facial hair to stroke?
These are writers who are more experienced than you are. I used to be terrified of emailing writers who had more experience than I did because I had no idea what I could offer in return. Listening can be its own gift. Most people love giving advice and will be down for at least one Zoom or coffee.
Keep in mind that a mentor’s time is limited and their expertise is valuable. Before talking to them, do some background research. Prep like it’s an interview. Know what you want out of the conversation. Keep your asks small and specific and don’t impose (aka ask them to read your unpublished manuscript).
Always be gracious. Say thank you and give back by buying their book, paying for their coffee, leaving a good review (nothing less than five stars), or maybe all of the above.
When I meet someone I find interesting and want as a writing friend, I like to ask if they want to stay in touch. Then I ask what they want and need out of a writing friendship. Some of my writer relationships are strictly professional, others are deep friendships, and others are a hazy blend of professional and personal. Simply having the discussion can be a great way to strengthen a relationship.
Some people want to swap work. Others might be down for discussions about the industry and talking through business problems. Others may just want friends or someone to talk about writing/writing life with. All of these are valuable. The swaps don’t have to be equitable. Just make sure that you’re giving as well as receiving.
For example, a friend of mine is beginning a new novel, while I’m in the midst of revisions. She wants me to read her first pages and provide support, whereas I want complete candor on my draft before submitting it to my agent. I won’t be reading the same number of pages upfront, but anytime she needs someone to read a full draft, I’m down. Do not ask someone to read their work and then announce that you’re too busy to read someone else’s manuscript. If you have the time to write a novel, you have the time to read a novel.
And again, always be gracious. It’s far better to have a writer friend tell you what the issue is with the manuscript than to have your dream agent reject you. And the more gracious you are, the more likely your writer friends will be to tell you some of the hard truths.
Writing is hard. The rejections are many, the successes are few, and when they come you often find yourself managing the emotions of other writers who are dealing with their own rejections.
No matter who you are and where you are in your writing journey, be supportive of anyone going through a rejection. The industry is fickle and no one can really predict why one piece is a success and another one isn’t.
But also, be supportive of the successes. It can be difficult to do this especially if you’re going through a period of rejection—but remember, a friend with an agent or book contract is a friend who can refer you to their agent or give you the downlow on the editing process. Your friends are your best source of information in an industry that can be insular. Don’t burn a friendship just because you’re jealous.
Stay in touch
Staying in touch doesn’t mean you have to exchange long letters scented with perfume. Staying in touch can mean saying hello, dropping a short email, sending a quick text, or even just sharing a link by a writer friend, replying to a tweet, or even just liking it.
How have you made some of your closest writer friends? Any other tips for the care and keeping of writer friends? Share in the comments!