Tuesday, January 26, 2010

On Friendship and Writing

I have a dear friend who is the opposite of me in almost every way. Politically, we couldn't be any more different. She went door-to-door during the last presidential election, campaigning for Obama; I still miss Reagan. She is funny and talkative; I tend to freeze up in a crowd. She lives in the largest city in our state; I live in a one-traffic-light town that can't even keep a Hardees in business.We are both writers, and we both write fiction, but she focuses on the specific and fascinating nuances of the inner psyches of her characters while I (more and more lately) pan out and portray my characters at a distance, like figurines in a snow globe.

In a normal world, our paths would never even intersect, and in our normal lives, the chances of our becoming friends are slim to none. Yet, we have a connection that I think is a thousand times more profound than the usual social groupings: it's all about the work. It's the writing. It's always the writing.

But maybe there's even more to it than that: I think it's the thing that makes us write--whatever reckless energy that compels us to open that vein again and again--that's what makes us friends. Writing requires a sort of honesty, a willingness to pull the curtain back, to examine, to think, to press on, to inquire, and, more than anything, to empathize. To really empathize. We are both completely absorbed with this task: we've got to figure it out. The character, the story, the truth about human nature and the way our gestures and our obsessions and our fears betray us. We write to understand, and it's that quest--the understanding--that we recognize in each other. That makes us look at each other and say, you're just like me. You get it.

This is a writerly habit that has enriched my life in more areas than just the work: I seek the company of people like my friend--people who inspire me. When I finished up my MFA, I hand-picked a group of classmates and invited them to join me in a writing group. These are my people. People who make me want to write more or better or, I don't know, harder. I can't overstate how important this is: be diligent in your search for like-hearted writing buddies. Your writing self is likely your most vulnerable self--be careful who you trust it with, and once you find someone or a group of someones who are drawn to this insanity for the same reasons you are, hold on. Trust me--you need this more than any MFA program or writing conference or agent or lucky penny or brilliant, brilliant manuscript or a weekend away or whatever else your brave little writer heart could wish for.

4 comments:

Jessie Carty said...

This is totally true! You need good writing partners who will help motivate and challenge you :) It is still probably the most significant thing I took away from the MFA program.

Georgia said...

Well said, Susan. Not everyone respects the thread of steel that binds the fragile hearts of writers.

Susan Woodring said...

Jessie, I agree--the friendships are the most valuable take-aways.

Susan Woodring said...

Beautifully put, Georgia!