Friends and Novelists

- by Elaine Isaak

There was a nifty panel at Worldcon a few years ago in Boston about writerly friendships.  James Patrick Kelly said of his friend Connie Willis that it was nice to have someone you could call when you didn’t win a Nebula award.  Most authors, never having even been nominated, would not be very sympathetic.   Writerly friendships are a tricky thing.

Some friendships take the form of a pleasant rivalry.  Two authors challenge each other to write more or deeper.  They may actually swap and critique each other’s work, or simply serve as the cheering squad/kick in the pants as needed.  A writer-friend and I used to do a hundred-words-a-day challenge.  A hundred words is not much.  Even busy writer-moms could handle that, right?  So we would ping each other via email when we’d done it–and most times, we wrote more.  I can even partially credit my dad’s striving to finish his novel as a spur that helped me finish my own (if only to say that I’d finished first).

But there is also the green-eyed monster who rears up when your friend gets a new contract and you don’t.  Your friend has a great relationship with his agent or editor–your friend’s new book is adored by the critics, while yours is panned.  Or worse, ignored altogether.  Someone gushes to you about your friend’s work, in just the terms with which you would like to be praised.

Writerly friendship is both difficult and wonderful.  I had cause to appreciate it this weekend at another con where I served on a panel with two friends whose work I admire.  When they referenced their works, I was right there with them, understanding their choices, asking questions, learning new things about how they wrote and how they thought.  It transformed the panel from simply sharing ideas with the audience, to creating richer bonds among ourselves, fostering genuine respect and enthusiasm.

And one excellent cure for the green-eyed monster is when you just can’t wait for your friend’s next book.

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