- by Eileen Dreyer
During the course of my writing career, I have gained something more important than awards, more faithful than editors, more vital than computers. I have built my community of writers. There are many things important to a writing career: talent, discipline, desire, stubbornness. We need an education in how to put our stories together, whether it is as formal as schoolroom lectures or as casual as brainstorming over Chinese food. We need to find a way through the often confusing maze of publishing. We need a passing acquaintance with technology and a way to develop a very, very thick skin. But the thing we need most, if we’re going to hang onto any of our sanity, any of our self-respect and enthusiasm, is a community of writers.
I think of my own community as a set of concentric orbits, from the closest to the casual: friends when I can scream at when things are desperate. Friends I can call when wondering to do with my agent. Friends who make sure we see each other at conferences. Friends on Facebook.
The closest of these for me, Mercury, if you will, are the Divas (the first and only REAL Divas, I must add): myself, Tami Hoag, Kim Cates and Karyn Witmer-Gow. We came up in the business together. We lasted long enough to go from publishing virgins to publishing veterans. We’ve survived the best and the worst together. These are the people I go to to celebrate, to commisserate, to ask for and give support. These are the woman I can tell anything and know they’ll understand. They’ll help without question. They know before I do sometimes what I need. We make it a point to get away together, just to sit and talk and be there, especially when thing are tough for one of us. I can say categorically that I would never have survived the vicissitudes of publishing without them.
But they aren’t the only friends who help me through the maze. So do the phone call friends, the lobby bar friends, the Facebook friends. And that’s because they’re my writing friends. They are my writing community, and without them, I wouldn’t be able to do this.
I know. Your first instinct is to say that that role is for my family. I should be able to expect any of those things from my husband, my mother, my son. And yes, my family loves me. My husband has been my greatest cheerleader. My children have put up with distraction, distance, and deadline psychosis. They try to help. They really do. But they really don’t know what it is I do. I liken it to a group of new mothers. Everybody knows that a new mother is busy. But nobody but another new mother understands how hard it is to bond on two hours of sleep a night. Only another mother knows just how much time it takes to change tiny diapers.
The same is true with authors. To give you an example, one day, my husband came home from work and asked what I’d been doing. I was so excited.I gave him a drink and exclaimed “I know why the bad guy did what he did!”
“Uh huh,” he answered. “And what else did you do?”
I hissed at him. “That took me six weeks!”
I stalked off and called Karyn and said, “I know why the bad guy did what he did!”
“Wow, that’s great!” she said. “Let’s drink.”
(To give my husband his due, he later followed me down to the basement where I was doing laundry and gave me a sheepish smile. “I said the wrong thing, didn’t I?”)
How can you not love him? But no matter how much he loves me, there’s somebody else more important to the success of my career. And that’s my community of writers. Because, like new mothers or cops or soldiers, nobody else really knows what it is we do. And it’s damn certain that they don’t appreciate how hard it is.
So my suggestion to new writers is that no matter what else anybody else tells you to acquire or lose to improve your chances for success, first acquire your writer friends. And let them be the last, the very last thing you lose. Because when they go, you’ll lose one of the most important things in this career; and one of the most wonderful. And I contend that without the one, you will forfeit the other.