Greetings, fellow octopi. Welcome to our First Ever Q&A!
With you today for this Very Special occasion will be our two co-founders: GeGi and endever*. The Topic is Writerly Friends, and it’s one which we’ve been nibbling about the edges of for quite some time here at The Octopus Society of Evil Authors Headquarters. We’ve decided, after much discussion between ourselves, to cover this area of writer life via a Question and Answer format; both in order to make our lives a little easier, but also — more importantly — to give you, dear readers, a chance to see this important facet of our lives from two different viewpoints. First to answer will be GeGi, followed by the same set of questions next week to be answered by endever*.
Without further ado, let us acquire appropriate refreshments and begin!
- First Question: Beyond the strictly literal (friends who are both writers), what does a Writer Friendship mean to you?
Short answer: someone who geeks out just as hard as you when you go off on tangents about writerly things, unlike the glazed-over look you get from non-writers.
Long answer: It means there’s someone with whom I can get into the nitty-gritty details of writing with. Someone who understands things like appreciating a beautifully crafted sentence, or fretting about the symbolism of exactly what color a character’s socks are in that one scene (okay, the last example hasn’t actually happened yet, but it could someday!). It means having someone around who just gets it. I don’t have to explain writer-problems, because they’ve had them too. I don’t have to explain writer-joys, because they already understand. I know who to turn to with ideas I’m not quite sure about, who to trust with the half-formed plots and characters, who will help me poke around my world-building looking for holes — and then help me patch them up again, sometimes just by listening or asking the right questions while I work through the problem myself. They’re the people with whom I can discuss every aspect of writing. From the day-to-day to the life-long, from the micro to the macro, from the theory to the practice; we can discuss it all without boring each other.
- Second Question: What kind of writers are you or would you wish to become friends with? For example, do you find it more helpful when their style matches or contrasts with your own, and why?
Personally, I love that my best-writer-friend and I have totally different ways for basically everything. Plotting, character- and world-building, the act of writing itself — endever* and I have very different approaches to pretty much all of it. This creates a dynamic between us which means we’re often giving each other a new way of looking at a problem. What seems like a challenge to one of us usually isn’t to the other one. Our strengths and weaknesses as writers often compliment and contrast each other’s. To my mind at least, the friendship has made me a better writer — for many reasons, of course, and the differences are at the heart of it.
In the abstract, I’d want to become friends with writers who might have the following traits: supportive and encouraging to other writers, no matter how skilled or not those other writers might be (we all start out as pretty clumsy writers — it’s only with practice that we can get the chance to improve); enthusiastically passionate about their favorite aspects of writing (because that kind of interest is infectious, and being exposed to it is the best way to learn about something new); will happily spend hours discussing various writerly things (research, mythology-based storytelling arcs, random background of characters, plot points, good books, the best coffeeshops for writers, whatever). I don’t actually care if their style or genre or any of those details are similar or different to mine. If they’re the same, then yay we have more in common; if they’re different, then yay we can learn from each other. The more important thing to me is the attitude, and that’s the common ground I’ve found most writers tend to have anyway!
- Third Question: What are the various roles which writer friends have taken for you? For example: beta reader, plot hole patching, world-building counterpoint, emotional cheerleader, ideas ping-pong, good company, etc.
All of the above? Yeah, pretty much all of the above. I’m the kind of person who needs to share cool research and new ideas and exciting plots with pretty much anyone who will listen, so having writer-friends is rather important to me (as you might imagine). Discussions are where a lot of the magic called inspiration happens for me, so talking about any aspect of writing with someone who can engage me and challenge my unexamined assumptions is hugely beneficial. Getting valuable feedback from beta-readers is one of the biggest ways I can tell what I’m doing right, and which bits still need work (the other way is my own instinct, but due to perfectionism messing with the magnetic field and throwing off my instinct-compass, feedback helps me recalibrate so I can calculate a more accurate heading for the progress of my writing skills. Yay stretched-out metaphor!).
The emotional support/cheerleader/good company aspect cannot be overestimated either; the little bouts of encouragement, the shared tea-time/coffee/play-with-the-kitty breaks, the moments of companionable silence broken only by the sounds of side-by-side furious typing on laptops or scribbling on paper… Those are the moments in which novels can finally be finished, worlds created, writer’s block overcome, and all the other glorious moments of authorhood. Additionally, if I’ve been in a productive writing streak all day and my brain is feeling pretty well fried, I get to this point where I can’t stop repeating myself or even just shut up, and all I’m talking about is what I’ve been working on all day. Non-writers get impatient; other writers will either join in, or tune me out and know that this too shall pass.
- Fourth Question: What various benefits do you feel you gain in a writer friendship, and which do you feel you contribute to the relationship?
As somewhat already answered in prior questions (due mostly to my tendency to ramble at the drop of a hat), I think there are countless benefits to both have and give in a writer friendship. Specifically, my writer friendships have been some of the most meaningful and positive relationships in my life; not only do they help me grow and think in new ways as a writer — and as a person — but also, sometimes, I get to feel the impact of helping someone else grow and think in new ways. Not in the abstract Future Reader kind of way, but in-the-moment, right in front of me, during the conversation. The gratification of knowing I’ve made a difference, that I might have even spawned whole new ideas in someone else’s mind, is one of the best feelings ever.
Not to say this is all exclusive to writers, but the kinds of ideas and thoughts I exchange with writer friends are things no one else would have the same level of interest in. It’s not just about the discussion; it’s about what the discussion is about, and the exponential flow of creative energy and inspiration which comes from it. It’s about having someone with whom I can talk about worldbuilding and plots and the philosophy of storytelling and structure and research and every other little detail I happily live and breathe once I get going.
- Fifth Question: What are some of the ways in which a writer friend can aid in the quest for Evil Authorhood? (Feel free to use examples.)
First and foremost, pure encouragement (tempered, of course, with useful feedback). With readers, there’s always a danger of someone telling you that, for example, the ending is too sad and you ought to change it. A reader might not realize the impact these words — even said flippantly — can have on the fragile confidence of a writer. A fellow writer, however, would probably realize such feedback is less a compliment and more of an undermining. The results can be, shall we say, rather less desirable than perhaps intended.
I remember this specific scenario happening when I was about 14, and had written a short story ending with a twist. Right at the action-filled climax of a daring escape attempt, the scene shifts to reveal the entire time it was all a scary bedtime fable about not breaking the rules because then you’d die. The entire point of the story was the surprise death. But because I’d written the main character as sympathetic to my readers, they all told me it was “too” sad. While this might have been true, and while these days I would probably just cackle and polish up the writing without changing the way it unfolded, at the time I hadn’t been exposed to the concept of Evil Authorhood. I ended up trying to change the entire story to make the girl live and get home again — scrapping the entire fable aspect in the process. While I ended up doing some excellent worldbuilding because of it, I still haven’t ever finished a new story with that first main character. I simply didn’t have the skill to create a less evil story with her, or the encouragement to stick with my original inspiration.
Had I been exposed to the ways of Evil Authorhood at my rather impressionable age of the time, I might have reasoned the real meaning of the message was I’d succeeded with the goal of the story, or at least was on the correct track. Had an Evil Author given me feedback on the story, they might have said I’d done an excellent job, or (if I hadn’t) they might have gently prodded me with deliberate questions to further my progress towards my true intent. There are many ways a writer friend can help; this specific example is simply the first that comes to mind — not of someone having helped in some way, but of what happened when someone wasn’t there to help at all.
Don’t get me wrong; great things happened out of that incident, and basically all of my writing since — including my current novels — have been built on the worldbuilding I started in that era. But if I’d left the original story alone and, for instance, only been given feedback on how interesting the world was I’d created a glimpse of, and wouldn’t more stories set there be cool? Then all that worldbuilding could still have happened, and perhaps by now I’d have a huge collection of finished short stories as well as the eventual novels, all set in a world I’m still exploring and developing. But, so it goes…
- Sixth Question: Have you participated in a formal writer’s group or network? How would you compare the experience to a more informal one-on-one writer friendship?
Through the years, I’ve tried multiple writer workshops with mixed results — most of them tended to be unhelpful, since I do much better with one-on-one (although the worldbuilding workshop the Seattle Public Library hosted was awesome). As a teen, I joined an attempt at a homeschooler teen writer group, but it fizzled out pretty quickly — leaving me with a new writer friend at the time. We attempted to collaborate on several stories, but it ended up dissolving into rather ordinary friendship instead. I’ve now had my first experience with Camp NaNoWriMo, and greatly enjoyed the encouragement and shared struggles with my fellow cabin-mates. I’ll see how NaNo participation evolves for me, but chances are (based on past experience) that most of the relationships there won’t really evolve past a surface level.
I’ve always done better in one-on-one settings, in any context. I do pretty good with two or even three other people, but too many more gets to just be too many. I tend not to get as much out of workshops and things as I would out of a smaller setting. Larger groups generally result in my being quiet and observing — not always a bad thing, granted, but in terms of interaction and participation I tend towards anxiety. Or, if there’s too much going on, it results in my being overwhelmed and/or overstimulated, which is always bad for gathering and assimilating new information. My best experience with a large group, as I mentioned, was a worldbuilding workshop at the Seattle Public Library. It was part of a series of writer workshops and presentations; this one was hosted by a published author who had organized the event into a mix of her talking, us filling out worksheets, and whoever wanted to reading out the bits they’d written on the worksheets and getting feedback for discussion. This balanced and low-pressure approach helped me keep my anxiety to a minimum, and I was actually able to get a lot of useful information and ideas out of the whole thing.
- Seventh Question: What is the best advice a writer friend has ever given you?
Trying to think of one specific bit of advice… But really, when people give me advice-type information the way I remember it is more like absorbing it into the sum total of how I frame the world rather than remembering exact words. The shape of the culmination of best advice I’ve been offered and the way it’s altered my approach, is a greater mindfulness of representation. Plus, though strictly speaking it was never presented as advice (as far as I can remember, anyway), there is what I’m going to call The Harry Potter Metaphor.
Example of the mindfulness: I created a species of humanoid-ish-shaped dragons, and in a scene setup mentioned one of them “delicately holding the teacup between ver claws”. Being able-bodied myself, I didn’t automatically think through the implications of a clawed person living and moving through a world designed for and by non-clawed persons (those being the human-type humanoids who also live in my world). But that’s where endever*‘s imagination immediately went to, and took me along with it. Now it’s something I think about, and will be writing into the narrative more consciously. This scenario has happened for a number of different things. Every time I’m given the opportunity to bring more diverse representation into my writing, I’m grateful.
As for the Harry Potter Metaphor: that started when endever* beta-read an early draft of the novel, and referred to stages of the plot and build-up of tension for the ending in terms of how the Harry Potter story-arcs are spread out in every book — the “Halloween” and “Christmas” and so on. It gave us a common language with which to discuss certain aspects, more familiar and obvious to us folk raised on Potter than, say, the classic Hero’s Journey but based on pretty much the same structure. Because of that, I was able to see exactly how I had rushed the ending and failed to create enough tension before the resolve, and without that nudge I might have never developed to my current level of Evil Authorhood.
- Eighth Question: Please list any ideas or suggestions for finding and developing new writer friendships.
Honestly, I have a difficult time figuring out how to find and develop any kind of friendship… But I’ll give a try at some ideas! For writer friendships in particular, I’d suggest going to writer spaces — workshops, groups, networks, NaNo, etc — and pay attention to the other writers, and try interacting with them. Quite a few of them are very nice people, I promise! Eventually, you might find someone who “clicks”, and with a bit of effort at keeping in touch and getting together once in a while, friendship can be formed.
Alternately, among those who are already friends and acquaintances and other more tenuous social connections, there may already be writers. After seeking them out, conversations about writerly subjects can be pursued. Again, with a bit of effort on both sides, the writerly aspect of the relationship can be built up over time.
Most importantly, don’t feel pressured into thinking the only “real” or “significant” friendships happen offline. endever* and I see each other a maximum of one week a year, but we use online social media to chat almost daily. The people you’ll get along with best might live on the other side of the world, or the other side of the city. You never know where you’ll find them. Also, you might not be able to go out and meet people offline — for any number of completely legitimate reasons — but that doesn’t have to limit the meaningful relationships in your life. Many of the people I value having most in my life are primarily online, and that’s absolutely okay.
- Ninth Question: And finally, please describe a perfect day with your writer friend.
First cup of tea in hand, we sit around each silently working on our own projects. Eventually, some form of breakfast happens. It interrupts our writing only briefly. Hours later, eyes slightly burning and brains feeling wrung out, we each look up and agree it’s time for a walking break. We head out, perhaps stopping by a coffeeshop for fuel, and wander about the neighborhoods discussing what we’d each been working on. By the time we get back, we’re full of fresh inspiration. More writing happens, with increasingly frequent breaks to throw toys for the kitty to chase. Occasional caffeine consumption happens, as do snacks. At some point, one of us realizes it’s dark outside and we should probably have dinner. Huge veggie burritos are prepared and consumed, while more discussion and toy-tossing happens. A little more project work gets done, and eventually the day comes to a close. (For the record, a few days of this in a row is how I finished my current novel).
Thank you for reading this rather lengthy Q&A post! If you have any other questions for GeGi, please leave a comment below. Also subscribe so you don’t miss next week’s companion-post where the same set of questions will be answered by endever*.