One of the most tragic things that can happen to a person is not being able to tell a friend from an enemy. This happens to everyone from time to time, but hopefully, we get better and better at discriminating our friends from our foes. If we can't do this simple but important mental task, precious time will be wasted, and people's feelings may be terribly hurt. People may feel deceived and used. Lives can be ruined.
Writers, too, have to avoid the tragedy of not knowing who their true friends are. Writers have friends, and these friends should be acknowledged regularly and thanked for their friendship and support. Below is a little list of my friends from the writing world and how I thank them:
First Readers and Proofreaders
We all have, or should have, people or a person who reads our work and critiques it for us. It's also best to have a proofreader to work on perfecting the pieces. The person who reads my initial drafts and who proofreads my work is my mother, who is also a writer. She tells me things such as "You're over the top here; this part is unbelievable." Or "you don't need that sentence; it's redundant." First readers, as well as proofreaders, are invaluable. Without them, you probably could not be as successful as you are. Readers can be family members, friends, your favorite waitress. It doesn't matter who a reader is; what's important is that he's perceptive and accurate. Good readers are hard to find. For this reason, I treat them well. I reward them with dinner or gifts. I let them know how much I value them.
Prior Readers of My Work
Many of us went to writing schools where we worked in the workshop format. Many of those old workshoppers probably at one point or another gave you some good advice. As Allen Gurganus taught us at The Writers' Workshop in Iowa City, when you're reading your prose, it helps to keep in mind the voices of astute, former workshoppers. What would Max say about this story? What would Charles say? Try to tap into the memories of their thought processes as they analyzed and evaluated your work. They may not be there in body, but they are certainly still there in mind. And after you analyze your work from their perspective, why not call them up and tell them how invaluable they still are to you. I try to appreciate people who've done right by me.
The people who read your work in magazine or book form are very much your friends. They're spending their precious time on you. Heck, they could be making love; instead, they're reading your novel. For this reason, you should be as good as you can to them. This goodness comes in the form of always trying to create your best work. Give your readers the best you can give them. Don't send a piece out too early, before its time. And take a few extra risks. I always try to give my readers my best stuff.
Our spouses often make it possible for us to write. They spell us from our household duties while we click away on the computer. They put up with listening to the 101 synopses of the stories in our current short story collection. Often, they work while we stay home and write. Certainly, we owe a great deal to our spouses. What can we do for them? We can support spouses in their passions. If it's golf, watch the kids while they tee off. If it's cooking gourmet meals, no chips before dinner. Look, your spouse, is making it possible for you to write. Reward them in some way. I don't put down my husband's love for taxidermy. I embrace it.
All writers have real world friends. They may be old or new, but certainly our friends put up with a lot. I can't count how many times I've told my friend Colleen that I've submitted a story, and that I'm sure it's going to get published. So she diligently praises my initiative and tells me that "surely the story will get published." Our friends are like cheerleaders. They too, like spouses, can be supported in their passions. For Colleen, who likes to decorate, I buy a subscription to a decorating magazine every year. The gift does not have to be costly, only thoughtful.
My Higher Power
Most of us believe in some form of higher power. Your God is your friend. Be sure to thank him for the good in your life including recent publications or the two new story ideas you got yesterday. The mere act of thanking someone for all of your successes makes you humble, which ain't bad. I try to thank God every night for the good and the not-so-good.
Editors Who Reject Me
Yes, it's true. These people can be your friends. After all, they took the time to read your work. And if a rejecting editor sends you a nice note, you owe him or her a nice note back. If you've sent out a large work such as a novella or a novel, I believe you owe the editor a thank you note for reading the work. These editors might reject you on Tuesday, but may embrace you on Friday. I try to be aware of this and treat editors accordingly.
Editors Who Take Me On
Anyone can see how a person who's going to publish your work is a friend to you. For these folks, it's nice to keep them in mind when you have a really great piece. Give those old, reliable folks a crack at what you've written first. You owe them that. Then, if they don't want the tale, send it elsewhere. I try to be loyal to editors who've published my work by sending my good stuff to them first.
We'd like to think that our agent is our friend. He sells our stuff for us and handles the business end of our writing career. Most of the time, this is true. Surprisingly, the best thing we can do for our agent to repay his kindness is to leave him alone. I try not to bother my agent too much.
These people are true friends. They give us all their tricks, all their knowledge. They put up with all our wacky stages of development and our bonafide ignorance. Certainly, we owe them something. If you have a big publication such as a novel, be sure to send your old teacher or mentor one. It will (I hope) make his or her day. I'm still waiting to contact my old teacher about a novel I've published. I've got to publish it first.
My Writing Students
Many writing teachers befriend their students, reading their work to them and asking for their advice. Teachers also learn from students' writing mistakes. This is true for me. So on the day I get something published, I go to 7/11 and buy snacks and goodies for my students, letting them share in the wealth. The happiness that comes from my success motivates future writers in the group. It's a cheap, effective way to nurture new writers. And this is what it's all about.
I must say, the above is a bit touchy feely. But so what? Isn't the best writing (what we're all trying to create) a little touchy feely? Shouldn't we all be a little more "touchy feely?" A composer, an old man I met in the "standing room only" section at the ballet at Lincoln Center, once told me, "it takes every ounce of goodness I have to create art." In his opinion, to be good artists, we must be good people. I have to say that I agree with him. As people and as writers, we must remember who are true friends are. And we must repay them somehow. Any way we can. – A.Y.