Since I’ve been in selling-moving-and-hit-the-road mode, I’ve not been writing very much and I haven’t been keeping in touch with my writing buddies.
Lately I’ve been wondering why I feel so isolated, claustrophobic, directionless and lacking in motivation. Surely it’s more than just my mild dislike of cleaning? Then, yesterday, one of my buddies texted me:
“Hey, are you about? Available for a chat?”
“Yes… later this a.m.? Child home sick and waiting for electrician to finish.”
Whoops. I dropped my phone and the screen cracked.
The thing is, when I called her later that morning, she’d been feeling claustrophobic and depressed too. I wasn’t alone in my miserly bubble. I had company. And it was good intelligent company. We had a mighty writerly chat on the phone and both hung up feeling lighter, more positive and with a plan to write together next week.
This is the magical power of writing buddies. And I need to be reminded again and again that when things get tough I must not retreat into the small and dangerous space of my head. I need to reach out to my buddies.
Our Writing Buddies are our Muses
Where is that damn writing muse? Did I step on her accidentally? Vacuum her up in a wild rush to prepare the house for open homes? Sell her along with the electrical items? Or maybe I forgot to pick her up? Shit. Did I leave her at school?
This is what I keep forgetting: Our writing buddies are our Muses. They are carefully chosen (sometimes accidentally) and lovingly nurtured for their gentle honesty and ability to listen and empathize. It’s difficult to find good buddies but the good news is they don’t need to live in the same city anymore. They may live a two-hour flight away or they may live on the other side of the world. They may not even be alive, except through their words.
Of course, I now realize that I was suffering, at least partially, from Writing Buddy Withdrawal. In my world, this is also known as Southgate Syndrome or The Hexenschuss Hollow. This condition can be fatal. It creeps up on unsuspecting writers who feel overwhelmed by life and subsequently withdraw from all buddy support. This retreat from balanced elements starts a viscious circle of isolation, self-doubt, non-writing, depression, self-loathing. Repeat. And if we’re not careful it can spread to other areas of our lives too. The cure? It’s simple but requires humility. Reach out to your writing buddies.
Part of what buddies do is remind us that thinking isn’t necessarily good all of the time. Some people could benefit from thinking more, but most writers are the opposite and will easily think themselves into a corner or an isolated funk. Sometimes, when life is chaos — medical problems, family problems, emotional trauma, moving, changing jobs, you name it — we writers need to put a brake on Thinking and just DO. A good buddy will get us back on that path.
So where do we find good buddies? We need to be open to serendipity anywhere online or offline. We need to trust our instincts. We need to find people we can be honest and vulnerable with and who we feel comfortable texting when we need them. We also need them to know they can do the same. A lot of it comes down to respect and being serious about writing. I met one of my buddies because I read an article she’d written, thought we had lots in common, and emailed her asking if she’d like to meet for a coffee or tea. At the time I felt like I was some desperate lonely writer asking her on a date, but now she is one of my writing buddy rocks.
Others I met online. Some of us were writing with a UK coach and when the coach decided to change direction I took over setting up and managing a Google Group where we could communicate and be accountable on a weekly basis. Most of the people dropped out, but a core of us remained, and then two other people joined, which means I have a solid team of writing buddies spread from Tasmania, Australia to London, UK. We have been together now for five or six years and we all manage the group, have monthly conference calls on Skype, still do weekly accountability and share writing information and news. We also have been to visit each other. When I was in the UK in January I finally met one of the members I’d missed the last couple of times. By the time we met we’d been talking on Skype and messaging weekly for years. When she drove to Bath, I felt like I was seeing an old friend I hadn’t seen in decades, not a person I’d never hugged before. Technology does break down geographic barriers if we let it.
The best thing about my online writing buddies is that I can keep them for life. When I move to Toronto, we may have to adjust our calls a little to fit all the time zones in, but we can still keep supporting each other. And we’ve been through a lot: awards and rejections, aging parents moving in and children moving out, birth and death, medical problems and geriatric cats peeing on desks. Through it all we listen and encourage and talk through our writing dilemmas.
When you have buddies who know you well, a text message or an email is all you need. And after I move to Toronto I’ve already been planning to do some writing online, via FaceTime or Skype, with my buddy here in Brisbane. I haven’t done it yet, but it seems a great way to get into writing and start building good writing habits in my next city. One of my other buddies does this regularly with her sister who lives in another country in a completely different time zone.
So who are my other favourite writing buddies? If I can’t find a person who knows me, I’ll settle for one I know really well, like Anne Lamott or Mary Karr. There is nothing like reading about other writer’s really shite writing problems to get me motivated to work through my own.
Here’s a list of some of my longtime favourites in no particular order (and I’m talking about their books on writing): Ann Patchett, Julia Cameron, Elizabeth Gilbert, Maya Angelou, Natalie Goldberg, Annie Dillard, Joan Didion, Alice Walker, Ben Okri, Dani Shapiro, Ann Beattie, Patti Smith, Nora Ephron and of course Virginia Woolf. Don’t forget The Paris Review Interviews, always a great online source of adoptable writing buddies.
Here’s what I’m reading next: Elif Shafak’s Black Milk: On Motherhood and Writing.
You may have noticed they are all female except for Ben Okri. Interesting. Perhaps I find women more honest about writing and being an artist?