by Ron Hayes
Earlier this month, Brad showed us some great ways of injecting our established personal relationships into what we’re writing. And while Jenny gave us all great advice on how to establish and maximize relationships when the writing’s done, I’d like to change gears a little and talk about how the relationships you may or may not have now can help you WHILE you write.
In a very real way I should dedicate this post not only to the cherished relationships I enjoy with my fellow 5writers, but to Abbey, Bee, and Laura, three people I never knew existed five years ago but who now read my work every month and offer me great advice. They’re the members of my new writing group and fast becoming not only dear friends, but integral, essential aspects of my writing process. Now, as a painfully shy, borderline-neurotic introvert, I have to admit that what I’m about to suggest is absolutely hypocritical. Not exactly something I’ve done in the past or can easily do right now. But these new relationships that are helping my writing every month only exist because I was willing to put myself out there and risk the ridicule, the derision, the criticism, the sarcasm, the easy dismissal that each of us neurotic xenophobes is certain we’ll find when we think about sharing our work. Yes, it is absolutely true that writing is a lonely, solitary craft. It’s us against the ink and we have to be the ones controlling what that ink looks like as it comes out. But I submit that it is equally true that writing is also a craft whose survival is impossible without relationships. Whether our relationships are our Muses or the windmills at which we tilt or the necessary evils on our paths to publication, no writer can achieve any sort of success without somehow exploiting the talents, the skills, the love or lies or lines of other people.
So how can you establish such relationships? There are several ways, really. You can find a writing group, though they can be tricky, I think. Because writing exposes the raw, soft underbellies of ourselves, the first issue to consider is trust—can the people with whom I’m about to share my unfinished work be trusted to be fair, honest, clear, responsible, and (most of all) right? There’s no shortcut to this method, I’m afraid. Very often it is simply trial and error. I know in my experience, I’ve traded work with dozens of people, close friends to absolute strangers, with varying levels of success. On your part, persistence is key to maintaining a successful relationship with a writing group. Be a good neighbor, be fair and honest, and, to some extent, don’t be afraid to be fearless. And selfless. And open. In this day and age, finding a writing group can be as easy as logging on to craigslist or dusting off the email addresses of a couple old college buddies. At its core, however, is a willingness to put your ego on hold and take the plunge. Oh—and if there seems to be nothing happening in your town, if you simply aren’t seeing ads in the paper or on craigslist, what’s stopping YOU from writing an ad yourself? I guarantee you’ll find other people who are itching to share.
Joining a writing group is but one way of engaging our relationships as we write, but by definition they are a two-way street—you have to give to get. If that isn’t something you feel ready for (say your critiquing skills aren’t quite where you think they need to be), consider exploiting your circle of friends and acquaintances for advice. If you’re like most writers, it’s a safe bet that your people already know you write. Chat them up, gauge their potential as a reader, and casually mention that you’re always looking for a fresh perspective on your work (easier said than done for us neurotic introverts; hence the aforementioned hypocrisy). Then, when you feel the time is right (or more likely, when you’ve discovered that perfect journal for your most recent poem), hit them up for input. A lot of times this one-way interaction is not unlike toe-dipping; it allows you to get a sense of the pool’s temperature and gives you an indication as to whether you want to jump in. Further, your friends will likely be extremely honored that you’ve chosen and and, provided you’ve chosen well, will work hard to give you productive feedback.
The bottom line in all this? You. You have to be the one to initiate and/or accept writing relationships. As a writer you owe it to your work to find folks who will help you advance your work. You must overcome any reticence you may have about sharing your work and you must be willing to accept, understand, and embrace the feedback you get. If you’re on the opposite end of the spectrum, you must be able to sense when your aggressive pursuit of feedback may be alienating others, and you must be willing to accept, understand, and embrace the feedback you get. Oh—and that selfless thing? I think that’s kinda key, too. Be appreciative. Be open-minded. Be prepared to give back. After all, isn’t that essential to any good relationship? Why not apply it to the relationships that augment those other most important relationships in your life—the ones you’re putting on the page?