April 2019 ~ Kristin Dorsey
Today is Sunday, the day before a new school term begins and the day after the annual AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs) national conference ended. The conference was held in Portland this year, making it relatively easy for local writers to find their way there—and I saw several Central Oregon colleagues against the backdrop of three days of panels, readings, get togethers with old friends, bookfair shopping and schmoozing, and standing in a registration line that rivaled Disneyland high season wait times.
Today, my head is reeling with the conversations I had, the wisdom and amazing work I had dropped on me, and the daunting task of trying to incorporate some of that richness into the classes I’ll be teaching at COCC, starting tomorrow.
Perhaps this isn’t the right time to also be writing a WCCO blog post.
Or perhaps it is the best time!
As exhausting as the conference may be every year, it provides powerful inspiration and motivation. I also find that, regardless of the themes the conference self-consciously cultivates, often what I look back on and feel most enriched by are the spontaneous connections and threads that arise. This year, the moral of AWP for this attendee was:
Writers need writing friends.
You may be thinking, “uh. Not that much of a lesson, Kristin. Did you really need to shell out money for transportation, lodging, membership and registration fees to figure that out?”
Well. No. But I did need to be reminded why writers need writing friends, and this came up over and over throughout the conference.
We need friends to encourage us and for us to encourage. Writing is often lonely, and, to the extent that it does deliver satisfaction, it often does so on a delayed schedule. So we need one another for encouragement in between--to keep us accountable to our work, to remind us about the great rewards we strive toward. And when I encourage you, writer friend, I’m speaking encouragement to myself as well. This is essential for keeping ourselves and each other going.
Writers need friends to tell us the truth. We need friends to remind us when we use a particular word or phrase too often. Or that the dress we are planning on wearing to our next reading actually makes us sweat noticeably (no matter how cute we might think we look in it). Or that we haven’t submitted any work in eight months.
Writers need friends to partner with. I attended a particularly magical panel on punk rock printing. The most surprising thing to come out of the discussion was how much each of the three small presses represented relied on a lasting and close relationship between two people who shared a vision and a desire to work toward it. As one participant noted, “You just can’t do this alone. It’s just too damn hard.”
Writers need friends to work through ideas with. Your writer friends are often your first (and arguably most important) readers. They are who you throw ideas around with and who send you emails in the middle of the night with the title of a-book-that-you-have-to-read-immediately because it successfully resolves a climax like the one you are torturing yourself over. They are the ones who stay up late drinking with you, agree that it makes total sense that your antagonist is a trilingual Yeti, and then call you the next morning to suggest that maybe the antagonist doesn’t have to be an actual Yeti, but that he could be tall, have white hair, and be nicknamed “the Yeti.”
Writers need friends to celebrate with. Although we all write for different reasons, we all have goals for ourselves as artists and communicators. When we experience success, whether that be publication, or rocking a public reading, or even having someone express understanding and appreciation for our work, we want to share that. And no one gets that success like a writing friend.
Writers need friends to remind them that they are not alone. It’s a cliché that writing is hard and lonely work. But, like most clichés, it’s pretty much true. It’s easy to get insecure about our own process, our talent, our work ethic, our writing product. Throughout the conference I heard other writers and teachers admit their own fears, weaknesses, and perceived failings. This made me feel part of a community, lessened my shame over these same concerns, and even led to conversations about ways to be better. I benefitted from the honesty and bravery of other writers—and that inspires me to keep writing myself.
If you have writing friends already, cherish them. Let them know how much you appreciate them. Spend time with a writer friend you haven’t seen in a while. Spend time in your writing community.
And if you don’t have writing friends, make some. Start with the WCCO calendar. Go to a Guild meeting or a Blank Pages salon. Get yourself to Shut up and Write, or just go to one of the Deschutes County Library’s free events. This is National Poetry Month, and Central Oregon Community College will be hosting free events, open to the public, all month long.
Meet people, share your work, listen to them talk about theirs. This is an essential part of the writing life.