On Literary Friendship

It’s grant season, so I’m writing my yearly emails asking friends and mentors to act as references in various competitions. I’ve been particularly overwhelmed by the encouragement and unqualified support I’ve received on all fronts, even from writer-friends I’ve never met in person and only know through email. All this literary love, as it were, has gotten me thinking about friendship.

It’s a lot easier to put your head down and keep working when you know you have supporters behind you.

One of my first real literary friends (not counting my husband and my friend, Mark, who reads all my manuscripts) came into my life about two years ago when I published a short piece from my now forthcoming book, Epistolophilia.

It was a bad time. My writing was stalled and I had begun to despair at whether I would ever finish the monster that had already eaten up some six years of my life but whose end was not at all in sight. Then one day an email arrived from another writer, a Toronto novelist, saying that my piece was the most exciting thing he’d read in a particular journal for years.

This note from a perfect stranger who had taken the time to track me down for no other reason than to extend himself in friendship gave me a boost that may just be responsible for my having finished my manuscript.

Literary friendships can be harder to come by than you would think. Writers are loners and they are competitive. We suffer from schadenfreude and pettiness, but our worst vice is, without a doubt, envy. And envy coupled with self-doubt is a very bad combination indeed.

It’s been over a year since I consciously started to try and follow that Toronto novelist’s example, and to extend myself to other writers. To do so, I had to work on conquering my jealousies.

I decided that when another author got an agent, I would be happy for her. When a writer I knew signed a contract, won an award or got a grant, I would celebrate his accomplishment. I would take the success of others to mean that I too could succeed.

I don’t know if it’s the new outlook, or if my work has actually gotten that much better, but there’s a lot more literary love in my life since I made the change.

So, to my writerly friends: thank you.

Because of you, I am less alone at my desk.

[Photo: Jenser (Clasix-Design)]


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2 Replies to “On Literary Friendship”

  1. Love this post! And so completely, totally, true!! Sometimes I wonder if academia trains you to have more Schadenfreude (not to mention insecurity) than is healthy…Ah well. I, too, find that the more I’m happy for others, the happier I am, period! (it takes less energy, anyhow). Looking forward to reading about your Siberian travels & grandmother.

  2. I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I’ve been thinking about vices and the differences between academics and more literary writers. My own theory is that while writers suffer most from envy, with academics the biggest sin is scorn. Academics love to tear each other down in a way that can be savage. And it also seems to me that the very best scholars are also often the most generous.

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