Wromance, a word I invented, refers to a friendship between writers at its ideal—respectful, supportive, and considerate. You champion each other but never abuse your relationship. Friendship is not confused for a professional agreement or misconstrued for therapy. Your commonality may lie in a shared passion, but it does not overshadow the human elements of your relationship. Searching for a Wromance can be tough, however, as many writers do not play well with others. Here are some types to give a wide berth . . . or avoid being yourself.
1. The Pimp
The age of social media has thrown a little pimp in all our games—promoting our projects is crucial. At some point, however, it moves from promotion to harassment. Two or three tweets or retweets is reasonable. Mix in a quip, a quote, or a retweet about something else to balance it out. Maybe a few days or even weeks later, tweet it again. I once heard a writer say that Twitter is like attending a fabulous party—there are many fantastic people to meet, but no one wants to get stuck in the corner with the guy who can’t stop talking about himself.
Don’t be that person who only tweets his/her publications, especially the self-published stuff that you want followers to download for a buck. When someone follows you, don’t send an automatic direct message telling how to buy your book or song or whatever you are pushing this week. It’s social media, not a brothel. They’re your followers, friends, and fans, not potential johns. Promote other people’s stuff as well as your own.
2. The Leech
I have a number of writer friends and here’s the truth: we rarely talk in depth about the projects we’re working on. We may mention them in passing. Somewhere in my mental file cabinet I keep a general plot of a friend’s novel and the type of research another is currently doing. That’s about it. No one drowns anyone else with the details of their work.
More often, we commiserate on the trials of writing life. One of my favorite writer pals and I just exchange random emails, often with content as simple as “Do you ever find your writing tragically bad? Because that is me today” to which she will confirm that yes, even she, one of the most talented writers I know, has days where she feels like a failure. But these types of exchanges do not dominate our relationship.
So beware the writer who constantly wants to talk about his/her current project. It’s easy to sink into the quicksand of those types of people and find all your time eaten by their exhausting neediness.
3. The Mooch
This gem of the writing type is a variation of the Leech. Instead of wanting to talk incessantly about their current project, these people want to use you as free labor for editing or revising. While I always support my friends by reading their publications, I can count on one hand the number of things I’ve read pre-publication. It’s not that I mind, but there is a level of respect for the nature of our relationship. My friends are not my editors, critique partners, writing group members, or creative writing instructors. What’s more, most of the time, Mooches don’t actually want help; they just want an ego stroke.
4. The Hypocrite
“I LOVE writing, but I don’t really like reading.”
“I’m a poet. I’ve never liked reading other people’s poetry though.”
Dead to me. Next.
5. The Hijacker
Once upon a time I was on a panel with two other writers. We each read our respective works and then opened the floor for questions. The gentleman on my left was a delight—polite, talented, and thoughtful. Unfortunately, on my right sat the Hijacker. Every time a question was posed to another writer, she interrupted, somehow manipulating the topic back to herself. Ignoring the moderator’s attempt to reign her in, she turned a panel with three writers into a one woman show. The audience finally gave up asking questions, instead opting to continue their queries after, where the Hijacker literally jumped in between me and another person to talk about her new book of poems.
Never mind befriending hijackers; just existing in the same space with them professionally is frustrating to the point of exhaustion. Be polite when you encounter one, stand your ground, and don’t let it turn into a game of one-upping. After the panel I had several people offer to take me for coffee to discuss my work while the Hijacker was left with her pile of unsold books. People recognize good behavior. Make sure to be on your best.
6. The Angst Monster
Angst Monster: “I’m a writer, a precious gem dug from the darkness of earth. You don’t know what it is to be me, to be cursed with this talent, like Atlas under that globe thing. Normal rules cannot possibly apply to me because my brilliance is such a heavy mantel. No, I don’t want to talk about it because you couldn’t possibly understand the profoundness of me. Be that as it may, let me regale you with some of my poems I just happen to carry with me. These will help you glimpse into the mind of a true artist, so that you may understand my torment.”
Me: “Oh thank heavens! My legs still work! Bye!”
7. The Sour Grape
Writing is an oddly competitive world where talent and training don’t always mean success; as hard as you might work, your friends may have different, faster, and often bigger triumphs than you do. If you are going to be friends with writers, you must learn to avoid the traps of schadenfreude and envy. When Alice Munro was announced as the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, the prominent voice of praise was Margaret Atwood. As Atwood has been a name bandied about when talk turns to Nobel, her joy for her countrywoman and fellow writer was inspirational. (My favorite was a picture of the duo toasting champagne together in a Toronto hotel.)
Comparing your work or accomplishments to your friends’ is pointless. Writing success is a tornado of timing and opportunity that may strike any at any point given the right conditions. Why does it skip an entire house just to pick up a cow? Who knows. But being envious of the cow does you no good. Tending to your own work and sculpting your own career is a more effective use of your time.
Now it’s your turn! What personal characteristics do you most despise in other writers?Might we be so bold as to suggest that you subscribe to Ploughshares?