Tuesday, January 23, 2018

How to Help Your Writer Friend

Let’s say you have a friend who is a Famous Writer or a Published Writer or a Writer. (If she calls herself a Writer, you should too; don’t think a Writer has to have published a book. Also, if she is writing and taking writing classes, start calling her a Writer even if she doesn’t refer to herself in this way.) And let’s say you want to be a good friend to her, the kind of friend that—maybe! Let’s just say!—might see her name in the Acknowledgments page of a book, or even—oh, wow! –the Dedication Page. Or, we could just say that you want to support her work and be a good friend. What are some of the things you could do?

1.     BUY her newly published book. Don’t worry so much about the “right” way to buy her book, unless she’s a Writer who rails against giant corporate behemoths (you know who I’m talking about). Just BUY her book somewhere, off some shelf or some site. DON’T expect her to give you a free copy. DON’T borrow a copy from your book club friend. DON’T check it out of the library. True angels will pre-order it from the giant corporate behemoth so the publisher will feel impressed by sales OR will buy one (or more) copies at the bookstore hosting her reading. You’re thinking that all this feels obvious, but there’s a reason it’s number one. The rest are in random order. Oh, and if there are financial concerns, OF COURSE it’s okay to check out your friend’s book from the library because number 2 is….

2.     READ her book or work. Buying a book is good, but giving a book your time and attention is the truest compliment. Maybe your friend doesn’t have a book yet, but she posted a link on Facebook to an essay she wrote. Yes, it’s easiest to click “LIKE” (which you will do, of course) but also, click on the link and read what she wrote. Maybe you don’t have to do this every time if she’s posting a lot of links or if you are the kind of person who is so important and so busy with your own highly important life…but read her work from time to time.

3.     COMPLIMENT her work after you read it. You know how you never tell someone they look fat in that dress they’re already wearing at the cocktail party? Never tell your Writer friend that her prose is a little “flaccid” or that her characters are “meh.” Try this instead: “I loved reading your story/poem/essay/book.” If you can, find something specific you liked—or throw out some of this phrasing: “it was powerful when….” or “it was masterful how you….” or just the words “powerful” or “masterful.” Or, return to “I loved reading your story/poem/essay/book.” She’s not going to quiz you!

4.     SHARE her with the world. Give her work five stars on Goodreads and Amazon. Write a review that doesn’t give away the ending. Or simply click on 5 stars…no one’s going to quiz you! Invite her to your book club, if your book club is friendly and not the kind of club that “hates everything,” and thank her with a gift card to somewhere good for giving up an evening writing to spend with your book club. Ask your library to buy her book. Repost/retweet her writing news that you see on Facebook/Twitter/etc. Read her book, cover held high, when you ride an airplane or take public transportation. Tell your other friends about your Writer friend and her great book/great book-in-progress. Buy your friend’s book to give as a gift; don’t lend your copy. Offer to host a book party when her book comes out.

5.     ASK questions if you don’t understand her writing. Don’t be afraid of her poetry if you think you’re not a “poetry person.” Say something like, “What a beautiful image.” Or say something like, “I want to understand your poetry better, but I’m not a ‘poetry person.’ What a beautiful image in the second stanza. Can you tell me a little bit more about how it works in the poem?” (Note: I’m not a poet. Maybe this is an incredibly offensive statement. But she is your friend, and I bet she’s doing something brilliant with that image in the second stanza.)

6.     SHOW UP to her readings and book parties if this is not a physical hardship (you only have to attend one event per book!). Raise your hand and ask a question at her reading if no one else does. If she doesn’t have a book (and even if she does), and she’s reading at an event, maybe bring a friend or relative to build the audience. (Don’t skip out right after your friend reads.) If the event has been organized by a literary journal, buy a copy of the journal and ask her to sign the page where her story/poem/essay appears. Save this journal in a special place on your bookshelf. Tell her she looked fabulous! Tell her she did a great job! And if you are this kind of friend, later, much later, tell her that she read too fast and that you know the audience would love if next time she could read a little slower.

7.     STEAL her children if you are this kind of friend. Not forever, but for an hour or an afternoon or a weekend. Give her some time to write. (I’m using “her” in a general sense, but it seems that right now, for whatever cultural reason, I do have to add that “her” also means “his.” Just take those kids somewhere fun and let the Writer parent get some work done.)

8.     LEND your lovely beach house/mountain cabin/city pied a terre to your Writer friend so she can finish her novel/collection.

9.      SHARE all your best stories from childhood and young adulthood and adulthood. Understand if she writes about these things in her fiction. Understand if she doesn’t.

10.  TELL your Writer that writing is important, that writing matters, that she shouldn’t give up now, that one day will come the “yes” she’s waiting for. Tell her that you are proud to “know her when,” that the world needs her unique vision, that she is an artist. These are not lies, by the way. Tell her this over and over, if she is a Writer, a Published Writer, or a Famous Writer. Tell her right now.

Note: I fear this might feel written in self-interest since I have a book coming out! But, really, I wrote it because this morning I woke up thinking about the many, many friends this Writer has had along the way who have helped support the work in a multitude of ways. THANK YOU, everyone!


DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.