A LITTLE HELP FROM YOUR FRIENDS
by John M. Floyd
A couple days ago I got a message on Facebook from my old writing buddy Fran Gatewood. She told me her husband Larry had just returned from a business trip and brought her a copy of John Grisham’s collection of short stories, Ford County. Reportedly, Larry said as he handed it to her, “He’s no John Floyd, but I thought you might enjoy it anyway.”
Believe me, I have enough sense to realize he was joking, but it still made me feel good. And it made me realize, not for the first time, how fortunate I am to have close friends who support me and my writing (even when they’re as crazy as Fran and Larry).
Quirks in progress
All of us need encouragement, in this line of “work.” Most important is probably the support of family; I can’t imagine trying to be successful at writing — or at anything else — if your spouse or parent or child resents or belittles your efforts. My wife isn’t herself a writer, and has never had any desire to be, but thank God she’s always been patient and understanding when it comes to handling, or bearing, or ignoring, my many peculiarities. Let’s face it, there are plenty of things about the writing life that are hard for a spouse or partner to live with: the odd hours, the clutter, the blank stares, the deadlines, etc.
The most difficult things to put up with, I imagine, are the mood swings. When the words are flowing and the sales are plentiful, writers are generally a happy bunch, but there are a great many times when the words just don’t want to cooperate, and when the SASEs from editors seem to confirm your secret suspicion that (1) they don’t like you and (2) your writing just might, if read aloud, be bad enough to scare the cat. Those kinds of doubts are probably the reason that a lot of successful writers are/were also hopeless alcoholics. And although I don’t know the statistics, I wouldn’t be surprised to find that authors of fiction aren’t far behind dentists and policemen and air traffic controllers on the Top Candidates for Suicide scale. We’re almost certainly a little unbalanced to begin with; how else could we expect folks we don’t even know to like — and pay good money for — the things we dream up in the middle of the night?
This makes it even more important that we have the acceptance and support of the folks we do know. Don’t get me wrong: my wife doesn’t like everything I write. It’s a good thing for me that she doesn’t, because when I show her my final drafts she corrects the errors I make before others get to see how stupid I can be. The main thing is, she sincerely wants me to succeed, and without that attitude on her part, I doubt I would have been able to achieve any level of success or satisfaction at all.
That kind of encouragement is needed outside the home as well. Many of us attend writers’ groups, and the responses we receive there sometimes determine whether we continue as writers or whether we quit and take up woodworking or needlepoint. I’ve often said that if you really want to write, you’ll write, no matter what others say, but I also think positive comments by fellow writers makes a lot of difference in how fast you progress . . . or not. In my writing classes and at meetings like these, I make it a point to be honest in my criticism of students and peers, but I also make sure I give them a few positive comments (there are always some positives to point out) before giving them the negatives. Some teachers and critiquers disagree with that idea, I know, but that’s the approach I try to take.
Yoda to Count Dooku: “Much to learn, you still have.”
One more thing. I’ve always been surprised at how accessible and accommodating successful authors are. Most are more than willing to offer help and advice to aspiring writers, whether it’s on craft or marketing, and whether they’re acquaintances or strangers. I’ve probably been more on the receiving end than the giving end, in the advice department, and I owe a great debt to those authors who have been kind enough to give me the benefit of their knowledge and experience.
The opening words of the Beatles song “With a Little Help From My Friends” says: “What would you think if I sang out of key? Would you stand up and walk out on me?” Well, if you write out of key, that’s exactly what your readers will do.
I need all the friendly assistance I can get.