I hate to admit it, but sometimes we writers aren’t good at social skills. Often we come to this naturally, after all, we’re alone much, have a lot going on between our ears, and wear the same clothes a little too frequently.
Unfortunately, our isolating tendencies aren’t necessarily healthy. We do, whether we admit it or not, need other writers in our lives. We need them to encourage us, celebrate with us, and maybe go over our manuscripts looking for mistakes.
But how does an introverted, socially awkward writer have a good relationship with writer friends?
The answer? Very carefully.
Here are ten bad strategies for making writer friends and what to do instead:
1. You disparage specific genres. Don’t do that. The literary world is big enough to handle all kinds of books. Just because you’re not a fan of Regency romance/social commentary doesn’t mean you need to publicly bash Jane Austen and her fans. Instead, encourage authors you know to write in the genres they love. Nobody will make you read anything you don’t want to.
2. You question specific editorial choices. It’s one thing to say, “Hey now, that’s interesting you made them all Yankees fans,” and quite another to say, “The Yankees suck! This trash book should have Red Sox fans!” It’s art, for crying out loud. Many of our choices are subjective and there is no right or wrong answer. Let your creative friends make their decisions as they want. (Go Red Sox!)
3. You make sure they know you know more than they do. Oh, now this is a delicate matter, but you WILL NOT MAKE FRIENDS if you are a haughty know-it-all. It doesn’t matter if you are Noah Webster, E.B.White, or Maya Angelou. Instead, ask if they’d like advice, then dispense it modestly and gently.
4. You remind others of the writing books they should be reading. Maybe you’ve spent years reading everything you could get your hands on regarding writing, but many people haven’t. Instead of showing off or rolling your eyes at their ignorance, suggest that the group read a book together, or publish a review of these books you’ve read. No one likes to be reminded of where they lack in their education, so consider keeping your knowledge to yourself.
5. You don’t handle criticism of your own work well. Are you one of those who can dish it out, but can’t take it? It is super easy to get on the defensive about the project you’re working on, but don’t! Show self-control and hold your tongue. Thank others for their feedback and then go back to your manuscript and do whatever the hell you please.
6. You equate gentle criticism with absolute rejection. Yes, we know. Writers are sensitive. If you honestly ask for feedback, then thicken up your skin and take it. Learn to separate your identity as a person from the thing you created. It’s just a story, it is not you. If you can’t manage this, you don’t have a promising future in publishing. And if you’re with a bunch who attack you personally because of your mistakes, go find another group.
7. You can’t control your body language. Admittedly, many of us don’t realize what we are doing with our hands and posture when we speak. But consider the way you hold yourself when you are giving and receiving advice. You may be communicating hostility. Check out this link for ways you can change.
8. You give back-handed compliments. “Aw, that’s not too bad for a beginner.” Or, “I suppose that’s the best you can do.” I really believe if you can’t say something nice, then you shouldn’t say anything at all.
9. You are disrespectful of time and other boundaries. Many times writers need critiques or beta reads back by a certain time. If you can’t commit to their deadlines, then don’t commit at all. Also? If you meet in person, make sure you arrive on time and don’t waste others’ time by hogging all the attention.
It boils down to this: be kind and respectful of others. Even if it’s hard for you to get out and meet. The effort is worth it.