Writers love to talk about their books, their friends’s books, trends in the publishing industry, and our endless anxieties about writing. But our poor families can only take so much of this at the dinner table. My advice to every writer is to assemble a team of key friends who can handle your obsession, help you, brainstorm with you, boost you, and just listen when the going gets rough.
The key to building a team is to draw on real relationships. If you try luring people in to help you for entirely self-serving reasons, they will know. Be a real friend and a good literary citizen. Give as much as you get, and, hopefully, your team will emerge organically. Here’s a peek at my dream team:
1. The Cheerleader
The Cheerleader is that friend who believes in you. The one who had faith in you before anyone else did, maybe before you believed in yourself. She tells everyone she knows about your books. She not only introduces you to her book club, but shares all your good news on social media and slaps your book into every hand she can.
2. The Editor
This craft-focused friend reads your manuscripts carefully and writes detailed notes. She starts her edit letter like this: “I know you were hoping this manuscript was closer to being ready, but …” She is laser-focused on helping you find your flaws and guiding you to possible solutions.
I’m not referring to your editor at your publishing house. I’m talking about a friend who is invested in your writing from the first draft to the final product. This is the wordsmith friend who will notice your writing tics and challenge you with questions about theme, motivation, and desire.
3. The Therapist
The Therapist is one who always takes your calls and listens to you whine even when (especially when) you are being a brat or overly sensitive. Because let’s face it, bad reviews and rejections hurt. Writer’s block can feel like a dark hole with no ladder out. Sometimes you just need someone who is willing to listen and commiserate but not necessarily try to fix things.
4. The Critic
The Critic is the friend who doesn’t sugarcoat anything. He gives it to you straight and tells you if he hates a character, if the ending is too contrived, or if the writing is too flowery. I’d rather hear the tough stuff while I’m editing, than when it’s already on shelves. As opposed to the Editor friend, the Critic critiques like a reader would, not an editor. If he was rating you on Goodreads, he would leave you a two-star review if he thought your work wasn’t up to snuff.
Don’t take it personally. This friend cares about your work or he wouldn’t bother reading it. (And If the tough love is too much, you can always call your Therapist friend afterward.)
5. The Petty Friend
I’m not above admitting I can be petty, and it helps to have a friend who sees my pettiness and matches it with her own. The key to this relationship is recognizing boundaries. What you discuss with your Petty Friend stays in the vault.
But why do you need to be petty, you ask? Being an author can be stressful. Having a safe place to dump your insecurities, hurt feelings, disappointments, jealousies, and regrets without fear of judgment is priceless. This is the friend who always sides with you and unquestioningly hates your nemesis on your behalf. The one who detests the book that beat yours for a big award and will shred reviews critical of your novel. (Just to be clear, my Petty Friend is one of the most kind-hearted people I know. She would never act on the pettiness we discuss, but her willingness to get angry on my behalf makes me feel less alone.)
Who is on your team? Are you a Cheerleader, Editor, Therapist, Critic, or Petty Friend? Do you play different roles for different writer friends?
As a journalist, Julie Carrick Dalton has published more than a thousand articles in The Boston Globe, BusinessWeek, The Hollywood Reporter, Orion Magazine, Electric Literature, and other publications. A Tin House and Bread Loaf alum, and graduate of GrubStreet’s Novel Incubator, Dalton holds a master’s degree in literature and creative writing from Harvard Extension School. She is a frequent speaker on the topic of writing fiction in the age of climate crisis. A mom to four kids and two dogs, Dalton is an avid skier, hiker, and kayaker. A former beekeeper, she also farms a gorgeous tract of land in rural New Hampshire.
For more information, visit her website, or you can follow her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.