Coming to the end of writing Jacob Wrestling while at the same time having a number of other things to take care of (closing reading periods at two magazines, living at 22 degrees Fahrenheit while I fight with my electrician about fixing my heaters, being locked out of the car, having my laptop die, and getting ready for the busy holidays) my nerves are a little frazzled. But even though I’m feeling stressed, I’m feeling very taken-care-of in terms of my writing–I think I’ve determined the answer to The Question (the one authors are always asked at readings: “how do you become a writer?”) After the requisite condition that the aspiring writer read as much as possible, I think the next step is to find and maintain supportive relationships.
Easy to say, but tough to do. I’ve been incredibly fortunate in this regard. I’ve got, for one thing, the unconditional support of my husband, who serves as my cheering section, therapist, and tech-support all in one fantastic package. How’s the aspiring writer I’m advising supposed to find someone equally great? Well, I don’t know. But I’m certainly glad I was so lucky.
Probably, a more tenable direction for anyone who wants to write is to find a writing partner. While writing is ultimately a solitary activity, the planning, revision and editing of work need not be a lonely enterprise. My book-writing buddy, the talented Tanya Chernov, keeps me artistically grounded, sees the problems I miss, finds the threads of story I need to connect, and inspires me when I’m feeling stale. And I have the pleasure of doing the same for her as she works on her own material. Could I have written Jacob Wrestling without her help? Well, maybe, but it would be a different–and likely terrible–book. The novel’s benefited enormously from her input, and I hope her work has benefitted from mine.
So how should someone go about finding a good writing partner? If one’s lucky, a partnership may develop organically out of a good interaction in a workshop or class. Or, one may need to look around a bit within their local literary community. But however it initiates, perhaps the most critical aspect of making a writing partnership work is goodwill and mutual respect. Tanya and I think highly of one another’s work, though we are extremely different writers, and we’re not competing with one another. We simply want to see one another succeed artistically and professionally. We work almost as tirelessly on each other’s material as we do on our own. And while that may sound exhausting, it’s instead a great deal of fun to get out of one’s own head for a bit and to engage with another person’s creative ability. It’s a relief to have the same done in return, especially when deadlines looming or energy flags. For me, whenever various aspects of my life feel ready to fall out of orbit, it’s an incredible reassurance to know that I have someone looking after my characters and my story.
So, at some point when I’m giving a talk and am asked “how do you become a writer,” I plan to respond with “you don’t do it alone.”