Whether you’re a self-taught loner toiling away moodily in your Paris garret or the poster board for extroversion in your creative writing master’s program, chances are you’ve met some of the people on this list, and are hopefully cultivating a productive relationship with them. Writing, like going to Ikea, is best done alone, but in your off hours, knowing you have this network of friends, readers, and pseudo-enemies will sustain you:
Someone who represents your ideal reader. This isn’t necessarily an actual ideal reader of yours; it might be a poet friend you met in AP English class who has never even seen your work, or an aunt with good taste (just not your mom). This person, because they like the kind of writing you’re doing, becomes a stand-in for the audience you picture. Not because you’re writing what you think this audience wants to read, but because you need to picture someone out there receiving it, someone with different values and likes and dislikes from your own––someone you want to impress. That need to impress raises the stakes just enough to give you perspective and sharpen your focus, but because it’s aimed at a friendly face, it doesn’t carry any toxic pressure.
A writing partner. As we’ve noted on the blog before, a writing or critique partner is invaluable. This person gives you friendly competition without making that the first order of business, offers editing from a familiar standpoint, eggs you on to new heights and to explore unfamiliar/weird territory (because hey, the pressure’s off with them!), and, most of all, inspires you.
Someone who’s done it before. This is often an older writing friend, even a mentor, who’s already gone through some of the steps you’re dreading (magazine submissions, rejection, teaching application, rejection, scary fellowships, scary publication, more rejection). Just knowing that this person has been there, done that doesn’t whet your appetite (yes, for you eggcorn-prone-types, it’s whet, not wet) for competition; rather, it’s comforting. It makes you think you can do it. Bonus points if this person actually acts as a mentor for you, whether that means insightful words of advice, a good cover letter, or a word whispered in the right ear.
A competitor. This could be a former classmate who’s gone on to some success, or maybe a writer who’s totally out of your circle but of whom you keep track from afar to gauge whether you’re working hard enough. It can even be someone whose work you don’t particularly like but whose drive you envy. A little bit of envy keeps you on your toes. This person is both the carrot and the stick.
A cheerleader. Yes, this is probably your mom. No, this person doesn’t really help you creatively after you’ve reached kindergarten age. Yes, this person’s enthusiasm and blind (misplaced?) faith in your abilities is annoying, even hampering, even fodder for self-discouragement on your bad days—but on your worst days, knowing this person’s there becomes a foundation (raised somewhere just above rock bottom) for starting over.