She lies on the top of my flowered comforter, a book spread in front of her and her strawberry-blonde hair a frame around her joyful face. I lie beside her, my feet bouncing in the air, as I study my pages. It’s sticker book time, and Kim and I are enrapt with the options.
A bit earlier, Mom had taken us up over the mountain to the best sticker store around. (Actually, now, I imagine it wasn’t a store entirely for stickers, but then, they could have sold live tigers, and I probably wouldn’t have noticed.) Now, we had so many shiny, fuzzy, cute, and even smelly stickers to place in our albums. It was a delight. . . a simple delight that I would love to recover now in these years of so much stimulation.
I cannot tell you how Kim and I became friends except that we were in the same classes in elementary school together. (I can prove it with those school photos from the 1980s. The hair and the high-waisted pants – good glory!) I can’t tell you how we came to know that we both loved stickers or even if all the girls in our grade at that moment in our culture were into stickers. I can only tell you what it felt like to sidle up beside her and show her my new treasure.
It felt like safety and understanding and all the best parts of friendship.
Be Brave. Be Vulnerable.
Just like I can’t explain exactly how Kim and I became friends, I can’t really give you the story of how I came to be connected richly and deeply with the writers I call friends. I do know, though, that somewhere along the way we sidled up beside each other and said something like, “Hey, I write, too. What are you writing?” Sometimes it’s as easy as that.
I can tell you, though, that having writer friends is the single most important factor in keeping me going on this writing path.
So here are a two things I’ve learned about connecting with other writers:
- I have to be bold. I can’t sit around and wait for other writers to reach out to me. If I meet another writer at an event, if someone introduces me to another writer, if I really enjoy reading something that another person write, I have to reach out to them and firm up that connection. (More on that in a second.)
- I have to be vulnerable. Reaching out to someone we don’t know is risky because, of course, someone could reject us. We could find that the other person isn’t interested in knowing us or, at least, isn’t as interested in knowing us as we are in knowing them. But if we choose the safety of not reaching out, if we decide to bolster our defenses and stay tucked in our writerly garrets, we may never know the buoying gift of having that other writer cheer us on or commiserate with us on our hard days.
If it helps, think about your early childhood and how you made your first friends. Maybe there was a playground involved or maybe a particular toy or special stick that made the perfect teaching baton. Maybe a game of tag introduced you. Most very young children are fearless when it comes to making friends. They wander up to someone and say, “Want to play?” and off they go, buddies to the end.
When you reach out to a writer, you’re just saying, “Want to play with words with me?” You can do it.
How to Reach Out
Here’s then, the part that I find tricky. I work from home, and because we run a farm, I don’t leave home that often. So my chances to meet writer in person are kind of limited. So here’s what I do:
- I connect via Facebook or other social media. If I like a writers work (particularly if that person and I have mutual friends), I send them a friend request, follow them on Twitter, and if appropriate, I send them a personal note (through a publicly accessible email. No one likes to get emails from strangers on their personal, private email.) Most of the time, people respond, and it’s lovely.
- When I meet someone in person, I follow-up with them. If I am at a conference and get introduced to someone, and particularly if I share a meal with them and other friends, I try to deepen that connection somehow. I might send that friend request then, or maybe I’ll just write a little email to say it was nice to meet them.
- I introduce myself. This one is the hardest for me because I am introverted and am not great at small talk. But when I am at an event and I see a writer I recognize and respect, I walk over and introduce myself. I tell them who I am and say how much I respect their work. I ask how they are enjoying whatever event we are at or the town we are in, and then I say thank you and walk away. Sometimes these brief meetings – especially when I follow-up on them – lead to rich connections.
- I don’t ask for anything. We’ve all had those people who meet us and then immediately ask us to read their book, recommend them for this opportunity, provide them a blurb for their website, and we all hate that behavior. It’s not appropriate to ask for favors from someone you barely know . . . ever.
Then, on the flipside, I try to connect other writers I know. I’ve so appreciated those introductions that friends of mine have made, and I want to extend that kindness to other writers. So I regularly send emails or FB messages introducing two people to one another. Nothing fancy. Nothing formal. Just a “Hey, I thought you two should know each other.”
My Sticker Book Today
So I still have my sticker book. It’s tucked into the trunk that holds all my mementos. From time to time, I take it out and marvel at how much I just adored those cheap pieces of sticky paper. It’s amazing how much joy something so kitschy gave me. (Let’s not talk about my plastic charm necklace, okay?)
I treasure that sticker book, but more, I treasure the fact that Kim and I are still friends (via Facebook these days) more than 30 years later. I don’t think she collects stickers anymore, but you know what, she’s a writer. . . maybe even back then, we knew that tied us together as sure as a fuzzy, teddy bear sticker.
How have you gotten to know the writers that you call friends? Any tips to share?
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