Growing up, there was plenty of stuff that I liked, but I was never a ‘fan.’ I never considered going to conventions. Never read fanfic or geeked out over stuff on Livejournal or Xanga or Twitter. Probably my first interaction with the world-of-people-who-like-books-and-also-other-media-stuff was when I went to the Clarion Writer’s Workshop nine years ago (when I was 20 years old!) That was my introduction to a whole world of writers and of fan activity, but I didn’t really stay in the scene. I went to two conventions in the next five years, and I found them both to be extremely alienating experiences. I did maintain some connection to the writing community through online messageboards, but my involvement tended to be more practical than social. I was there for information.
I’ve always felt a certain skepticism about the idea of becoming good friends with other writers. It seems too fraught to me. I’m not saying it’s impossible to be friends with someone who’s in the same business as you are, but it does pose certain unique problems.
Mostly, it feels like an issue of shitting where you eat. If I have a falling out with my real life friends, that sucks, but it’s okay: I can stop talking to them. Or if I say something at a party that’s a little off-color and a friend-of-a-friend comes away thinking I’m a jerk, then that doesn’t exactly make me feel good…but it’s also not that big a deal, because the friend-of-a-friend has very little power to hurt me. But I can’t stop talking to the other people in the writing world. And if I say something off-color at a party, then there’s nothing preventing it from turning into the latest tempest-in-a-teapot over Twitter.
It’s strange, because I almost always meet other writers in nonprofessional contexts—at parties or dinners or conventions or on my personal Facebook page—but I try to never forget that I also have a professional relationship to these people. They might know my agent. They might know my editor. They might review my book someday. They might buy a story for me. Or be faced with my name on an awards ballot. They have the power to affect my career in a thousand tiny little ways.
And that awareness always stands between me and other writers I meet.
When I walk away from a group of non-writers, I always go back over everything I said, and think, “Oh my god, how did I come off?” But in the end, I’m able to reassure myself by saying, well, it doesn’t really matter. But with writers you can’t say that, because it does matter.
On the other hand, there’s really no alternative. What can you do? Not be friends? That’s not gonna get you anything in the end. Then you’re just another anonymous name on the shelves.
Furthermore, the writing world is a really good way to meet people. Adult life is lonely. There’s not much community, and most people are dreadfully lonely.
It’s almost impossible to make friends unless you make them within the context of a larger relationship. Sure, you hear now and then of a person who meets someone else on the street and hits it off and becomes best friends, but that’s rare and it’s also a little unstable. More common is two people meeting at a party and then at another party and then maybe being part of a smaller outing. Then perhaps chatting online a bit. And only then, after meeting maybe a dozen times, do they actually become the kind of friends who might hang out one-on-one.
This means that unless you have a way of having those first dozen meetings—some sort of community that naturally brings you together—then you’re going to have a very difficult time making friends as an adult.
The writing world is a community in the truest sense of the world: a group of people who is, in some sense, forced to accept you. Even if you’re awkward or repellant, you can’t be fully excluded from the writing community, and that means the writing world is full of the casual connections and fortuitous meetings that are the building blocks of friendship.
And the flip side of that is that it’s not possible to avoid making friends with other writers. It’s just like making friends with people you work with. If you see someone often enough and have enough positive interactions with them, then sooner or later you’ll develop friendly feelings for them. So boo. We’re stuck.