There are practical forms of help that any aspiring or accomplished writer needs. For example, Margaret Atwood employs several assistants to ensure the historical accuracy of her novels, and an academic colleague from my previous life used to pay a young woman to sit in his room and listen to the ideas for his latest book (although whether her role was muse, eye candy, or amanuensis was never made quite clear). Writing groups can be helpful, providing fertile environments in which to grow and share one’s writing. Editors, agents and proof-readers can all support authors in the final crafting of their books through attention to the mechanics of the plot, the readability and flow, the grammatical appropriateness of various sentences, and removing surplus apostrophes. I don’t doubt the value of each of those kinds of help as a means towards becoming a better and more accomplished writer.
But the kind of help I want to write about in this blog is that which I most value...One of the major challenges facing any fledgling author is learning to believe in their own value as a ‘writer’. I have endless word-processed pages and a head filled with ideas, but everyone has at least one novel within them, right? I have no expectation that I am more or less special than all those other people; yet to be a ‘writer’, I need to recognize and value my writing as a significant part of my life. I need to believe that the crafting of my words is a worthwhile activity (and deserves to take me away from domesticity and paid work). I’ve been quite slow to realize this, but fortunately my friends got there before me. Their friendships push me towards the leap of faith that I am a ‘writer’, and that helps more than anything else.
I have a friend who sent me a pair of earrings made from pencil stubs and a necklace made from the Scrabble letter which starts my first name. Another friend, concerned about my complaint about how cold I get when writing late at night, sent a scarf whose material keeps me warm but whose color is so outspoken and bright that it does not allow me to take myself too seriously. When I think I can’t write, I wear the jewelry and wrap the scarf about me, and I’m instantly surrounded by those friends and the belief they have in me and my writing.My dearly loved neighbor pounces on me every now and again and takes me out for breakfast or coffee and cake. We avoid the small talk, and laugh irreverently through discussions of love and life, of writing and not-writing. Those moments are the effervescence which fuels my pen through the next few days, as though the bubbles of our friendship feed my writing.
And my partner buys me bottles of exquisitely colored inks and notebooks of different shapes and sizes. He brings glasses of wine and plates of snacks to my study when I write in the evening and never suggests that I should be spending time with him instead.
To write, surrounded by love and support and respect, helps more than any spell-checker package or self-help writing manual or fancy new laptop. My writing comes by ‘with a little help from my friends’, and with their help I’ll be a writer yet.