Why Writers Need Writer Friends
I went to see Zadie Smith earlier this year. It was an event organized by Politics and Prose bookstore in Washington D.C. Eager to simply be in her presence, I purchased my ticket as soon as I could spare the funds and rushed right to the Metro after I finished teaching my first-grade class. I ended up being 45 minutes early and had to stand outside in the cold, but it didn’t matter, I had made it to the event and even ended up with a primo seat. I was going to hear one of the writers I most enjoyed discuss her latest book, the craft of writing, and the larger societal moment we’re living in.
She had her hair up in a puff. I had my hair up in a puff. She had on hoop earrings. I had on hoop earrings. She had on red lipstick. I had on red lipstick. But, we were worlds apart. Here was a woman, a writer praised for being one of the best of her time. Creator of fiction stories that transported you to other worlds and essays that actually made you think in a world of think pieces that aren’t always even clearly thought out. Me, a writer still coming into her style and what she wants to discuss. Still studying. Always learning.
I attended the event by myself. None of my close friends lived in DC and I wasn’t sure if anyone else I knew in the area was into her. Maybe it’s just me, but I often feel I have different friend groups for different things. There are my friends from school, Cornell and Penn respectively, who are more like my brothers and sisters now. Friends from other cities I’ve lived in who are cool to hang out with, but not necessarily people I’d feel comfortable nerding out about writing with. And then there are my creative friends — photographers, filmmakers, artists, musicians, and other writers. People who like me are not only consumers of art and culture, but creators of it. Who read books as much for the story as study. Who look at pictures and while being struck by beauty, awe or magnificence also try to understand composition, editing, and everything else it took for the photographer to get that one shot.
People have asked me how I built my creative tribe. To be honest, I found them mostly through the internet, Twitter to be exact. I was genuine. They were genuine. It feels mostly like it happened by chance. There was no concrete strategy I had for connecting with other creatives. This was of course back when blogging was more personal and less influencer and you could easily find other Black, mostly women, writers who too spilled their hearts on pages of the internet. We read each other's work, fiercely cheered each other on, and even got together for brunch sometimes. Overtime, I started to participate in different Twitter chats or follow people whose work I liked from my Instagram explore page. Overtime, friends of those initial friends followed me and I followed back. Overtime, I became less shy about calling myself a creative, a writer and promoting not only my work, but myself. Overtime, I became less shy about telling someone I had never engaged with before that I appreciated or enjoyed their work, not because I hoped they’d follow me back or tell me they loved mine too, but just because I actually enjoyed what they created. Overtime, those online relationships translated to the physical world through happy hours when I was in someone’s city, phone number exchanges, facetime calls, emails - real life relationships that started on the internet.
Online or off, I’ve always felt creatives take in the world differently. I think we notice more. Writers especially. We’re always listening for more than what’s there, for better or worse. Always picking up on word choice and what it means. Paying attention to the details so we can paint a picture for a reader who has never seen them. All in service of articulating a vision of the world as is, or maybe as it should be, depending upon who is writing the piece of course.
That’s exactly what Zadie Smith did in Feel Free and the subsequent discussion of it — articulate her understanding of this moment, art, writing both as is and as she hopes it might be. It was awe inspiring and after leaving the event I so desperately wanted someone to talk to about it who would understand the rapture of seeing someone you admire in your field flesh to flesh instead of on the page. I wanted to dissect my notes with someone who also overthinks the meaning of words. I wanted to chat about what I think she envisions for the way forward. What I think I envision for the way forward.
I also wanted to call a boy. Instead, I called a girlfriend and gushed. She listened. She laughed. She let me go on and on. She affirmed the pieces of myself and the writer I could be that I saw in Zadie. And then I went home and thought about this essay, even though I only got around to writing it months later.
Writers need writer friends. Creatives need creative friends. Maybe if I’d been able to dissect her talk like I wanted I would have finished this piece a long time ago. Maybe I wouldn’t have. But at the very least, I’d feel as seen and understood as I did when listening to Zadie speak - regularly. And have someone to go to events with, of course.
If you’re looking for your own set of writer friends, consider joining the Permission to Write Writing Groups. They’re happening in cities all across the US and just may be the creative tribe you’ve been hoping for.