Toxic Writing Friendships

By Clare Langley-Hawthorne

Like most writers I rely on a group of friends and family to give me much needed support as part of my writing process. I have those who are happy to provide input early on in the drafting process, those who are great proof readers, and those who are just ‘cheerleaders’ from the sidelines. Last year, however, I discovered the dreaded ‘toxic’ writing friendship – and though it’s a sensitive issue to explore, I felt the need to investigate this insidious issue. (It could also be that the NyQuil I now need to function courtesy of my infectious disease incubator sons is kicking in and making me want to vent!)

When I wrote my first book, Consequences of Sin, I did so under a veil of semi-secrecy, because not many people outside my writing group even knew I wanted to be a writer, let alone that I was writing a novel. I had a few friends who were the ‘writers’ amongst our social group – unpublished and with plenty of horror stories behind them – and I felt a little uncomfortable when I got my offer from Penguin, simply because I had never been regarded as one of the ‘them’. They also considered themselves to be ‘literary writers’ so I thought hmmm…what am I going to say when the project I affectionately called ‘my bodice ripper’ had actually managed to get published?!
At first it all went smoothly (well, cool but smooth). I tried to be low key about it all – not wishing to offend ‘the writers’ and I found myself putting up with stuff that was just unbelievable. One such ‘writer’ actually distinguished us because she said (with a sniff ) that I was writing ‘commercial fiction’ not ‘literary fiction’ which somehow meant my publication didn’t rate quite as highly (and justified her failure to be published as well).

I suddenly realized I had a noxious writing friendship on my hands. So what was I to do now?? At first I was worried that I’d pissed off every friend I’d ever had by inviting them to book signings or sending quick updates on my latest book news. Then, after others reassured me that wasn’t the case, I started to wonder – was my experience typical? Was getting published a sure fire way to alienate my other non-published writing friends? Were there really ‘literary writers’ whose tortured souls somehow trumped mine?
I started to question the value of my writing – you know the kind of thing – ‘Oh, I guess, yeah, I only write mysteries…’ but thankfully, I soon had a WTF revelation and pulled myself out of it.

So what about you – have you had the dreaded writing friendship turn toxic? How did you handle it?

NB: Needless to say I have mentioned no names and hey, my ‘toxic’ literary buddies would never stoop to read my blog!