Historically, I am known for being TERRIBLE at asking for help. One of my journalism professors used to lecture me at least weekly on my need to ask my colleagues for tips, connections, or leads. And I never did. It’s not because I’m proud, exactly, or because I didn’t want to share. No, I tend to not ask for help because I think I should be able to do it all on my own. Asking for help feels like a failure, for some reason, like I wasn’t good enough to do whatever it is I need help with on my own.
That’s not really the point of this post, though, so we can leave that for Dr. Freud to deal with. Because over the years, I’ve come to realize that reporting, writing, and, hell, even life require us to have the support of a dozen other people, friends and family and mentors, business associates, competitors, acquaintances, all the people who help us turn our wishes and dreams into goals and reality.
Last week, I started reading Brandon Sanderson’s Words of Radiance, the newest installment of his Stormlight Archives series (which, if you like epic fantasy and you aren’t reading, you need to pick up RIGHT NOW), and, naturally, I started with the acknowledgements. I like to see who writers rely on, who helps them and supports them and loves them… and for a book like Words of Radiance, a veritable army of teammates supports the writer himself.
It got me thinking about how my own team has expanded in the past few years. When I first started writing more, and taking myself seriously as a writer, I tended to write in the wee hours of the morning, after my husband had gone to sleep. I was still working as a reporter, and often those dark hours were the only times I had to really let go of my reservations about fiction. I hoarded my words, both proud of them and oddly embarrassed by them, and I neither asked for support nor let anyone support me.
I finished that book, but it took years… and I’ve never reread that work.
Lately, though, my team has expanded. My husband, of course, is my partner and my “alpha” reader, the only person to see rough drafts and the primary person who holds my hand and tells me I don’t suck. Then there’s my bosom friend Emmie Mears, my critique partner, who also tells me I don’t suck and gives me valuable feedback on my books. These two are also indispensable for moral support. I also rely on Team Awesome and the ladies of Spellbound Scribes, who keep me going, encourage me, and generally help me to be better than I would be on my lazy lonesome.
It’s mostly public knowledge by now, too, that I’ve recently changed representation. I’ve learned in the last year just how important it is to have an agent who is as enthusiastic about your work as you are, who is willing to dig in and get her hands dirty helping you make your work as good as it possibly can be. And I’ve found that with the amazing and dedicated Jes Negròn.
I’m a pretty lucky writer, it turns out. And that’s just counting the folks whose friendship bleeds into my working life. I’m also blessed with amazing friends who occasionally drag me out into the sunlight and remind me that there are real people out in the world, as well as imaginary. I have friends who let me cry to them, but then take me out and get me drunk and make me laugh so hard I squeak. I have friends who know when to listen and when to turn on Doctor Who. I have family who believe in me no matter what.
Opening yourself up to that kind of support can be tough, though, because you have to admit that you’re vulnerable before anyone can even attempt to help you. You have to loosen your grip on those precious words or dreams or wishes, and let someone else breathe a little life into them. While some writers (J.D. Salinger, anyone?) can live without teammates who don’t mind that you leave tea bags and saucers in the bedroom or that you occasionally don’t call for weeks, most of us need people who can put up with those little quirks and, more importantly, support the dreams those quirks represent.
So what makes a good teammate?
For me, a good teammate not only holds my hand and tells me it’ll all work out eventually, but he or she also challenges me to be BETTER. She encourages me to do another sprint or to write another new opening chapter. She never accepts that I’ve done my best until I can say, definitively, “YES, I have met my goals and lived up to my own potential!” And the greatest part of all? She trusts me when I say that. And she takes me out to celebrate when I do. And when I can’t quite get there, she pours me a glass of wine and tells me that I will, and that it’s okay if I can’t right now. Because she never stops believing that I’ll get there.
Sounds like a perfect person, yes? The nice thing about these folks is that they do these things for me because they expect no less. And I do the same for them. In these relationships, the love and support, the encouragement and uncompromising belief in me, are simply as natural as breathing. It’s what we do.
So who is on your team? How did they get there? How do they help you?