Wednesday, March 7, 2012

(Un)Healthy Writing 3: Codependency

by Cat Woods

My Dear Daughter + teen drama = great blog fodder.

For the past week, we've been discussing addiction and the difference between healthy behaviors and those not so great for long term success.

DD's newest question, "Can a person be addicted to her boyfriend?" got me thinking and asking a few questions of my own.

Can a writer be addicted to other writers? The psychology-lover in me says no. Humans cannot be addicted to other humans. We can, however, be co-dependent on them.

Co-dependency develops when two individuals form such a strong relationship they forego other healthy alternatives. They feed off each other's fears and insecurities, and often engage in self-destructive behaviors rather than risk severing ties with their significant others (i.e., the only people in the universe who totally understand them).

Teens are notorious for engaging in these all-inclusive relationships.

So are writers.

While some relationships are healthy, others can be devastating. Consider your circle of writing friends. It is very likely that a few individuals lead the way in both expertise and experience. They often become role models or mentors to other members. It is just as likely that your writing group has a handful of known Vivian Venters. These lively individuals rant about the injustices of the publishing business and lend an ear when you need to do the same. And just for filler, every good writing community has a newbie or two waiting in the wings.

At any given point, writers need every kind of writing relationship mentioned above. We need to be led and we need to lead. We also need to rant and rejoice—for ourselves and for others. These key personalities make for a healthy balance.

But what happens when a writer gets sucked down the rabbit hole into a co-dependent relationship with another writer? In short, forward progress will cease.

More importantly, what does a co-dependent relationship look like?

You may be co-dependent on your writing partner if:
  1. You seek out certain individuals in private to complain about the injustice of the business—because your comments to other writers often go unanswered.
  2. You find yourself spending more time complaining than writing.
  3. Your partner complains more often than he writes.
  4. You have been through a half-dozen writing partners and find that all of them are too mean/judgmental/stupid to care about your work. They just don't "get" you.
  5. You seek out critique partners who lavish praise onto your writing, finding a mere typo here and there for you to fix.
  6. You happily point out typos in your Writing Partner's work, but shy away from telling her you don't understand what you just read.
  7. Your writing fears are vast and varied and you're sure you will never get published. Ever. Why don't you just quit now and stick to scrubbing toilets? When you state this to your WP, she tells you how stupid agents and editors are and offers no substantial plan to help you succeed.
  8. When your WP complains of the exact same thing, you know in your heart your WP is right—his writing sucks—but you're afraid to tell him because he's your friend. He listens to you. He knows how mean agents and editors are. He gets that the stars are aligned against you. He is the only one in your corner who truly understands.
  9. You haven't written anything substantial since you've found your writing "soul-mate", and may even have lost your desire to write.
  10. You no longer want to get published because you believe in your work, rather, your desire to publish is motivated by the need to prove the agents and editors wrong. Double points if your critique partner encourages this logic.
  11. Your relationship makes you feel isolated on one hand and cozy and safe on the other.

I know the above list sounds a bit cheeky, but I mean it in the most sincere way. Writing is a tough business. Few of us know exactly what the journey will entail before we decide to become writers. We can easily become disenchanted and blame our sour feelings on agents, editors and their constant rejections.

If this is how you feel, even slightly, please carefully consider your writing relationships. Are they healthy? Do you get positive reinforcement along with a dose of reality from them? Do you give the same in return?

How do you maintain healthy writing relationships? How do you deal with unhealthy ones?

Curious minds want to know.

When she's not separating dust bunnies from plot bunnies, Cat Woods can be found coaching speechies, raising children, mediating custody cases or blogging at Words From the Woods.

P.S. If you'd like more (Un)Healthy Writing tips, you can nab posts 1 and 2 on my blog.

8 comments:

Jean Oram said...

I have been truly blessed by my writing relationships. I've got some great people in my writing corner who do allow me to vent, but also help me brainstorm solutions to issues, help me improve, and are some of the best darned cheerleaders out there!

The unhealthy writing relationships tend to fall away, I suppose. :)

Cat Woods said...

That's awesome, Oh Blessed One. I, too, am in the same boat with solid writing relationships. However, I personally know of one writer who wasn't so lucky.

He had oodles of natural storytelling talent, but hadn't yet mastered the art of translating it into the written word. Needless to say, a co-dependent relationship killed any and all desire to write. He hasn't picked up a pen (or tapped a keyboard) in nearly a decade.

So sad.

I always feel bad for writers like that. Too often, it is the relationship that kills the writing dreams and not the writing itself.

Darlene Lancer, JD, MT said...

Codependence with a writing partner is like any other codependent relationship that lacks balance, assertive, open communication, good boundaries, and mutual needs getting met. The common denominator is when your thoughts and feelings revolve around something or someone external. Thanks for sharing. For more information, see my website.

Jemi Fraser said...

Great post, Cat. I've been beyond lucky with my writing partners, but I know some people who have been sucked down. It's hard. I hope your words help a lot of people! :)

Josh Hoyt said...

I have a great writing friend who helps me and encourages me through it all!

Cat Woods said...

Darlene~ Thanks for leaving readers with another place to turn to regarding issues like this.

Jemi~ I always love to hear about the positive relationships people have. Sadly, I fear the silent ones we don't hear from aren't as lucky as you. It can take years to cultivate great writing friendships, but a very short amount of time to get sucked into a bad one.

Josh~ It's great to keep hearing these success stories. I wish you and your writing friend much luck and success as you journey through this together!

Christopher Hudson said...

Sheeesh ... you've just validated my being a writing loner.

Cat Woods said...

No, you're not, Christopher.

You're here. You care about the process and yourself as a writer.

Seriously, if anyone can claim lonership in the proverbial writing closet, it would be me.

I still have published works that my family and friends know nothing about. To date, I've never told my parents I'm agented even after a year of representation.

Do as I say, not as I do. LOL.