On Sunday afternoon, a friend of mine from graduate school drove from Denver to see me---four hours both ways for 24 hours of hiking, chatting and drinking beer (though not 24 hours straight of drinking beer). When I chose to live in an out-of-the-way and hard-to-reach locale, I knew these kinds of visits would be sparse. I often meet my friends in some other Colorado location, making the trek to Denver, Buena Vista or Fruita because they've already flown in from places like Minneapolis, Seattle or a small town in Massachusetts.
So I was pleasantly surprised when Dave drove all the way from Denver, being the East Coaster that he is. I was not surprised, however, that a grad school friend made the trek. I count them among my most valued friendships because we did more than learn how to write together.
We went to a small low-residency MFA program on the East Coast, where most of our classes took place one on one with a mentor. We had only one group class a semester, but in addition to that one group class we all stayed at the same Danbury, CT hotel for a week each semester. There, we stayed up too late every night and talked into the early morning hours.
I'd be hard pressed to tell you what all those conversations were about, but I can tell you that over the course of two years---as we all learned to write better---we also learned that writing changes lives. We witnessed divorces, new relationships, new babies, first publications...and while not all of them were happy things, most of them resulted in living better, more fulfilling lives.
Some of those changes might have happened anyway, but there is a sense of empowerment that comes from writing. It leads many writers to take a closer look at life, and to feel empowered to create the lives they want.
In writing and in life, my grad school friends and I can say to each other, "I knew you when..."
That means that I care just as much about Dave's publishing success as I do about the fact that he and his girlfriend are thinking about moving to a town with more friends and more cultural outlets. It means that we can talk about writing novels and other big topics like marriage and kids, and understand that writing is just as important as figuring out the latter. It means that we drive eight hours for 24 hours of visit.
Dave's visit reminded me that as writers, we don't have to be isolated and we don't have to be in competition. We should, perhaps, reconsider what it takes to become better writers. Practicing, taking classes, and finding trusted mentors, yes. But why not put some of that energy into finding writing friends---the people who will have our backs, know our writing, and become champions of our work.
Where have you found your best writing friends?