Kristi Holl recently blogged about drainers and fillers - the people around you (some of whom are writers) who either fill you with confidence and support and encouragement, or drain you with their needs and demands. She talks about how someone can be both a filler and a drainer, but I was thinking further on this, and wondered about that. If a person is a genuine filler - someone who supports without criticising, makes you laugh, takes your mind off your latest rejection, critiques your novel for you - can they really be a drainer as well?
I think the word that describes them is something more like consort, or co-operator, or dual enabler, or maybe just - plain good old writing buddy! The writing friends I have never drain me. I might feel a bit tired occasionally when I've spent time and energy on critiquing their manuscripts, but the fact that I know they will appreciate my efforts, will totally engage with my comments and be eager to discuss them, and this will in turn lead to wider conversations about writing and editing - that doesn't drain me, that re-inspires me.
Their commitment to their writing mirrors my commitment. Their willingness to critique and discuss and spend time on my manuscript mirrors my own. Their openness to comments and discussion energises me and creates some fantastic to-and-fro about what it is we are both trying to achieve. Even swapping goals at the beginning of the year is a co-operative venture that is about both of us supporting the other equally. Yes, there are times when one needs more assistance than the other, but a great writer-to-writer relationship always balances out in the end.
Kristi is right when she says a new writer may feel they have nothing to offer a more experienced writer in a relationship, but if you are a keen reader, with the willingness and growing ability to offer insightful, thoughtful comments and questions, you can absolutely offer a range of benefits to the relationship. And if you don't expect the experienced writer to coerce their agent into taking you on (or their editor), if you're willing to learn and grow, your part of the relationship will grow too.
I've heard lots of stories, however, about drainers. These are people who: ask you to critique their novel and then argue about every comment; see you at a conference and hang onto your arm and expect you to introduce them to every single editor or agent you see (and then embarrass you by gushing or thrusting a manuscript into the editor/agent's hand); call you up at all hours and expect long conversations about their latest writing problem; want to know all the latest industry information (that you garnered by reading newsletters and belonging to industry discussion groups), including who is currently looking for manuscripts, but never returns the favour and jealously guards any "inside" knowledge.
I won't go on with this - it may sound too bizarre or ridiculous, but unfortunately it's true. But the drainers are in the minority - it's just that they impact so disastrously on people. Yes, this is an industry, but if you can find a fellow filler, someone who helps you to keep going, lifts you up when things are going badly, and someone to whom you can happily return the "good stuff", you'll be so much the better for it. I'm very lucky. I have a terrific writers' group, and I have two fellow writers/fillers for whom the give-and-take is a great experience. How about you?