I clicked with a lot of people that week, some just dipping a toe into the writing pool and others already treading water on the deep end. I was searching for a person somewhere in the middle, maybe one who was ready to pull off the floaties and dunk her head under. I found her waiting in line at a porta-potty. Donna was an aspiring picture book writer, and she had a couple of novels under her belt too and they sounded interesting to me. We had a few things in common. Kids sort of the same age. (But she has four!) We’d both been English teachers, and we were spending our child-raising years as uber-PTA volunteers. We nervously exchanged manuscripts that day.
I say nervously because there is always this element of fear when you first look at someone’s writing (and know she is evaluating yours too). The biggest worry is that you won’t like it and how will you tell her without hurting her feelings? Ideally, you’d both be at a similar level and looking for the same kind feedback. Up to this point I'd never found someone like that, so I wasn’t holding my breath.
But, whew. What Donna wrote was pretty darned good and apparently she thought my stuff was worthwhile too. After the conference we started emailing each other and this correspondence quickly turned into a twice daily check-in. Every morning we email each other our goals for the day and every afternoon we write what we call our "accountability." At the end of the year I scrolled through all those emails and found that they were a record of Donna's and my writing journey and our friendship. There are our goals, of course, but also snippets of daily life, books we’ve read and errands we’ve run. Stuff we make for dinner. Funny and/or annoying things are kids and hubbies do.
Once Donna wrote that a friend of hers wondered what she did all day at home. The implication was that Donna must be sitting around eating bon-bons. She certainly wasn’t out working. Or cleaning her house. That accusation became a joke to us. Yes, we were sitting around eating bon-bons all day. That’s what writers do. For a Christmas present that year I compiled all of our emails and had them printed and bound on one of those self-published book sites. I titled the book Sitting Around Eating Bon-Bons and even used a picture of bon-bons for the cover art.
Now it’s an annual tradition, that correspondence book. I’m editing Book Three this week and it’s inspiring to see how far Donna and I have come since we met. I can’t count how many times we’ve talked each other out of quitting. And when one of us has any kind of success, the other feels it just as much, if not more so. Writing can be such a lonely activity. Also frustrating and exciting and heartbreaking and amazing. It’s a million times better when you have another person to share the journey with. All I can say is thank goodness Donna and I had the same inclination to head for the porta-potty when we did.