Putting the ‘friend’ into cyber friendships

On her blog a few years ago, author Jody Hedlund questioned if our modern cyber world is distorting the meaning of the word ‘friend’. She asked, “How would you define a true friend and can you find that kind of friendship in the cyber world?” I’ve often thought about that question but never really come up with a definitive answer.

“What constitutes a friend in the truest sense of the word? We all value different qualities in our friends. but certainly we can all agree that a friendship must involve a genuine relationship. My pocket Webster defines friend as: close companion. More specifically as writers, we need genuine friends who can encourage and challenge us in our writing journey and we can do the same for them. Do Facebook friends fit that definition? Are they close companions or are they another “list” of people to help us in our quest for publication? For that matter, do any cyber friends live up to that definition?” [Jody Hedlund]

::shifting gears here::

On Friday, June 6, 2008 Joylene Butler published her first blog post. At least, it was the first one that I know about. She had sold five copies of her first novel and was moving to the next step: blogging to promote it and become more visible.

I didn’t know her then, nor had I found her blog when I began my own three weeks later with an initial post on June 28, 2008. My fiction wasn’t published yet so I had nothing to promote, but I was following the trend to be prepared by developing an online presence in the writing community.

There were no comments on my first post, just as there weren’t any on Joylene’s. We were newcomers in cyberspace.

CG&JBI don’t recall how I found her blog. Something in the mysterious realm of cyberspace drew us together. There was a post that November about eagles ‘fishing’ among the ducks on her lake that caught my attention and prompted me to respond with a comment about the goose who nested atop a beaver house in our marsh. Later in November she left a comment on my blog, and as our exchanges continued we discovered we had a lot in common.

When her second novel was being released I interviewed her on my blog. At some point she read and critiqued a story for me. Mostly, though, we’ve just played the role of encourager for each other. She has her own long-standing circle of writer friends and I’m involved in a writing group of my own.

We interact online regularly but we’ve met only once. She lives about 900 kilometres from me, but we managed to arrange a rendezvous when she came south for one of her book signings and I was visiting with family in a nearby city. When she answered the door that day I felt I was being greeted by an old friend.

::returning to the original question::

Friend? One who can encourage and challenge? Hmmm.

JB2Joylene and her husband went to Mexico on November 1st and are renting a casa for the winter at Los Arroyos Verdes in beautiful Bucerias. It’s a place that obviously agrees with her. But two weeks ago she posted about how she had fully intended to set up a strict writing schedule and finish a WIP while there, but so far hasn’t managed to write much at all. You can read the post here, but she concludes, “It’s disheartening to realize I’ve turned into one of those well-meaning persons who can’t get anything done past getting her nose burned.”

Dozens of people have left encouraging comments for her that range from, “I don’t blame you for being distracted. I’m sure you’ll settle back into writing soon,” to “Enjoy yourself and don’t worry too much about the productivity side of things,” and “Keep the faith. You will get there.”

It’s comforting to receive this kind of response, but I’m starting to wonder if any of us were being true friends in offering those consoling virtual pats on the shoulder. Maybe we should have been saying more challenging things like, “It looks gorgeous there. Take a day or two or three every week to soak it all up, but be sure to honour your desire to use a portion of the time for finishing that manuscript (or starting another if that’s the direction you’re led). If you don’t, after six months away you’re going to be cross with yourself when you get home.”

What do you expect from your cyber relationships? How would you want a friend to react when you were avoiding the very thing you normally loved to do — the writing that you promised yourself (and all of us!**) you were going to do during your several months of free time?

If I actually said that to Joylene, would I be a true friend, or just a nag?

Joylene writes suspense thrillers … has two published, with two more in the works, and has a story in a recently published collaborative steampunk anthology.

After reading this she’ll probably write me into her next story and kill me off!



** I will gain momentum soon and begin a routine of writing and blogging and whatever else I promised myself I’d do while here. The right schedule will arise in short order. In fairness, my internet connection has been terrible and I’ve had to stifle my impatience. Which also means I’ve had no excuse for not writing. That will change. I pledge to finish my current WIP, Shattered and to smooth out any clinks in my Vietnam political thriller, Kiss of the Assassin.” [Joylene Butler, Blog post: November 17, 2014]

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I wonder if there is such a thing as a literary masochist. There is a group of writers who tweet under the hashtag #wipmadness and spend all of March frantically dredging up words with which to reach writing goals during that span of thirty-one days. It’s something like a spring version of NaNoWriMo. Not only have they done it before, they’re about to do it again.  They’re crazy!

This is where I admit I’m one of them.


Last March I committed myself to participate in Seekerville’s Speedbo as well as March Madness and I did NaNoWriMo in November. I should have been committed myself, period! It was frazzling! I’m not sure I’m up for it again this year, and yet… and yet….

March Madness

Life doesn’t skid to a stop just because I want to focus on writing my way through a month of days. To meet my oh-so-public goals means eeking out writing moments in between all the other ordinary daily demands. When I stop to think about it, I realize that’s a normal occurrence for most published writers. (If you doubt me, check out Jessica Keller’s guest post yesterday on the Seekerville blog.) If I haven’t the discipline to pursue my own proclaimed goals how can I expect to meet editorial commitments and deadlines if and when my publishing dream becomes a reality?

Talked my way right into that trap, didn’t I?


So yes, today is the first day of thirty-one where I will settle down to work on specific March Madness goals. I’ve evaluated my resources, however, and decided it isn’t realistic to tackle both #wipmadness and Speedbo this year. I’ll sit in the stands, however, and cheer my fellow Seekervillians onward towards their goals, as I busily keep up with my own scribblings. Each Friday I’ll report here on my success (or lack of it – honesty is an important part of accountability).

Check in at Denise Jaden’s blog today if you also have writing goals to reach and would like to join our determined little band, or just leave a comment if you prefer the role of encourager. That’s an important job, too.

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Do we need ideal conditions to produce our best writing?

Wildflowers flourish all along BC’s highways. I don’t think you can drive for half a mile without seeing washes of colour paralleling the pavement. On my recent trip, while stopped in a construction zone, we admired blue Chicory (Cichorium intybus) mingled with cheery clumps of yellow Dune Tansy (Tanacetum bipinnatum). In this most unlikely location they were nodding happily amid the parched roadside gravel and rocks.

(A click will significantly enlarge photos)

They reminded me of a fridge magnet I received years ago from a friend, that says, “Bloom where you are planted,” echoing the words of an old Sunday School song:

Bloom, bloom, bloom where you’re planted.
You will find your way.
Bloom, bloom, bloom where you’re planted.
You will have your day.

As writers I think it’s natural to crave ideal conditions for our writing. We ogle with envy the beautiful dens and their floor-to-ceiling bookcases and polished mahogany desks, believing they must provide the perfect writing environment. We postpone our efforts, believing we’ll have more time to write that novel after the children are grown and away at school, or when we retire from our nine-to-five job.  We rationalize that we need to be free of distractions, demands or other commitments before joining in a 1k1hr word sprint to start a new chapter or finish a scene.

But give us ideal conditions and I’ll betcha some of us would still be undisciplined enough to offer other excuses for procrastinating. If writing is a priority for us, we have to find a way to write, despite the difficulties.

Like the tenacious Tansy and Chicory plants, our success doesn’t depend on ideal conditions so much as making the best use of what we have. We need to heap determination atop our desire, and make the effort to bloom wherever we are planted, regardless of the circumstances.

I know life intervenes sometimes, but if you’re serious about your writing goals, what prevents you from pursuing them?


And God is able to bless you abundantly,
so that in all things at all times,
having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.

II Corinthians 9:8 NIV


He who observes the wind
[and waits for all conditions to be favorable]

will not sow, and he who regards the clouds will not reap.

Ecclesiastes 11:4 AMP


 I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

Philippians 4:13 NKJV


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Whose fault is it when writing stutters to a stop?

Words rush ahead, fling themselves onto the page and dare you to keep up. At least, that’s the way it seems when writing is going well. Scenes flash by in HD, rippling across the mind’s eye as the story unfolds.

As much as I love those days, they aren’t typical of my writing life. Many days words drip out a few at a time, forming a slowly widening puddle on the page. Sloppy phrases, sluggish sentences, and clichés meld with occasional bursts of brilliance as I struggle to find the right way to express a blossoming idea.

I know I’m not the only one who experiences creative cycles. Just read all the #amwriting tweets to find people elated by their run of 3500 words or bemoaning the curse of writer’s block. Euphoria and desperation. The two extremes.

Whose fault is it when my words stutter to a trickle or skid to a stop? Mine, of course. It’s nice to shift the blame to a reluctant muse but truthfully, I know where the muse dwells. Author Nora Roberts has said, “You’re going to be unemployed if you really think you just have to sit around and wait for the muse to land on your shoulder.” She should know. Since 1981 she has written 209 romance novels as Nora Roberts and has also been published as J.D. Robb, Jill March, and Sarah Hardesty.*

The dream of being published won’t materialize without effort. If we want to be real writers then we must write, regardless of whether the story comes easily or, as Earnest Hemingway has said, it’s like drilling rock and then blasting it out with charges.” When the going gets tough we have to use whatever it takes to keep moving ahead. If drilling and blasting don’t seem to work, we may need to nurture the muse.

  • Refill the well. We can’t keep emptying ourselves indefinitely. Find creative activities that enrich, such as reading a book that inspires and motivates, visiting an art exhibit or museum, taking a short course in batik making, sketching, quilting, gourmet cooking….
  • Prime the pump. Success begets more success. As much as I dislike writing exercises, if I force myself to do ten minutes of free writing on the first word that comes into my mind (or, if nothing does, the first word I put my finger on in the dictionary or verse in the Bible), I have to admit my brain function perks up. Once I start writing it’s easier to keep writing.
  • Join forces with a friend. Issue or accept a realistic writing challenge and hold each other accountable. It’s always hard to admit defeat when you’ve committed publicly to a goal, and easier to achieve one when there is friendly competition and encouragement.
  • Schedule specific writing breaks. There’s no harm in taking a short-term hiatus for refreshment or other priorities. The danger is in making excuses for the reason, or for procrastinating beyond the allotted time. Pencil in specific stop and start up dates on your calendar and stick to them.

There’s no other way around it: if we want to be writers we have to write regularly, and not just when we feel like it. The responsibility to do so is entirely our own.

“The only person holding you back is you;

everyone else is merely watching.”

(Bob Mayer)

What does it take to get you writing again when you’ve stuttered to a stop?


* http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nora_Roberts