By Angela Jackson-Brown, fiction faculty
“I’ve found somebody just like me. I thought I was the only one of them.”
–Winnie the Pooh
Growing up, I always loved the love and companionship Pooh and his friends Eeyore, Piglet, Kanga, Roo, Tigger, Owl, and Rabbit shared with one another. I would think to myself, when I sat and watched them on television, that I wanted that thing they had between them . . . whatever that thing might be. I wanted a circle of people around me who got me just how Pooh and the gang got each other. However, I was a shy, nerdly child who felt safest with the characters from my favorite books and the stories I wrote. There were children I talked and played with, but I never shared with any of them my writing. It felt too personal and too “different” for me to share. I didn’t want to be called out for my weirdness back then, so I kept my writing secret for years.
I truly thought I was the only little girl in the world writing stories about the imaginary friends who lived inside my head.
The only person I ever shared my work with, as a child, was my beloved daddy, M.C. Jackson. I would wait patiently for him to get home from work. I would run into the den with him and take off his work boots as I chattered away about what I had read or written that day. Then, Daddy would solemnly sit and listen to every hard-earned and thoughtfully researched word in my stories, thanks to two of my best friends, the huge Webster’s Dictionary and the thesaurus I had received for my third birthday. I loved using all of the big words I had found in my stories, and Daddy, who unfortunately had had to quit school at the tender age of fourteen to help on the family farm, often would look at me puzzled when I would use some of my “big words” in my stories. I would proudly explain to Daddy what the words meant and how to properly use them in a sentence. It wasn’t until years later I realized that more times than not, Daddy was just humoring me. He knew the words. He just wanted his little girl to feel important. I credit him for my interest in becoming a teacher. He was a willing student who always showed the proper amount of reverence to my teaching and my writing abilities.
Fast forward to 2007, when I became a student at Spalding. I’ll never forget the day I decided to pursue a degree in creative writing. I nervously entered the hallowed doors of the Mansion Building and walked into the main office, where a smiling Karen Mann sat. I said to her, “I would like information about your program.” I thought she would hand me a brochure and send me on my merry way. Not Karen. She turned on the charm and before I knew it, I was filling out the application and polishing my creative work so I could become a student in the fall of that year. I am forever grateful to Karen because she started me on the journey of finding my writing friends and family. I met so many wonderful writers during my time at Spalding—friends I am still in contact with now.
As the years rolled on (quickly), and graduation approached, I feared I would lose that magic that happens at Spalding twice a year when we descend upon Louisville and the famous Spalding dorm, the Brown Hotel. BUT the magic didn’t go away after graduation. I was smart enough, thankfully, to stay in touch with my core group of friends, and we continue to share work with one another and pump each other up when we have successes and bumps in the road. I have a note a friend sent to me when I published my first book. It reads: “You were always in the heavens—a shining star to your Spalding family. Now, the whole world will see what we saw.” That note brings tears to my eyes every time I read it. So, this post is all about encouraging writers to find their people and keep them close.
As writers, we need people who love our work because we wrote it, but we also need people who will give us an honest assessment of our work. They can still love it, but they aren’t afraid to tell us when something is just not working. If you still aren’t convinced that you need writing friends in your lives, here are a few reasons to consider:
They will hold you accountable. It is easy to give up on your writing when it is just you, but if you have a small circle of accountability partners, they can encourage you and you can likewise encourage them.
They will inspire you. When you are friends with achievers, people succeeding in the field you are interested in, you are more likely to up your game, too. Not in competition, but out of a sense of purpose that if your friends can make it in this writing world, then maybe you can, too.
They will encourage you. No one but another writer understands the constant rejection we deal with on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. They can help pull you out of your writing funk by simply saying the words, “I get rejected, too.” I’m not saying misery loves company, but I am saying, it is helpful to know from others who write like us that we aren’t alone on this journey, and we aren’t failures if we get one “No” or several of them.
One of my favorite Winnie the Pooh quotes is, “You’re braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” Pooh wasn’t talking to himself. He was talking to a friend who needed to hear those exact words at that exact time. Creating a writing community of friends means you will always be surrounded by wordsmiths who can tell you the exact words you need to hear at any given time in your writing life, and that is more precious than all of the honey in Pooh’s honey pots.
Angela Jackson-Brown’s forthcoming novel The Light Always Breaks is due out this summer. Her critically acclaimed novel When Stars Rain Down was released in 2021 from Thomas Nelson, an imprint of HarperCollins. She is the author of a previous novel, Drinking from a Bitter Cup, and a poetry collection, House Repairs, which won the 2021 Alabama Authors Award in poetry from the Alabama Library Association. Her short fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry have appeared in numerous literary journals, including The Louisville Review and Appalachian Review. Her plays have been included in the IndyFringe DivaFest, the Indiana Bicentennial Celebration at the Indiana Repertory Theatre, and OnyxFest. This fall, she will join the creative writing faculty at Indian University-Bloomington. She holds an MFA from Spalding University as well as degrees from Troy University and Auburn University.