We often associate the writing life as one of solitude. These days that’s not the case. Having supportive writing friends can nurture our creativity and productivity.
But having toxic writings friends can emotionally drain you and stunt your creativity. And in the worst cases, it can stop you from writing altogether.
I’m going to share with you information on how to identify toxic writing friendships, my own experiences with them, and what to do about them.
So, let’s delve in.
What is a toxic relationship?
A toxic relationship is one that makes you feel drained, depleted, and sometimes even distraught. They can destroy your self-esteem, make you unhappy, and skew your perceptions of the world towards the negative.
These relationships often start healthy, but this can easily change.
They usually start when bad feelings are left to fester, but sometimes you can’t see the signals of a toxic person.
And why would you? It’s your friend, your family, or your partner—they’d never hurt you, right?
Here are some signs to help you recognise a toxic writing relationship. There are several archetypes of toxic writing relationships that I will list to help you identify toxic people. Thanks to Kristina Adams for identifying archetypes. (Kristina’s note: she will eventually include these in a future version of Productivity for Writers. Probably.)
The Toxic Archetypes
ME ME ME! Yes, we all know that person. The one who likes to make everything about themselves; they want to be the centre of attention AKA the Kardashian.
If you even talk about your writing, somehow it always goes back to this person and their writing. If you’re got a great idea, this person will take credit for it, no matter how big or small. Hell, if you’re successful, it will be down to them.
The Fake Boss
These people are the know-it-alls. They want to be in control all the time and will often try to dictate your life and how to write. If it’s not their way, it’s the highway.
The Cry Baby
Oh boy, I’ve seen my fair share of these people. They are the ones who like to dish out the criticism but can’t take any form of it. I’ve met people who have cried over the placement of a full stop. These people are usually insecure and that, unfortunately, can rub off on you.
The Headphones Listener
This is pretty much what it says on the tin. They’re people who are pretending to listen to what you say. They don’t care and won’t have any enthusiasm for your current writing project and hence bring your excitement down.
The Green-Eyed Monster
This is a big one in the writing community. These are people who can’t be happy for your success. This can come in any form: perhaps you’re getting more praise in your critique group, your book sales are doing well, or maybe you have an awesome idea for a book. It’s usually down to their own insecurities as a writer, but sometimes people are just jelly.
Let’s say you’re in a writing rut and you haven’t been able to write any words in a while and then suddenly you’ve written 1000 words. Triumph! You tell your friends and they congratulate you. This person won’t applaud you, instead, they’ll make it a competition. Their reaction will be ‘I did 2000 words.’
They’ll make everything a competition, including book sales. This might work for people who are competitive, but for some people it’s exhausting.
These people are constantly seeking affirmation and a sense of purpose and self-worth.
Over time, it becomes everything they think about!
If they don’t get your approval for a writing project, they’ll abandon it. This is damaging to both parties. The one giving affirmation will be drained and the co-dependant will lose their confidence.
We all like a good moan now and then, but a person who is constantly airing their grievances becomes tiresome. The moaner is a walking black cloud and that negativity can rub off on you.
The Dog Chasing its Tail
We all have times when we unload to friends about our struggles to write, but this person doesn’t listen to your advice. You end up telling them the same advice 50 times. This just creates a vicious cycle, like a dog chasing its tail. This isn’t healthy for either party. For the one giving advice it’s exhausting, and the one constantly asking for help really needs to get help. There might be some deep underlying issues there that only a therapist can help with.
The Emotional Drain
If you experience anxiety, fatigue, and/or depression when you’re around this person, then this person is what you call an emotional drain.
This person makes you want to curl up into a ball in your bed whenever they leave. Their negativity saps all the energy out of you and this stops you from being productive.
My experience in being in toxic writing relationship
I was in a toxic writing friendship for a long time and I didn’t even know it, which in hindsight is embarrassing. At first, it was healthy, but as time passed subtle changes occurred.
The person had a lot of confidence in their writing but now looking back I realise it was arrogance. It made me think wow; they’re amazing.
The way they talked about writing and its techniques impressed me and I wished to have the knowledge they had, like how to craft beautiful sentences. The thing is, I already did—I just didn’t know how to apply it.
They became a good friend. Then the relationship shifted. This person took me under their wing as a mentor. They tried to be an Obi-Wan Kenobi figure. It didn’t work. The boundaries became blurred.
Every time I wrote anything—and I mean even just a sentence—they’d change it. They’d tell me I had too much plot, that I’m not following the three-act structure strictly enough and that my characters were too dramatic. I write YA—aren’t all teenagers dramatic?
Slowly but surely my confidence dropped and I no longer trusted my writing. Not only that, but I became distant from my other writing friends because my toxic friend deemed their writing sub-par. They weren’t as good as them.
I then became the co-dependent to a narcissist/fake boss/headphone listener /cry baby hybrid. Yes, these archetypes can interchange.
I remember times when they said ‘I don’t know why you’re not getting it [by it, she meant writing]. I’ve taught you everything I know.’
Like their sage advice was gold, and every other writer’s advice was crap. They even stopped me from going to writing courses, telling me it was beneath me and I couldn’t grow anymore.
And it even came to the point where they acknowledged that they were messing with my inner editor with their constant advice, telling me they were sorry and that we should discuss other things other than writing. So instead, they yapped on about their own writing over and over.
I was happy for a while and then in due time, it was back to berating my writing and ideas. Funny thing is, if I gave them feedback, they didn’t like it. But when an agent said the same thing, it was different.
It got to the point where I couldn’t even give them feedback on how I really felt about their work. So, I stopped giving it. Why waste my time when someone wasn’t listening?
Then I went through some horrific personal stuff in my life. I was at an all-time low. My best friend sat me down and helped me through all my issues. Then she brought up my writing, which at the time I thought I had no issue with.
She noted that I wasn’t writing as much. She isn’t a writer but quickly pointed out that my unique voice in my writing had gone; the sparkle had vanished.
After an hour of talking, she was able to identify my issue. My writing had become like the toxic person’s. She told me I needed to back away from them or I’d hate writing.
I dwelled on this and talked to my therapist about it, and they concluded that I had become a co-dependent to this person.
I then told the toxic person that I would like them to take a backseat from my writing. I didn’t want to stop being friends but I didn’t hear from them for over a month, though in-between I asked how they were. No reply. We went from texting every day to zero communication.
The friendship ended. They blamed me for everything.
I will take accountability for my errors in being a co-dependant. That was not fair to them. I hope they were able to take accountability for their errors because, without that understanding, you’ll never move on.
After six months, the toxic person got back in touch, but I ignored them. I wish them all the best, but it was the best move for both of us.
So, as you can see, a toxic writing relationship isn’t just a one-way thing.
Repercussions of my toxic friendship
There were a few repercussions from this toxic friendship.
I couldn’t write and I became a tortoise hiding in its shell. I didn’t want to socialise or do anything. I even still struggle to ask people for help.
My relationship with writing was fragile and hanging by a thread.
Not one single word would come out on to my laptop. I’d cry for hours over this.
I could no longer trust my own instincts. So, in my head, it was like, why bother?
Coming back to the light
Luckily, at that time, I connected with some new writing friends and reconnected with some old writing friends. If it wasn’t for their support, I wouldn’t be loving life and writing again.
They nurtured me, had me thinking on my own again, and brought air back into my lungs.
With a supportive writing community, you’ll thrive, just like I am now. But a toxic relationship can set you back years.
What can you do about a toxic person?
This will be hard, but it needs to be done if you want to salvage your friendship.
One thing you can do is set up boundaries between the two of you.
Anywhere there is an unhealthy or toxic relationship, there will be a poor and porous sense of responsibility on both sides, and there will be an inability to give and/or receive rejection. Wherever there is a healthy and loving relationship, there will be clear boundaries between the two people and their values, and there will be an open avenue of giving and receiving rejection when necessary.Mark Manson from The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck
If confrontation doesn’t work, then you WILL have to distance yourself and make sure you get your stuff back too.
On the advice of my friends, I deleted and blocked this person in all forms of communication. It was the right move.
Even famous people do this. For example, comedian Alan Carr changes his phone number regularly and only gives the new number to certain people so that the toxic ones get cut out of his life.
It’ll be painful in the short-term, but in the long-term, it’s worth it.
Trust me, I’m living proof of it.
Now, I have more friends than ever. My writing is much better, and it hopefully will continue to grow. But most importantly, I’m a happier person.
And that’s what we all deserve.