It’s been almost twenty years since I met my friend Dan. He sat behind me in class. We had both traveled a considerable distance and put our lives on hold for a month to attend an elite screenwriting intensive in Los Angeles. Between lectures on plot development and screenplay format, we struck up conversations about family (“You think that’s dysfunctional? Let me tell you …”), favorite sitcoms (“We should write a spec script for Everybody Loves Raymond“), and fandom (“Victoria Jackson showed me where Phil Hartman used to live. Maybe we should do a drive-by”). When our time in Los Angeles ended, our friendship continued through flurries of emails, numerous phone calls and swapping scripts for feedback.
Neither of us achieved overnight success with our cinematic dreams, but fortunately Dan’s experience stretched beyond screenwriting. He worked as a freelance writer for several publications. I had no idea how freelance writing worked, but I decided instantly that anything Dan could do, I could do better—or, at least as well. (Not that I’m competitive or anything.)
I brainstormed pitch ideas. Then Dan used his contacts to introduce me to a few editors. He even had a strategy. He would send a carefully worded email: “You know, my friend Kris has this great idea that I think would work for your magazine. I wish I had thought of it. Maybe she will email you about it.”
I would wait 48 hours and then email the editor. “Hi. I don’t know if my friend Dan mentioned me to you, but I was just thinking your magazine would love this interview I did with …”
I’m not saying that technique worked every time, but the very first cover story I ever wrote, a profile of Olympic gold medalist Laura Wilkinson for the tween magazine Brio, came from just such a one-two punch.
We officially morphed into a dynamic writing duo when an entertainment magazine hired a new editor who loved our work and began hiring both of us regularly. We shared a byline on a couple of features. We helped each other with leads on whatever interview we were chasing. Our bylines appeared so often in that magazine that other writers complained to the editor about the amount of assignments he was giving us. (The pen name Kae Smith was created because of such complaints.)
We even gave away assignments to each other. When Dan lost a monthly writing gig for a different magazine, he told the editor she should hire me. She did. When a publicist asked me if I was interested in a potential interview with Jim Carrey, I declined and told him he should hire Dan. I knew he had met Carrey while working on a movie as an extra and had a connection that would make a feature story far more interesting. (Full disclosure: That story ended up not working out, but it’s the thought that counts, right?)
The publishing landscape has shifted significantly from those days and no longer offers a plethora of well-paying freelance jobs to new writers with a little moxie. The landscape of the writing friendship I still have with Dan looks a little different, too. Dan works tirelessly as an independent filmmaker, while I teach full time and pursue my writing dreams when and where I can. When we reminisce about that time in our lives, it usually involves eye rolls and laughter at the sugary vapidness of some of the stories we wrote. (My favorite “worst” is a feature titled “Reality Bites on the Road,” an interview with some cast members from MTV’s Road Rules.)
Yet isn’t that one of the wonderful aspects of the nature of writing and friendship? The stories we tell change, our friendships remain tethered by the love of words and the evolving dreams contained in them.
Write about a friendship that starts in a classroom or a friendship in a new learning environment. This could be from your childhood days, or it could be fictional. Why are the two people there? What did they first notice about each other? Do they initially like each other or not so much?
Consider a time when you deferred your wants for a friend’s wants. It may not be giving up a writing assignment, but it could be something else. Maybe you let your friend pick the movie or the restaurant or the vacation spot. Was the time made more meaningful by that small sacrifice?
Or write a letter (you don’t have to send it) to a friend who influenced your writing in some way, big or small.
Photo by Nathalie, Creative Commons, via Flickr. Post by Kris Rasmussen.
L.L. Barkat says
After I read this article, I was talking to a friend about it (I really enjoyed the article! :), and I was saying that I especially liked how the two of you were willing to share assignments and just, in myriad ways, help each other along on the writing journey—even when pay was at stake.
It’s amazing how, in the new world of mostly writing for free, writers are sometimes hesitant to share. There’s nothing to lose and everything to gain when we get on the same side of the game and help each other make our way.
The need for a pen name made me laugh. I told my girls about it and they laughed too! 🙂
Kris K Rasmussen says
I had so much fun writing this piece and it made me reflect on the need to not only roll my eyes at some of my past writing lives, but recognize their significance in getting me to where I am now. It’s too easy to just brush off those cringeworthy things and say “oh, that….” when in fact numerous gifts blossomed from that time. In fact, those articles, even that MTV interview, helped keep me financially afloat while going back to school to become a teacher.
L.L. Barkat says
Kris, I can relate to the difficulty of embracing “some of my past writing lives.” In a way, it’s about embracing our past life in general, perhaps? Or, it’s about being comfortable with the way life is a journey and being compassionate with ourselves, for both then and now.
I love the way you say that, about gifts blossoming from previous times. I played with the complications of this in The Novelist quite a bit, because it truly can be hard to recognize the gifts if they are connected to seasons or people that don’t feel so gift-y in retrospect. That said, it sounds like that season of your life, at least in regards to Dan, had its share of gifts. A lovely friendship and some definite adventures!
Laura Willis says
I really enjoyed this piece, Kris, and how your generosity with Dan matches my experience in our (brief) time together. You have a great gift and are a true friend. Thank you for sharing this.
Bethany Rohde says
What a fun read, Kris. Delighted TSP published it. 🙂
Love this idea of friends helping each other grow into spaces they might not have seen otherwise. And this mindset of having each others’ back and wanting to propel the other forward must have contributed to the fun energy. Writing ideas seem to especially burst when we have that individual support.
Love what Laura and you both say about appreciating the gifts of earlier writing times. Or at least being gentle with where we were on our own artistic timeline.