I’ve rewritten the opening to this column approximately 50 times because I can’t figure out how to discuss the difficulty of making friends as an adult without it sounding, quite frankly, really sad. But it’s not sad! It’s a fact of life, and one that isn’t talked about enough.
I’ve never been particularly great at making friends. As a woman with both ADHD and autism, small talk is hard, and reading social cues is even harder. I tend to either overshare or clam up entirely, and both have led to plenty of awkward moments that felt mortifying at the time but give me a good laugh when I look back at them. Adolescence was challenging, and masking my neurodivergence always left me exhausted, but taking off that mask and embracing neurodivergent info dumping about special interests and my directness with my peers often left me on the outskirts of social circles. My best friends in middle and high school were the characters in the books I devoured.
Many of these feelings followed me into adulthood. For the first few months after I got my book deal, I was surprised by the loneliness I felt. Granted, this was relatively early in the pandemic, and loneliness was a common issue for many of us, but I felt like a new kid stepping into a cafeteria, unsure where to sit. Was there a table where I even belonged? What nuances did writerly interactions have that I might be missing? And so much was happening around me—revisions and edits and a general sense of having no clue what was going on (or if anything was happening with my book at all... publishing epitomizes “hurry up and wait”).
I wrote, queried, and went on submission with my debut novel, A Brush with Love, without knowing anyone else who had endured the process—who could share useful strategies or advise what to expect and what questions to ask. Navigating the emotional roller coaster of the process without someone to commiserate with was tough.
As authors, our careers are steeped in vulnerability. We must be soft enough to create yet tough enough to take criticism, and then brave enough to try again. It’s an isolating journey, and one I was quickly feeling burned out from without any writer friends to lean on.
But I didn’t know where to start with finding them. I think a part of me—the awkward tween who never quite fit in anywhere—had clutched on to the hope that friends would find me, that I could be a passive bystander in developing the friendships I so greatly craved.
Needless to say, that strategy got me absolutely nowhere besides deep into the Twitter and Instagram feeds of authors I admired, liking their older posts then spiraling about how creepy I probably seemed.
So, one day, with a glass of wine providing liquid courage and absolutely zero couth, I made it a mission to actually do something to make a friend. It was as simple, albeit terrifying, as telling an author how much I loved their work and that I’d like to be their friend if they were open to it.
Can you believe that actually worked?! Because sometimes I can’t. I had no idea being direct and honest—something that had so often made me a weirdo among my peers—could allow me to form some of the most fulfilling friendships I’ve ever had.
By being vulnerable and getting out of my own way, I’ve found that other writers are also looking for that connection. We spend weeks, months, years pouring our souls into our pages, holding our hearts in the tips of our fingertips as we craft our characters and story only to rework it, restructure it, experience the highs of it being loved, and the crushing lows of it being torn apart. Being able to share all those feelings with someone who gets it—really gets it—has both taught me skills and brought me unexpected joy.
The most important aspect of cultivating these bonds is making friends simply for the joy of the relationship, not for what transactional benefit someone else can provide. One doesn’t need an endless stream of bestselling authors texting them or tweeting about their work to make the publishing experience meaningful. I’ve learned that opening up and being vulnerable with others can create a safe space for everyone to be their truest self. And that’s where the real fun begins. Whether it’s a single person or an entire group, finding friends in the chaos of publishing carries with it endless opportunities to laugh, to cry, to cheer someone’s big wins or show solidarity in the group chat when someone experiences anxiety or disappointment.
Writing is solitary, but its friendships are reciprocal and some of the most rewarding you can have—not least because you know there’s a table in the cafeteria where you’ll be welcomed.
Mazey Eddings is a neurodiverse author and dentist who aims to destigmatize mental health issues and write love stories for every brain. Her first novel, A Brush with Love (Griffin), is out in March.