Relationships

Words With Friends

How a bond that began on LiveJournal sparked one woman to change careers and start a new life as a writer.

Two women (colorful silhouettes) reading books.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Unsplash.

Now that we live in the future, everyone has friendships that began on the web. In “Internet Friends,” writers tell stories of friendships created, maintained, and (sometimes) ended online. To pitch your own Internet Friendship, email humaninterest@slate.com.

It’s not just that Amy and I would never have become friends without the internet; Amy and I would never have even met without the internet. I was a black lawyer from Oakland, California; she was a white writer from St. Louis who had recently moved to Los Angeles.
She lived in a world of writers and artists and musicians and other creative people, and I lived in a world of lawyers and consultants and the occasional teacher or therapist. She went to shows of musicians I’d never heard of and had many tattoos; I got excited over the behind-the-scenes tour of the Supreme Court I got from a friend who clerked there. She loves cats; I … do not.

But as soon as the two of us virtually met—on LiveJournal, well over 10 years ago—we clicked. I first stumbled across her page via the LiveJournal of a mutual friend, and I was immediately drawn to her writing. I often saw her making comments about books I’d read, and TV shows I’d watched, and thought “Yes! That’s a much smarter way of saying exactly what I think!” I loved that her feelings about culture were just as strong as mine. After I’d followed her posts and comments for a while, one day, well over 10 years ago, I clicked “add friend” and she accepted. From then on, we migrated from one platform to another, and we eventually moved from just internet friends to texting and instant messenger friends.

We’d been internet friends for a few years before we met in real life. I went to L.A. for a conference and took an afternoon away to meet Amy. We got along in person immediately; it was a relief to find out that the Amy from my IM window was the same Amy over margaritas. She took me to one of her favorite taco stands, where I had potato tacos for the first time and fell in love with them, and to her favorite bookstore, where we each bought far too many books. It makes me laugh now to remember that this was our first outing together (“How on-brand can we be?” I texted her when we recalled this), because since then we’ve eaten so many tacos and gone to so many bookstores together.

As we got closer, the daily window I had into Amy’s world made me realize something that was missing in mine. In April 2011, I went to L.A. for work on a Thursday, and decided to stay over that weekend and hang out with Amy. As we drove around that Friday in search of either dim sum or tacos, I took a deep breath and asked Amy when she started writing. And then asked if she thought maybe someone like me could try to do something like that.

I can’t begin to say how nervous I was to bring this up to her. I’d been thinking for a few months that I was missing a creative outlet in my life and wondering if maybe writing could be something I would like or could be good at, but I was so scared to try. I’d wanted to be a lawyer for as long as I could remember. I didn’t know the first thing about writing fiction, but what made it scarier was that I felt like writing fiction wasn’t something anyone would expect out of me. I didn’t dare to talk about this with anyone: I thought my friends would just nod and smile and roll their eyes in the same way you do when a kid says they wanted to be an astronaut.

Why did I trust someone who—by many typical metrics was someone I barely knew—with something so personal, something I felt so tender about?

It was partly because she was already a writer. But a lot of it was because of the nature of online friendship. Most of my other friends were people I knew through school or work, people who I thought put me in very specific boxes: lawyer, political junkie, loudmouth. I felt more able to open up to Amy because I knew she didn’t have an image of me from five, 10, or 20 years ago that this dream of writing a book would conflict with. Also, vicious commenters and trolls aside, the internet is a place where people bond with strangers around the world over shared loves and hates, and where we celebrate the joys and mourn the sorrows of people we’ve never met. We can be vulnerable and tender there in turn. It was just easier for me to show an internet person, even if I was now sitting across from her, a different side of myself.

Since the day I shared with Amy my out-of-character dream, I’ve written three and a half books, gotten well over 100 rejections, found an agent, and gotten two book deals. I was right to have that first terrified conversation about writing with Amy. She was enthusiastic and encouraging, and she’s remained that way for almost seven years as I’ve been on this writing journey. She’s been the first reader of almost everything I’ve ever written (including this essay). She’s known exactly what the right thing has been to say to keep me going, at every point, from the “Yes! You can do this! Keep writing!” when she read the first terrible, unedited 50 pages of my first book to the 300-plus comments on my most recent manuscript.

I had no idea what our friendship would become on that day I clicked “add friend.” She’s the first person I tell so much of my writing news, the good and the bad. We vent to each other about publishing, the rest of the internet, and the patriarchy (especially in 2017).
At least three times a week, one of us will text the other something we want to tweet about but know we can’t, and then we laugh about how grateful we are to have each other to complain to (“If I can just be petty FOR A MINUTE,” many of our texts begin). We’ve learned from each other in both big and small ways.

Now, I think more of our similarities than our differences. We’re both single women balancing a writing career with a full time nonwriting job; we’re both very close to our moms; we both care deeply about books and representation and feminism; we’re both extroverts in a world that acts as if all writers are introverts; we both think about our hair and our lipstick many times a day. We celebrate and brag about each other’s successes, whether in pep talks or Facebook posts and tweets meant to boost one another.

A few months ago, I mentioned to Amy how momentous that first conversation about writing had been for me. She’d had no idea. In her world, this was a fun, normal thing to talk about; but to me, it felt seismic. In the acknowledgements for my first book, out this month, I thank Amy for changing my life, and that’s not hyperbole. That Amy was so enthusiastic about my ambition, that she believed in my ability, all made a difference. But that Amy took me, and my ideas, and my dream seriously, from the first conversation was what gave me the drive to keep going. Thanks for accepting my friend request, Amy. You’re stuck with me now.

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Jasmine Guillory

Jasmine Guillory is a writer who lives in Oakland, California. Her first book, The Wedding Date, will be released in January 2018.