Reach Out to Your Writer Friends
Losing a writing mentor has taught me a hard lesson.
I’m devastated to have found out last week that Giancarlo DiTrapano, founder of Tyrant Books and co-founder of the Mors Tua Vita Mea writing workshop, died very suddenly on March 30. I met Gian when I had the good fortune of attending the workshop at his family’s villa in central Italy in 2018. The things I learned from him about writing will always be invaluable to me.
He was 47 years old. That’s too young.
After finding out about Gian’s passing, I called Jessica Hatch, a fellow Mors Tua Vita Mea alum and one of my closest writer friends, to talk about him. In between memory swapping and laughing and crying, Jess said, “I always thought I’d see him again. I wish I’d reached out to him more often, but I always worried I’d be bothering him if I did.”
I told Jessica that I felt the same way. After our workshop was said and done, and after I’d flown home to the US from Rome, I hesitated to reach out to Gian, too. And my reason was the same as Jessica’s—I didn’t want to bother him. I also didn’t want him to think I was asking for anything or trying to use him for his connections or [insert other anxiety-induced reason here]. So most of the time, I just didn’t reach out at all.
Now, of course, I couldn’t regret that more.
I wish I’d reached out to Gian to ask him what was capturing his attention. What he was writing or editing. How he was liking Naples when he and his husband, Giuseppe, moved there from Rome. (Jessica recently told me that she talked to him about their move, and that Gian hilariously replied, “Rome is dead.”) Even just to ask what songs he was listening to lately. I worried it would seem disingenuous or desperate if I so much as sent him a WhatsApp message, but he was the kind of person who’d reply. Besides, there were plenty of times when he reached out to me. Sometimes about writing things: when I had my first big byline, he immediately messaged me to congratulate me. But sometimes, he wasn’t reaching out to talk about writing at all. For instance, when I first started growing out my curly hair from a pixie, our hairstyles were more or less the same, and he commented on one of my Instagram posts, “The hairdo is 💯.” It was a small thing that went a long way for me—I was feeling self-conscious about my in-between hairstyle, but Gian’s comment gave me an instant boost.
But any moment I’d think about Gian and consider reaching out, my inner critic would talk me out of it. I’d tell myself things like, “You’re not cool enough to talk to him,” or, “He’s going to assume you’re just trying to use him for something.” The worst was, “You think he wants to hear from you? You must be out of your mind to think anyone would want that.”
In abusing myself with this kind of language, I lost touch with someone whose impact on my writing life has been gigantic. And the only way to forgive myself for that is to never let it happen again.
I know for a fact that Jessica and I are not the only ones who’ve felt shy about reaching out to a mentor. That’s why I’m here today to tell you that the cliché couldn’t be more true: you really don’t know how much time you have. That’s why you need to get in touch with your writer friends.
I wish I’d told Gian that he made me feel like the hardest things were worth writing about. That I use a phrase of his, “You’re spinning your wheels,” almost every single time I edit other people’s writing as well as my own, that it helps me remember that any piece of writing can always get started faster. I wish I could tell him how much he made me laugh and learn that week in Italy.
I’ve heard a lot of writers express the same concerns about reaching out to fellow writers. Friends from my MFA cohort and other workshops I’ve been in have told me, “Oh, I don’t want to reach out to any of the faculty because I don’t want to bother them.” I’ve even had writers in my life—people I’ve met from all over—admit to me when we finally do get in touch that they hadn’t reached out sooner because they didn’t want to bother me. But nothing makes me happier than hearing from fellow writers. I named this newsletter “Lonely Victories” for a reason: writing is lonely. But having other writers’ voices in my ear makes life so much better.
Last weekend, Jessica told me that she challenged herself to make a list of all the writers she knows whom she’d feel comfortable reaching out to just to check in. She was pleasantly surprised when that list came to 54 writers. She’s planning on reaching out to one writer a week from now on, and she has over a year’s worth of writers to get started! I am so excited to hear how her connection rekindling goes, especially in the wake of Gian’s passing.
I’m always interested in what my friends are writing or editing or making, so why not reach out? Perhaps there are some exceptions, but I’m pretty sure almost every single person who writes loves when someone expresses a genuine interest in their work. I know I do. I’m going to make my own list of writers to reach out to. I hope you’ll do the same.
And if you find that I’m one of the only writers you know, my inbox is wide open. Always.
Earlier this week, I joined 32 other writers in remembering Giancarlo for The Believer. Thanks to everyone who’s gotten in touch with their own memories of this wonderful writer, editor, and friend.
Tyrant Books Reading List
As founder of Tyrant Books, Giancarlo edited so many incredible books. Here are some of my favorites.
The Sarah Book — I read this memoir (or, as author Scott McClanahan calls it, this “semi-autobiographical portrait”) on my flight home from Mors Tua Vita Mea in 2018. The power and insight of the opening paragraph will always stick with me:
“There is only one thing I know about life. If you live long enough you start losing things. Things get stolen from you: First you lose your youth, and then you lose your parents, and then you lose your friends, and finally you end up losing yourself.”
literally show me a healthy person — From writer of viral tweets to author of books, Darcie Wilder was my first foray into Tyrant Books. This novel’s jacket copy describes the book as “a beating heart at the intersection of literature, poetry, and the internet,” and I can’t think of a better way to describe it. In 2019, Kendall Jenner was spotted reading this title by a pool in France, and the book instantly sold out online—a bizarre experience Wilder hilariously wrote about for The Outline.
Preparation for the Next Life — Every single sentence of this Atticus Lish novel blew me away, right from the opening line. The fact that it won the PEN/Faulkner Award in 2015 is completely unsurprising.
A new resource that could take the “lonely” out of “lonely victories.”
Catapult just launched a new project called Don’t Write Alone. They’ve packed this corner of their site with loads of resources for writers, including craft essays, prompts, residency opportunities, calls for submissions, and more. My personal favorite part is the Where We Write subsection full of photos of authors’ workspaces. (That probably just goes to show what a nosey bitch I am.) Writers, click over to Don’t Write Alone whenever you start feeling an ache for camaraderie in this work.
Interested in working on your writing with me? Sign up for my workshop newsletter to get updates about upcoming classes.
“Writing alone can give you a very deep sense of satisfaction and lonely victory.” —Greta Gerwig