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5 Tips for Finding the Right Writing Buddy – Novel Prep Part #3

I bet after yesterday, you were all a little concerned that I’d jump ship.  Worried that NaNoWriMo and the Novel Prep series posts were all taking off with me on a plane to the Seychelles islands where I could soak up the sun and drown my failed fiction sorrows in a fruity drink.  Believe me it was tempting.  But, one bad day doesn’t make a writer.  You’re going to have thousands of them, and the true writer is the one who knows how to keep typing in spite of the dreck. In fact, here’s how the emotional rollercoaster breaks down for me – and I would guess many of us who make a living writing:

Writers’ Spectrum

After NaNoWriMo Day #1 I was definitely hovering in the purple section. 

So what do you do when you’re thinking of tossing the writing life and taking up residence in a cave with no electricity?  My answer to that question is Tip #3 in our Novel Prep Series:

Call your writing buddy!

Writing buddies are those people who keep you going when the going gets tough.  Your internal editor is screaming at you and your spouse has gently kissed your head, but walked to the farthest corner in the house because he knows the signs of a writer’s fit.  You’re pacing in front of your computer with Chips Ahoy crumbs flying from your mouth and ranting about how you’ll never make it as a writer.  What, that doesn’t happen to everybody? Oh…  Well, if you ever catch me stocking up on chocolate-chip cookies at the grocery store, you’ll know to steer clear of me for the next several days.  I’m preparing for a writing frenzy. 

How does my spiral into writer’s insanity relate to you.  Well, after I vacuumed up all of the cookie crumbs and safely secured my computer so that I wouldn’t toss it out the window, I called my writing buddy.  My writing buddy is a dear friend who’ve I’ve know since college.  She is an amazing writer in her own right and juggles kids, husband and a job of her own.  She knows when to listen, she knows when to push and she knows what my hot buttons are when it comes to writing.  The key to most writers’ success is having a person like this who can keep them going. I was lucky enough to fall into this relationship with my Writing Buddy thanks to the close confines of a college dorm room.  Some people aren’t quite so lucky.  Many people have to search for a writing buddy.

Here are five things to keep in mind when you’re trolling for a Writing Buddy:

  1. Consider your geography:  Is picking up the phone or trading a few emails with this person enough to calm the writer’s storms?  Or do you need a buddy who can drive to your house at two in the morning and whisk you away to a coffee shop for a pep talk and a latte?  You might consider a local pal if your tendency to disappear into the hermit cave requires physical yanking to get you out.
  2. Swallow your pride:  My writing buddy has known me for years.  We’ve cried over lost loves and celebrated marriages and kids together.  We’ve known each other’s writing for years, too.  To paraphrase Ralph Waldo Emerson, “I’m not afraid to be stupid with her.”  Your writing buddy needs to be someone with whom you’re not ashamed to say, “I suck right now.”  It’s tough enough to bare your soul on the page.  Admitting to someone that all those words add up to a pile of dreck is even more difficult.  This is not the time to buddy up with someone you need to impress.    If you’re searching for a new buddy, this type of relationship needs to evolve.  Take it slow and listen to your gut.  Trust comes with time.
  3. Know your temperament:  Sometimes I respond to emotional coddling and other times I need someone who tells me to quit being self-indulgent and gives me a swift kick in the pants.  My writing buddy does both of these things for me.  It took me years to admit that I needed both of these things from my buddy, though.  If you stick around you’ll learn that I don’t deal well with “stewing in the muck.”  Sitting about and licking my writer’s wounds doesn’t work all that well for me.  I need a plan.  I need goals.  I need action to make me feel better.  But after many years of plans and goals, I finally had to admit that a little emotional coddling feels good (for about five minutes).  After that it feels like a hug from your giant great-aunt with the sweaty biceps and perfume that singes your nosehairs.  But nonetheless, my writing buddy dutifully coddles for five minutes and then tells me to get over myself and get on with it.
  4. Set some goals: Concrete goals are best. After the coddling has subsided, it’s time to get to work.  Create a plan.  I’ll write 2,500 words before Wednesday.  I’ll create three scene outlines and write two character sketches before I’m allowed to freak out again.  I’ll call you when I have two chapters drafted.  Hold each other accountable.  A writing buddy should be someone who will encourage you, but also make you feel the slightest bit guilty if you have nothing to share at your mext meeting.
  5. Do not make this person a first reader, critique partner or anything besides a writing buddy: In my world sharing with my writing buddy means telling her, “Yes, I executed the plan.  Two chapters are down on paper.”  It doesn’t mean shooting those to her in an email the minute they’re finished.  You will have lots of partners on this writing journey – critique groups, editors, first readers – and they are all useful members of the writing team.  It behooves you to have one person who can stay out of the fray and cheer from the sidelines.  The minute your let your Writing Buddy into the specifics of your story (particularly if it is still in rough form), is the minute the relationship can fall apart.  Given a new manuscript from friends, it’s human nature to offer up opinions and ideas.  However, if your Writing Buddy starts a conversation with, “Have you thought about changing this..” she will quickly join the ranks with your Internal Editor.  Your first draft is still a fragile creation.  It’s not time to rip it apart; it’s time to get it done.  Your writing buddy’s job is to make sure that happens.  Allow yourself one individual who offers up nothing but unconditional support on this writing journey.  When it’s time for the manuscript to bleed red ink, don’t call your Writing Buddy.  Call your critique group, or better yet, your editor!

NaNoWriMo Day 2 Wordcount: 3,338

Morale: Off the charts – the words rushed like a water from a broken pipe and Chapter 1 is complete. (Can you believe I the “broken pipe” simile just came out of my mouth? NaNoWriMo has reduced me to comparisons like that!)  

Have you found your perfect writing buddy?  What is the most important thing this person does for you?

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8 Comments Post a comment
  1. I do have a writing buddy. I can tell him my fears of complete failure and just like you can confess, when that, I think I suck feeling overwhelms me. Even though I am not doing NANOWRIMO until next year this post was very helpful as I work each week to complete my blog posts, work pt and manage family life. Thank you!

    November 3, 2011
  2. Splendid! Sometimes a good friend and a receptive ear are all a person needs – and good on old Emerson for the lovely quote. Wish you all the best in your NaNoWriMo ventures!

    November 3, 2011
  3. Perfect advice, thank you! My writing buddy is also on the NaNoWriMo journey, which gives us each an advantage in understanding where the other is coming from.
    I am also following Stephen King’s writing advice; namely writing with abandon each day no matter the result, leaving the editing until after I have had at least a month’s separation from the completed project. My interal editor has held up my process for two years now, so I’m rejecting her at the moment. She may be especially fiesty when I allow her back into the fold!
    Thanks again for the great advice!
    P.S. My crumbs are usually from Oreos

    November 3, 2011
    • I loved Stephen King’s “On Writing.” Can you believe he cranks out at least 2,000/day – even on holidays! His discipline is admirable. Go buy an extra bag of Oreos and feed your IE that to keep her mouth full and quiet during NaNo. Thanks for stopping by, Natalie.

      November 4, 2011
  4. Great work! You’ve got to slog away, slog, slog, slog, sustained only by the drops of sweat breaking out on your forehead. And then suddenly you are blessed with the broken pipe.

    I am starting late, so yesterday was my first day, I came up with my story line before breakfast. When I got home from work I didn’t want to tell my 15yo daughter what I was mischief I was up to(because what if I don’t do it, right?), but then I gave in and told her I was writing a teen love story. You’ll never guess what she did. The child threw her strong arms around my middle and held on to me, would not let go. It felt like we were free falling, and for some reason this kid had total faith her mother was outfitted with a parachute. If I hadn’t just thrown a handful of garlic into a pan of hot oil, I would have been happy to stand at the threshhold of her messy room, locked in this mysterious embrace for as long as it would hold me.

    November 3, 2011
  5. I like having a lot of writing friends. Not only do they read your work, but they appreciate the time and work that goes into it. It’s a great idea.

    November 6, 2011

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  1. Planner or Pantser? A novel writing prep series that might help… | Sara Toole Miller – Fiction & Non-Fiction Writer

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