For one reason or another, a lot of writers find themselves out of contact with writing groups. It could be that they’ve relocated and don’t know anyone in the neighborhood. Or the writing group they most recently attended has dissolved or they’ve discovered it just isn’t right for them. Or maybe they don’t interact well in a writing group.
In all of these cases, there still exists a pressing need for the writer to keep writing and to get support and feedback essential for maintaining a productive writing life.
Enter the writing buddy. A writing buddy can meet one or several of your needs and the nice thing is, it’s collaborative, so you give back what you get. A writing buddy can:
1. keep you accountable to your writing life when there is no one else to support your efforts
2. give you feedback on your work
3. listen, attentively and with compassion, to your raves and rants about the writing life
4. inspire you with their own process and progress
5. join you in the act of writing, either in collaboration or simply as a writing companion
You can meet your writing buddy in person on a schedule and at a public location that suits the both of you, or you could meet at each other’s homes. You can stay home and exchange manuscripts in emails, using the Internet to share. This works not only for friends who live far away, but also for friends who live close by but who lead otherwise busy lives, in which family, work and other obligations make it hard to find a convenient time and place to meet.
Finding a writing buddy could be as simple as recruiting a friend from a previous workshop you attended. Maybe it’s another writer you’ve known for years but rarely have the chance to see. Relatives and neighbors might be good writing buddies if they are equally serious about their writing lives.
If, for some reason, you’re not easily connected to the writers in your community, you can find writing buddies by regularly attending literary events such as readings, conferences, festivals, continuing educations and stand-alone workshops often offered through the local library or parks district. You can also use social networking tools like Twitter and Facebook to ferret out people in your life who might share the same need. And just asking around, to find the writing friends of your nonwriting friends, can lead to compatible matches.
Compatibility is an important part of this relationship. You should aim to connect with another writer who can offer productive feedback on your work and who really wants your productive feedback as well. It’s not a bad idea to match up skill levels; in an imbalanced partnership, whereby one advanced writer is matched with a new writer, the relationship might work just fine, but it could also run the risk of turning into a mentor/apprentice relationship, which ends up being, in many ways, more beneficial to the apprentice than to the mentor. Finding someone who is reliable and equally passionate about the writing life is a must, as well.
In my current writing buddy situation, the arrangement is quite simple. We agree to meet at the same place and same time, on the same day of every week, and we’ve budgeted a certain amount of time to spend writing. We meet, grab coffee or a snack, chat briefly, then launch into writing. Imagine the parallel play of toddlers, two children building their own block towers, side by side, except that, instead, there are two writers writing their manuscripts, side by side.
One of our key rules: we don’t tell each other if we can’t make it to an appointment. The expectation is that if we can make it, we show up and do our work with or without the writing buddy. After all, part of our strategy rests in knowing that the critical part of our arrangement resides in having an important appointment to keep, not with our buddy precisely, but with our writing project.
If we let on that we won’t be coming to the meeting next week due to travel, sick child, etc., it only serves to give the other person a chance to skip the session, and that’s not what the buddy system is about. You show up, you write. This appointment lasts anywhere from 1-3 hours depending upon our schedules and energy.
And that’s the simplicity of the plan: all it is is a chunk of time carved out for us to use for writing, and in the witness and company of another who equally needs the accountability, motivation, and general support of a companion writer to get there.
Common sense suggests it’s still best to buddy up with someone you know at least a little bit, not only for safety’s sake, but because you are sharing some of your own psychic space with this person. Even without the pressure of shared feedback as part of the buddy equation, you still need to be supportive of one another, so do pick someone who offers a positive attitude, someone you don’t mind being around, even if you aren’t doing much other than pecking away at the keyboard.
There’s no reason to despair if you can’t find a decent full-sized writing group to lead you through your challenges. Sometimes that’s just what life gives you. All you really need to do to fix the situation is to find an individual writing partner (physical or virtual) with which to pursue the writing dream, so that it doesn’t just remain a dream.
Remember, 90% of success is showing up. It doesn’t have to be a big, elaborate writing club arrangement that gets you there. A writing buddy can help you achieve the same statistical advantage without much effort.
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