I write in a bubble. I’m so obsessed with reaching my daily word count, improving my craft, and looking for opportunities to sell my work that I rarely reach out to other writers. Sure, I’ll scroll through Twitter like most other writers, but I don’t build lasting relationships with them. I just don’t have the time. I’ve got enough work on my plate.
At least, that’s what I used to tell myself, until I started paying more attention to what other writers were doing.
I started answering questions where I could and contributing my opinions when asked. Having done this for a while, I’ve developed online relationships with other writers. Since making the transition from bubble-boy to connected writer, I can safely say you’ll get three things out of a writing buddy.
But read on to find out why that’s the wrong way to look at it.
This seems like such a no-brainer, right? “Of course my writing will get better if I have a writing buddy!” you might say, shaking your fist at the screen. But let’s be honest. If you’re reading this, you probably don’t have one—or you don’t know how good you have it.
Many of us work hard, day in and day out, to improve our craft. We take courses, watch YouTube videos, follow successful writers online, and occasionally actually sit down to write. But we spend most of our time toiling away in the dark with the door closed. Do that for too long, and you’ll start going a bit mental.
Ever write a word so many times that it stops seeming like a real word? Like the word potential. If I were to write about potential for hours, about how your potential doesn’t affect your future and that no matter what Mrs. Robinson said about your classmate Billy’s potential, you can still be a great writer, if I were to do that, the word potential would start losing its meaning, right?
Your hands are probably getting clammy as you remember one of those moments when you believed all was lost and you couldn’t be a writer because you were obviously going completely insane.
A writing buddy can help mitigate that. When writing seems like sorcery, send whatever you’re working on to your buddy.
Make sure they agree to it first. It’s considered poor form to electronically dump a manuscript on their doorstep without at least some warning.
It takes guts, subjecting your piece to another person’s red pen for the first time. You’re ripping your armor off and hoping they won’t go too hard. But after the initial mental breakdown, you’ll find that you can actually make use of their critique, and your piece will be better for it.
You’re setting writing goals, right? Whether it’s a daily word count, a weekly editing goal, or just a regular effort that results in a single sentence, you need goals. They need to be clearly defined and achievable. Setting these small, regular goals helps you consistently improve your craft.
But it’s real easy to cheat. You might tell yourself you’ve had a hard day after binging on three seasons of Queer Eye on Netflix and foregoing your daily writing altogether.
I’m not going to argue that there’s anything wrong with the occasional Netflix and chill-by-yourself day, but it’s all too easy for one day to turn into two and for that to turn into three. If you’re writing in a bubble, who’s going to bring you to heel, make sure you stick to your goals?
Now, your writing buddy isn’t your mother. Don’t expect them to chase after you every day, hounding you until you reach your word count. But you can easily set up a kind of daily check-in with your writing buddy that doesn’t have to be about your word count.
Let them know what your goal is and how it’s going along the way. They might give you some tricks on improving your productivity and discipline. At the very least, the regular communication will force you to have an accurate, up-to-date idea of where your writing goals are.
I’ve participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) for two years now. The goal is to write 50,000 words in the month of November. NaNoWriMo has a daily tracker you can use to keep track of how many words you write in a day and how many are left to reach your goal.
This accountability keeps you going throughout the month’s darker days even if you don’t win. But more important than the tracking tool is NaNoWriMo’s vibrant community of people trying to make this writing thing happen. They keep each other accountable throughout the month.
You don’t need fancy trackers or a monthlong writing sprint to reach your goals. A writing buddy—with regular updates—can help you get there. And hell, if they’ve got more ambitious goals than you, it might just push you to try a little bit harder.
Notice I didn’t use the word “motivated.” I think 90% of motivation, be it quotes, videos or memes, is the same junk. It boils down to an extrovert shouting about dreams, hard work, and everything you can achieve.
Motivation is like a shot of adrenaline. Sure, you can jam a needle of it into my heart, and I’ll do some amazing stuff, but it might last all of a minute, and I’ll turn into a puddle of goop afterwards.
Encouragement is different. If motivation is an adrenaline shot, encouragement is a cup of tea. You sip at it slowly, waiting for it to cool down. In the same vein, encouragement isn’t really useful to you the moment you get it.
It’s later, when you’re down in the dumps, when you’re convinced that you just wrote nothing but garbage, that you’ll need it most. That’s why you want to tuck it away in the safest drawer at the back of your brain until you need to pull it out.
A good writing buddy knows when to encourage you. They might not always have the right words, but they’ll usually give it their best try. And if your relationship with that writer lasts long enough, you’ll have plenty of morsels of encouragement to put into your back pocket for later.
Just don’t treat your writing buddy like a therapist. If you go on for hours about how your father was too stern with you and your mother didn’t encourage you enough, don’t be surprised if your emails go unanswered for days.
But when you’re sure you can’t do this writing thing because everyone else is better than you while simultaneously conspiring to keep you down, reach out to your buddy. Or failing that, look over a single positive comment they’ve given you in the past.
Maybe it’s a comment on a piece you hated or gushing praise about a particularly good character moment. Whatever it is, use it as your anchor. Use it to remind yourself that, yes, you are a writer, and there’s at least one person out there who enjoyed something you wrote.
In the end, isn’t that the whole point?
Now here’s where we veer off track. If you came to this article looking for things you could take from a writing buddy, your mentality is all wrong. You’re not an evil person. But if you think you’re going to get all this out of a writing buddy without giving back, you don’t understand the point of a buddy.
All relationships have two halves, and they start to spark and malfunction when one half is giving more than the other. So if you want a writing buddy, you’ll need to give all these things back: critique, accountability, and encouragement. And here’s the thing. When you give, you gain.
When you critique your writing buddy’s work, your own writing gets better. Writing is the best way to get better at writing, but editing comes in at a close second (or third, if you count reading).
A critique is essentially a light edit. You pick out the things that don’t work, and polish those that do. Plus, you know how editing your own work—and killing all those darlings—feels like pulling off your own toenails? Doesn’t happen with someone else’s work.
Accountability goes both ways. Every time your writing buddy checks in with you, you’re reminded of your own writing goals. If you’ve been slacking off, it’ll get you to work. If you’ve completed your goal for the day, you get to share in the feel-good hormones with your writing buddy. That’s positive reinforcement doing its work, making sure you stay on track.
There is no greater feeling in the world than encouraging someone who’s feeling down. Especially when they’re in your field and going through the same kind of slump you already have.
If you’re the most experienced buddy in the pair, you’ve got a great chance to show your buddy that the things they’re feeling, the insecurity and self-loathing, are normal and that they can be overcome. If your buddy is more experienced, and you’re in a position to encourage them, you’ll be reminded that they’re not just “a great writer,” but that they’re a person, too.
Treat your writing buddy like an equal, and always be willing to give just as much as you get.
Now that the tough love is over with, remember our premise. Writers spend enough time alone. Don’t make it worse by thinking you can take all of this on by yourself. A writing buddy will help you push your writing beyond what you thought possible. Your mastery of the craft will improve, and the feedback you get will help keep you sane.
Writing buddies encourage each other and keep each other accountable. When you find that right person with similar goals and tastes, treat that discovery like the planets aligning. Treat it like your chance to both improve and be a key part of someone else’s progress.
Build it right, and treasure it always, because it’s a relationship that could last you a lifetime.
Nick wrote his first story at the age of nine when living in New York. It had a troll, a cave, and a magical voice, but not much else. There’s more to his stories now, but he can’t quite stay away from the monsters and dark places of the world. He does his best writing on a powder-blue typewriter—which he snagged for $25—despite the protests of those around him. Some of his best writing (and the occasional gushing post about the Marvel Cinematic Universe) can be found at whiskeyandstardust.com.