Your Writing Partner Primer

I had a few questions and emails from people after my last post, so I thought I’d expand on my advice here. Enjoy your writing partner primer:

Where to Find a Writing Partner

Writing forums — Critique sites

Makes sense to find writers in their natural habitat.

Online/in person workshops

Best place to meet someone and get a feel for how well you could work together. Not strictly necessary (Pam and I have never met in person), but helpful if you’re hesitant. Pam and I met in an online workshop where there were around sixty or so other writers participating. I get credit for picking her out of the line up. I saw she’d finished a novel and was ready to jump into another. Her dedication to writing was evident in her bio. I didn’t hesitate to send her an email pronto to beg her to be my partner. Our partnership has lasted a lot longer than the two month class.

Writing Cons

Same as above only usually on a much larger scale. Most workshops I’ve been to are small, usually less than a dozen people. Cons are hundreds or thousands of writers. Some you’ll have met online first and can then meet in person before making the huge writing partner leap.

At your Local Coffee Shop

It could happen. Someone who lives in the same area could be searching for YOU!

What to Look For

Personally, I think the best match is someone who is at the same commitment level. Like I mentioned before, Pam and I have different daily goals, but we’re both equally committed to doing a little work every day (which is why we update daily).

Find someone you can work with long term. Personality is key! Their skill level isn’t important and subjective anyway. I’ve written about this before to new writers, but sometimes people are concerned that they should only befriend “good writers” and I’ll tell you: that horrible, no-good writer everyone thinks won’t ever sell will be just as likely to become a bestseller as anyone else. It’s persistence, willingness to work on getting better that matters. Pick the person who is dedicated and has the most compatible personality. You can’t go wrong.

How to Structure the Partnership

Most of this will evolve organically, but once you find a person at the same dedication level to a creative career as you, the next step is to decide how often/when you’ll update each other and what each person will do to keep each other on track.

Pam and I update daily. The format looks something like this:

We praise the other person’s accomplishments from the email before. Did they reach their daily goal? Make a huge deal about that. Did they fall short? Help them dust themselves off and start the next day with a fresh start. Does your partner need a pick-me-up? A kick-in-the-pants? Next you state your goals. The conversations don’t need to be long. Sometimes we only have two sentences. Sometimes it’s longer depending on how things are going.

5 Reasons You Should Have A Writing Partner.

When I started writing seriously–seriously is defined as not just writing whatever the hell I wanted, but taking classes to get to a publishable quality—I took a class with the infamous Margie Lawson. First I bought and went through all her lecture notes. Then I realized that it would be incredibly valuable to get her feedback as an instructor. I’d seen her make points on other writers’ work and I wanted to know exactly what I was doing wrong at the micro level.

So in 2011 or 20 (I can’t remember) I took her class online and instantly paired with Pam as my class partner (in the class you have to pair up to go over assignments with each other first before posting them to the main class).

Pam and I hit it off. We were instant friends. She’s an easy person to get along with. But the amazing things didn’t stop there. We continued to communicate and took more classes together. Fast-forward about a year and we decided we needed to become goal partners. We didn’t know what that would look like, we had about a million false starts. First trying to update monthly, then weekly. (It should be noted that I always forgot to update). We tried phone calls (I always forgot to call or have my phone…and then there was this problem about Pam calling from the future. So a 9am scheduled call was 6am here). Until—now this sounds insane—we started email updating daily. Every day.

Now it’s been a few years. We’ve got the kinks worked out. I’ve thought of the main reasons you should get a goal partner.

1. It’s fun

Pam and I have a blast with our nightly emails. We have the occasional flat, I’m-in-a-hurry stuff, but sometimes we pretend we’re soldiers in battle, marathoners, mountain climbers. We’ve sort of taken the visualization aspect of reaching goals to the extreme. But hey, it works. When I’ve had a pretty crappy day, it’s a joy to open my email and see a creative adventure taking place. And then I get to come up with one for Pam. Each night the emails take me about five or less minutes to send. Sometimes it’s borderline silly. Shhh, okay, maybe always silly.

2. Get more done

It’s not rocket science. You set a goal and you have someone you hold yourself accountable to, eventually you’ll get that sucker done. So we have yearly goals for ourselves. They’re based on our own pace and lifestyle. Then we have monthly goals (breaking those big goals down into smaller chunks), then weekly goals. The weekly goals are more simple like: I’m doing 1k a day this week. Anyway, before Pam I’d write when I felt like it, set goals that didn’t get finished. When I have someone waiting for my progress report at the end of the day, I’m much more likely to accomplish what I said I’d do.

3. Set more realistic goals

Pam and I took a class on Self-Defeating Behaviors with Margie Lawson. It’s a class that teaches you about behaviors that keep you from accomplishing what you want. Some people set goals too high and then get depressed when they don’t meet them (me), some people write lists and stress over how much is on there and are paralyzed from ever starting, or some people let “I’m never going to sell anything anyway” attitude take over and they don’t bother to work harder or update their skills. In any case, Pam and I know each other’s pitfalls and initiate the karate chop, stop that motion when one of us is about to fall into a spiral. It’s a good reminder to reset and breathe. I have waaaayyy less anxiety related to writing because my fears and negative talk get stopped at the gate. I do the same for Pam. We get in the mindset before walking across the coals. Can’t do it in a panic, because that’s when you get burned.

4. Companionship

Writing is a lonely profession. I have a lot of writing friends, but not very many who I talk to my projects about. Creative stuff needs to be talked about to keep it exciting.

5. Checks and Balances

I have an easy record to go back and see what all I’ve done. I wouldn’t have completed a goal list (it would have stayed in my head), I wouldn’t state my word goals (they’d remain loose so I could find a way out of them if other things came up). When I do these things I have data to compare to. I promised to do ___ I accomplished ___. Or I wrote ___ words this month. I completed ____ short stories, novels, books read, pages edited. We state craft books we’re going to read to keep the info fresh. It’s not all about the word goals, but the continued education of writing.

Bottom line is that you’re going to want a writing partner. Or if you work in a creative field a project partner, or a fitness partner, or a something. Working in pairs gets so much done. I used to HATE group work in college because it felt like someone was always doing a little more and someone was slacking off. The beauty of this is that each person sets their own pace and the other person is there to listen, hand out praise, or offer a pep talk. Obviously the chemistry needs to work just right, and the optimal conditions need to be in place.

But if you find it, it’s a really awesome thing.

The Gift of Failure


I have read that the older people get the less they try new experiences. They specialize and only do things with which they feel comfortable. If they hate driving highways, they take the backroad. If they hate socializing, they stay in their homes. If they hate reading, they never visit a library.

As kids in school, we were forced to expand our boundaries, to do things we are not good at and in fact hate. Geeks who never played outside had to run the mile and play sports. Boys who hated reading had to recite aloud from Shakespeare. We all survived and were glad when it was over.

I never realized that the fear-of-the-new applied to me until recently. As of the last year, money has gotten tighter, and I had to seek out a new part-time gig. I had waited tables in my youth and thought it would be something I could pick up again easily, like riding a bike—right?

I was wrong.

I didn’t realize how different I had become over the last twenty years. I was still good with people, but the computer systems were different. I was slower. My short-term memory had not been at full capacity in about a decade. Items were forgotten. Customers were upset.

My entire body wound up in a ball of tension. The more made mistakes I made the less confident I felt, which led to more mistakes. My head ached.

I explored this reaction. Why was I so upset over failing?

When I was twenty-four years old and made a mistake, I was embarrassed but moved on. Now it felt somehow magnified. I was so used to being good at everything.  I didn’t remember how to learn, how to take mistakes and use them to improve. My errors froze my ability to think and reason.

I am slowly improving. People have been overall understanding, and I haven’t been fired yet. But if I had a choice I would have left and never returned. I am trying to be more relaxed and enjoy the process of success and failure, learning the tricks of the trade, allowing my mind and body to absorb a completely new process of behavior without judgement. Because with judgement comes stress, and with stress comes mistakes and the domino effect of horribleness.

For the last few years, I’ve been toying with the idea of going indie with my writing. I think one of the things that held me back was fear of doing something new. Fear of not being good. Fear of being judged. But if this stint as a server has taught me anything, it is that I will be wrong. I will fail. But in the end. I will learn. It may be painful, like when someone complains or I get a one star review on Amazon. It will also be fantastic when I get a nice tip, or someone tells me they love my characters.

I need to learn to love to fail, because it is in the fertile ground of failure that you can grow success. What about you?  Fail epically at something?  Still striving to expand your horizons? Let me know in the comments.


Ode to a Library


I was stuck without a way to write this week. No email or books or laptop, just a few hours between two events and not enough time to go home. I found myself searching for a way to be productive even without any resources and for the thousandth time in my life, the local library came to my assistance.

I borrowed one of their terminals, got my daily word count, and had enough time to find a book and check out the third season of Doctor Who on DVD. As I sat at the Brighton Library and looked out the window at their immaculate landscaping, a sense of peace came over me. It was like the library was watching out for me and providing for me like a friend, and it wasn’t the first time.

I remember many things in elementary school did not live up to my expectations. Recess was ok, but you still had to avoid getting beat up and cussed out by the big kids or ostracized by the cool kids. I was excited when they took us on a trip to the laboratory. Thinking it would be like the mad scientist labs in the movies, but was sorely disappointed by the lavatory, which in my vernacular was just a stinky bathroom.

The only thing that truly made my young jaw drop was the library. The shelves were huge, and the room seemed to go on forever with more books then I had ever seen in my life. I was angry that we were limited to two books and could only pick from certain sections, but the visit was thrilling and enflamed a lifelong love affair with libraries.

I found the local library soon after and during the long summer months, before the days of internet and twenty-four hour television with DVRs and DVDs, books provided an escape from the monotonous day to day, a release valve for the imagination, and a fortress from the 100 degree heat.

I got so upset when my mom didn’t have time to drive me that I walked the five miles from my house to the library on a busy highway, not bothering to tell her where I was going. I think I may have been 11 years old. I really didn’t know how I was going to get back with all my books, and I didn’t care. Arriving at the building was like seeing an oasis; I spent the next three hours in Nirvana. (Mom figured out where I was and picked me up btw).

Later when I had kids of my own and no money to entertain them, I took them to the Howell Library to play computer games, pick up books, and borrow VHS tapes. When they were teens, they joined the writing club and participated in carnival style events and movie nights. For a single mom, the library was an invaluable haven.

Later, I discovered my first in-person writer’s group through a library and met most of my best friends in those groups.

As the community moves into a new generation of ebooks, I find again the library is on the cutting edge with apps that allow virtual lending. Some libraries will even lend an e-reader to patrons for in house use.

Libraries serve as meeting places, resources for job searches, information, and research. They have proven time and again to be a lighthouse in a dark and choppy sea of life that I can depend on to light the way into a safe harbor of knowledge.

One of my favorite libraries, the Brighton District Library is currently seeking a millage and I encourage you, if you live in the area, to vote yes to supporting this fine institution, so that more people can have the same joy, comfort, and happiness that I have experienced over the last forty years.

I would not be the educated, informed, entertained, and happy person I am today without the support of libraries.

Have libraries affected your life in any meaningful way? Leave a note in the comments or just stop in and say hi!

Writing Fast

500 wordsI have been experimenting with writing speed and word count goals. Lately, there has been a plethora of blog post, podcasts, and books that extol the values of writing quickly or fast drafting.

Write 5000 words an hour! Draft a book in a weekend! A book in a month! Easy in your spare time.

Now I would love to write quality first draft material at this speed, but I had my doubts. Can I even type that fast let alone move a story along in a logical way? I listened, read, researched and I’ve found several ways that really worked. Maybe not 5000 words an hour, but I can write significantly faster if I observe these factors.

Shout out: Many of the best habits I found came from Rachel Aaron’s From 2-10K.

Best book on writing faster—period.

I’ve been trying to do a daily  count of 500-1000 words. I noted that some days the words just flowed and others it was like trying to coax out an impacted wisdom tooth. Rachel’s book pointed out that  preplanning every scene, using a loose outline to guide your writing, even if it’s just a line or two, helps you have a target to aim for which keeps the prose from meandering.

Another gem I learned is to have a block of time, usually over forty-five minutes, to devote to a writing sprint. Getting back into a story and easing into the skin of the characters takes time and when time is limited the prose becomes stilted.

I’m not saying trying to eke out 250 words in a fifteen minutes sprint is bad. It’s great training for producing on a schedule, but when you give yourself forty-five minutes to two hours, the muse will know he/she has time to come out and play, and the writing flows.

Like a space shuttle taking off uses most of its fuel to get out of the Earth’s atmosphere, writing takes the most energy to get started. Once you find a rhythm and have a target of where you want the scene to go then the words come like a monsoon instead of a spring sprinkle. I highly recommend Rachel’s book (and it’s only 99cents)— a quick read and stuffed full of great tips.

What about you? Do you have a method to get more words faster? I love productivity tips so feel free to share. Or just stop by to say hi.