Thursday, December 17, 2009

Work in Progress: Keep Yourself Honest with a Writing Buddy

I’ve written about my writing group; I love reading the musings of the community of writers on Facebook (fill-in-your-own-favorite-social-networking-site); I try to get to several writing conferences each year; I belong to a couple of networking groups, including WNBA; I go to readings; and, obviously, I’m always up for dinner or drinks with a writer friend. Community is important, especially when most of the writing life involves sitting alone staring into space for endless hours.

And now I’m adding the concept of the writing buddy into my mix.

I first heard about the concept of a “writing buddy” at a conference (this is why you need to go to them!). The writer on the panel suggested finding a person to whom you will feel responsible and arrange to check in with each other on a pre-determined, periodic basis—once a day, once a week. Whatever works for the two of you.

In the ideal world, this person would also be a writer or some sort of artist, but I don’t think that is absolutely necessary as long as they have ongoing projects that require self-motivation. The point is that the two of you check in—phone, email—with your goals and accomplishments, each keeping the other honest, so to speak. You might write in on Monday morning: “This week I plan to work on chapter 3 of my novel on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday afternoons. I hope to finish up the rough draft of that chapter.” Then, off to work you go.

On Friday, you check in with your writing buddy—and this is where you see the beauty of the system. If you blew off working on your chapter all week, you’re going to feel funny writing up this report: “On Monday afternoon, I cleaned closets instead of writing. On Tuesday afternoon, I went to lunch and drank too much wine. On Thursday afternoon, I played computer solitaire for three hours.” And of course you’re a good person who wouldn’t dream of lying.

Shame and embarrassment…not negative feelings, but your motivating pals! To avoid them, you will work on that Chapter 3.

Did I mention that the writer on the panel also suggested choosing as a writing buddy someone who scares you just a little bit?

So, I haven’t found an official writing buddy yet, but recently I did see firsthand the beauty of the arrangement. A friend emailed that she was writing an essay about a specific, food-related topic for an anthology. I was intrigued by the topic, and later that night, had a great idea about what I might write if I were writing an essay for the anthology. I told her my idea, and she thought it sounded interesting. Almost casually, she said, “I’d love to see the essay when it’s finished.”


So I ignored other, less enticing projects, and started the essay. After all, she wanted to read it; she had inspired me; shame and embarrassment would be mine if I didn’t follow through. Then she sent me her essay, which was funny and beautiful and thoughtful—more inspiration.

I finished a very rough draft, and thought, “Well, that’s that,” invoking the whiny “it’s the holidays” excuse to let it rest.

Another email, concluding with a sweet, “Can’t wait to read your essay!”

Pushed more stuff aside, and cleaned up my draft. The piece wasn’t done-done, but it was ready to be read. I was delighted to send it to her…and maybe just a little bit scared not to.


DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.