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The Buddy System
by Carol Sjostrom Miller

Return to Starting Your Writing Career · Print/Mobile-Friendly Version

In the past six months, I have written more, submitted more, and sold more than I have in any other six month period since I started writing. Why have I been so much more productive?

For the past six months, I have had a writing buddy.

My buddy and I exchange weekly and monthly goals, critique each other's work, share market information, celebrate acceptances, cry over rejections, and give each other the support and encouragement every writer needs. Since I'm accountable to her for my goals, I achieve them. Since we exchange pieces for critique every Monday, I always have something ready. When my mailbox is stuffed with rejections and I want to give up writing, my buddy gets me through it. Even though we've never met -- we live about 300 miles apart -- my buddy is one of the most important people in my life.

And I'm not alone. Many writers have discovered the benefits of having a writing buddy. Here's what you need to know to make this kind of relationship work for you.

What Are You Looking For?

The first step is to decide what you are looking for in a writing buddy. According to nonfiction writer and essayist Lisa Sanders of Virginia, you should find a buddy who shares similar writing interests. "Those working on a romance novel should team with another romance writer," she advises. "They understand the specifics of their genre, and have experience and ideas that a nonfiction writer may not have." Likewise, a poet should team with another poet, and a technical writer with another technical writer.

Trust and honesty are also important traits in a writing partner. You want a buddy who will give you honest feedback, not someone who is afraid to say that a piece you wrote isn't working. "You need to be able to trust that your buddy will tell you where you need help, and honestly work with you to help improve your writing," says Sanders.

Make sure you look for someone who will be flexible when you need it. When I was on a tight deadline recently, my buddy reviewed three drafts of the same article in two days. You should also find a buddy who is prompt. If you have agreed to return critiqued pieces on Sundays, you don't want to be waiting to receive yours every Monday night.

Finally, look for a partner who has a good knowledge of writing, and who will critique your work, not just proofread it. Yes, you want your buddy to point out your misplaced commas and redundant words, but you also need to know if your story doesn't hold together all the way through, or if your article doesn't deliver everything you promised in your query. A buddy who can see the "big picture" and offer constructive criticism will help you build up your strengths and identify your weaknesses.

Find Your Buddy

Now that you know what to look for in a buddy, where can you find one? Anywhere! If you belong to a local writing group or an online list for writers, you have lots of prospective buddies. Check to see if your group has an established buddy program that will match you with a compatible partner. Winter Topaz, a fiction writer from Texas, signed up for a buddy when she joined an 800-member online support group for writers. She completed a questionnaire detailing her writing interests, publication history, goals, and challenges. Soon she was assigned a partner and she is thrilled with the results. "Even though I got matched to a complete stranger, I couldn't have gotten a better buddy," she says. If your group doesn't already have a program, find another member who you think meets your criteria for a buddy and ask if she's interested in being your partner.

Talk to the person sitting next to you at a writing class or conference; he may be the perfect writing buddy. Or you may meet her while browsing the writing section of the bookstore or library.

And don't just look for a buddy in writing-related areas. Remember that writers are everywhere. Jacque Davis of Illinois, met her buddy while both were training for a marathon. The two became fast friends before discovering that they both loved to write. When the marathon was over, the running buddies became writing buddies.

Test for Compatibility

After you've found a good prospect, exchange clips or writing samples. Do you think you would enjoy reading and critiquing this person's work, week after week? Does he feel the same? Discuss your writing goals. Your partnership will be more successful if they are similar. Talk about the biggest problems each of you face with your writing. Will you be able to support your buddy through her fear of rejection? Can he offer suggestions when you have trouble making time to write?

See if you and your prospective buddy have something else in common, in addition to writing. If you have small children, for example, another parent will understand when you can't meet your goals because someone came down with an ear infection, and may also be able to pass along tips on how to write with the kids around.

Most importantly, listen to your gut. Your buddy must be someone you like, someone whose opinion you respect, and someone you feel comfortable sharing your writing with.

Make a Plan

Once you've chosen or been matched up with your partner, it's time to decide how your buddy system will work. How often, and by what means, will you communicate? Will you exchange goals? If so, will you do it weekly? Monthly? Quarterly? Will you critique each other's work? How often? In person, by mail, or by email?

Every writing buddy relationship is different. Some buddies email each other several times a day. Others talk on the phone two or three times a week. And still others have weekly face-to-face meetings. There is no right or wrong way to do things. What's most important is finding a system that works well for the two of you.

My buddy and I live several states apart, so we exchange our goals and work via email. I send her a draft of a query letter, article, or essay, and she emails it back to me with her comments and suggestions. While she critiques my work, I go over hers. We also chat online several times each week to discuss our goals, writing projects, acceptances, and rejections.

An online buddy system works well for us, but other writers prefer a local partner with whom they can get together. Jacque Davis and her buddy, for example, meet once a week over lunch to exchange and return critique pieces, go over their goals, read their work aloud, and encourage each other. "It has made writing fun for me again," she says.

Figure out and agree to a schedule. Keep it simple. Deciding to exchange weekly goals and pieces to be critiqued every Monday, return critiques every Friday, and discuss your progress in meeting your goals every Saturday, will get your buddy system off to a good start.

Reap the Benefits

It may take a bit of work to get a writing buddy relationship up and running, but the benefits are definitely worth it. You can increase your motivation and productivity. Once you have a writing buddy, you are accountable for your goals and your work. For many writers, this provides the jump start they need, and they find that, working with a buddy, they get much more writing done. Hilary Evans of Fort Dodge, Iowa says, "There's a little voice in my head that says, 'I have to finish this today! [My buddy] needs something to critique tomorrow!' "

When you're ready to submit your article, story, or poem, your buddy can be an invaluable resource. Since Sanders and her buddy share a similar writing style and interest, they are able to share marketing information, as well. They exchange writer's guidelines and often suggest potential markets for each other's work. "My buddy recently had a piece accepted by an anthology series. She immediately contacted me to suggest that I submit one of my stories," Sanders says. "I did, and now our stories will be in the book together!" Your buddy may be familiar with publications you are not and help you find new venues for your writing.

If you've ever felt as though you're the only one struggling to find ideas, deal with rejection, and squeeze time to write into a busy life, the companionship and support of a partner can work wonders. The greatest benefit of having a buddy may be knowing that someone else is going through the same things you are, and that you have someone who will support and encourage you through the bad times and celebrate with you during the good times. Your buddy understands in a way that family and friends often don't.

"I don't think anyone else in the world understands how I can spend all day staring at a blank piece of paper and feel like I've accomplished something," says Evans.

"At first I was afraid that I would see my partner as competition," says Sanders, "but it turned into camaraderie instead. We are truly a team." Once you have a writing buddy -- and see the improvements in your writing -- you'll wonder how you ever got along without one.

Copyright © 2003 Carol Sjostrom Miller
This article may not be reprinted without the author's written permission.

Carol Sjostrom Miller's work has appeared in an array of publications, including The Christian Science Monitor, Pregnancy, Skirt!, WritersDigest.com, The Writing Parent, Writer's Weekly, Inscriptions, and Chocolate for a Teen's Spirit.


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