Last year at this time, I enumerated the creative efforts I made during 30 Days of Creativity (what’s that?). There won’t be a post like that this year, even though I did work on creative projects—well, one creative project—every day. Instead I’m just going to write a bit about that one project. Yeah, fine, I’m writing a novel. And right now, I’m loving it.
It’s possible to feel quite self-conscious about working on a novel—and this (hilarious) Twitter account certainly rubs it in—because actually finishing the novel in question and getting accepted by a publisher is nothing but a pipe dream for most would-be novelists. In this day of facilitated self-publishing, though, they may not be unattainable dreams (though doing it all yourself is difficult, and may not be worth it—don’t get me started).
I am such a good procrastinator that I can switch from working to procrastinating in a flash. A flash! It would be a skill if society rewarded such things. —my writing buddy
The point is that I took a stab, this month, at working on the novel I’ve been working on, off and on, since I was seventeen. That’s a decade (I was a little surprised to realize). Why did I take this stab at this time? Partially because I wanted to participate in #30D0C, partially because I have some pipe dreams, partially because I want to make myself finish this blasted thing, but mostly because I acquired an important writing tool: a buddy.
A writing buddy is a difficult thing to acquire, for exactly the reasons expressed by my new writing buddy:
I talk to other people about writing sometimes, but I’ve yet to find a really good writing partner. There’s a degree of trust that needs to be there, and a similar work technique. [I have other friends who] are good to talk to about ideas but not so good with motivating me to actually write. They are too lenient with my excuses. [Others are] good for motivation but I don’t think they have the same ideas about style, characterization, etc. as I do, so I can’t see them turning into mutually beneficial critique partnerships. We disagree a lot about human nature. … I think you and I have similar ideas. Which is funny because I don’t think we have similar reading tastes.
This is all to say: a writing buddy must have attitudes that mesh with your own—but what that means exactly can only be hashed out by you and your writing buddy. Here’s an example of me and my writing buddy hashing it out, and ultimately agreeing:
WB:The first rule of writing is to read a lot in your chosen genre!Me: Yes. Although I also feel that reading widely, anything that you want, will help your writing. But yes, definitely if you are aiming for a specific genre, read it.WB: Reading widely helps, yes. … I have a friend who likes action/adventure whereas I tend to like books about feeeeelings (I love ones that combine the two, but they’re more rare).Me: Again I concur with you!
My creative-writing prof used to joke—but it’s true—that writers prefer to have written than to write. Having someone encourage you, though, can do wonders! (This is also true of such things as dieting and exercise, and all self-improvement projects.) I’m so glad that our ability to encourage one another in this way has developed, or emerged. She was there all along! Heck, we have been good friends since I was seventeen, which is the year I began writing this thing.
Me: I find i am a binge writer. If I have days of nothing and then a bit of a binge, it feels like progress. (This is why I’ve been working on this thing for ten years, I guess.)Writing Buddy: Yeah. My evenings are just really short as it is. And I don’t feel like spending them working … which is no excuse, because once I get started it never feels that much like work.
My writing buddy has a word count goal. She recommended an article to me about how to increase your word count (check it out if you are the kind of writer who makes this goal). She also has a couple of blogs to keep up, about which she said a useful thing to me:
I find I blog more when I’m trying to write. I’ve heard people say that they feel blogging, etc. takes up energy that could be better used writing their next book, but I feel like it’s all exercise. And blogging helps me remember that i like writing.
My personal writing goal was less specific; I agreed to work on, in any way, or at least think and make decisions about my writing project every day. I agreed to report to my writing buddy about it, every day if possible. On the days when I couldn’t or didn’t write for some reason, I worked my way through Jack Hodgins’s A Passion for Narrative (still not finished), which is a great reservoir of encouragement and helpful advice. (My writing buddy’s book of choice right now is Debra Dixon’s Goal, Motivation & Conflict: The Building Blocks of Good Fiction.)
In addition to sharing small scenes from each of our projects with one another for feedback, we’ve had discussions about writing outlines, introspection vs. action, conflict (here is a funny conflict-generator tool I found), character development and motivation, plot development, writing style (tense, etc), details related to setting. Also we’ve been making up some fake band names, which has been a good time!
We’ve also discussed more philosophical issues, like whether or not to appropriate the voices/stories of others for your own purposes. On that last one, my writing buddy said a wise thing:
Who owns … experiences is strange to think of, but I do think we have a right to fictionalize our lives if we want to. After all, it doesn’t expose anyone as much as it exposes the author.
This is what Margaret Atwood says, and I can’t help agreeing with her:
Not only does [the view that writers have no right to tell stories from points of view that are not their own] condemn as thieves and imposters such writers as George Eliot, James Joyce, Emily Brontë, and William Faulkner … it is also inhibiting to the imagination in a fundamental way. It’s only a short step from saying we can’t write from the point of view of an “other” to saying we can’t read that way either, and from there to the position that no one can really understand anyone else, so we might as well stop trying … Surely the delight and the wonder come not from who tells the story but from what the story tells, and how. (from the Introduction to Best American Short Stories 1989)
But let’s get back to the point: so far, my writing project (my return to it, anyway) has gone really well. We’ve been in touch almost daily, and I’ve made more progress in the past month than in the past five years put together! (I have to give myself some credit, though: I am working with a strong foundation of bits and pieces that I’ve been writing since I was seventeen. I couldn’t have come this far without the work I’d already done, but it is coming together remarkably well. I’ve solved plot problems this month that I couldn’t sort out for years, and perhaps it’s simply because I sat myself down and made myself write.)
The only thing for me to do now is keep going. And my writing buddy and I have no plans to stop.
So, in the end (of this post), my writing advice is: use the buddy system (but be selective about your buddy).
WB: Also, I’m cool with it, but I think it’s funny/ironic that we were talking about appropriation/permissions to use things and you used our chat without asking me first. (Seriously, that sounds like I’m not OK with it but I am.)
Plus, letters are letters. It’s your property as much as mine; by “sending” it to you I gave it over to youMe: That is funny. Maybe I should add an update in which I quote the comment you just made, ha!WB: Haha yeah, feel free.Me: Awesome.