By Colleen Oakes
Confession: I’ve never liked writing a book without a writing partner. I’ve written one, and although the book is a source of pride for me, it was a lonely enterprise and not one I’m likely to repeat. I know it’s possible to write alone – in fact, it’s pop-culture vision of the ideal writer: a man – usually – sits alone in a narrow room that looks out onto a snowy, wintery landscape. He has a pipe in his mouth, a pen in his hand. The room is cluttered with books and papers, and it all looks so cozy and intellectual, the perfect combination of genius and isolation. In this business, we tend to cling desperately to the idea that a true writer writes alone, and yet I have found that only in a good writing partner can I reach my full potential as a creative writer.
My first writing partner’s name was Emily. We decided on New Year’s Eve that we would both write books in the next year and with just a few months over our desired deadline, we did. Writing with her was incredible. She had the best way of weaving her words and her thoughts deep into my characters. She understood what my characters should and should not do. She was brutally honest when she needed to be, the best beta reader a writer could ever have. We had the best time writing together. Likewise, I was the same for her novel, a beautiful musical sigh of a novel called Serenade.
Then Emily moved to North Carolina, and my writer’s heart broke. I could write without her, but it wasn’t the same. It wasn’t the same level of coordination, feedback and understanding. Mostly, it just wasn’t as fun. I miss her every day, but we stay in close touch as good friends. However, the distance makes it almost impossible to be the same level of writing partners that we once were.
Enter Mason, stage right. Mason was so different than Emily. Emily and I are both women. We were very close friends before we ever started writing our novels. Our books were about women, for women. We have a lot of feelings. Mason, on the other hand, is a dude. His character is a dude. He is a Sci-Fi writer. He loves tech and plasma guns and biology and astronomy and a million other things that I don’t understand in the least. And yet…he is also the perfect writing partner. Our conversations are hilarious and sometimes very harsh; one promise we made to each other early on is that we are always, always honest. Even when it hurts. Always supportive, always honest. He’s pointed out while I write Wendy Darling that I didn’t give much thought to the dynamics of flight. (I hadn’t.) My characters need voice work. He hates my mountain range. I dislike reading tech-y descriptions and could care less about Magnetic Reactors. His main character arc needs work. We throw these missiles at each other, but instead of exploding, we take them in and use the fire to hone our pens, to make our gifts sharper and better. We grow together as writers. I’ll take someone harsh but helpful over kind but useless any day.
If I could impart any advice to new writers, it’s this: find a writing partner. You might need to go through a few before finding the right one, but it’s worth the struggle. Don’t be that solitary writer scribbling out mad genius on the corners of his cell. That guy isn’t real most of the time. Writing can be dreadfully lonely when you only have characters in your mind to keep you company. Find the person who raises you above your own art.
Some tips to finding the perfect writing partner:
1. Make sure you have a similar pace of writing. If it takes one writer two years to write a book and the other a mere three months, it might not be a great partnership. (James Patterson and George R.R Martin would probably not work out.)
2. Writing different genres does not matter, but are you the same level as talent? When you speak to them, do you feel on equal footing?
3. Ask these questions: Are they responsible with your work? Are they responsive? Is their advice helpful? Are they able to find the honest flaws in your writing or are they just trying to make themselves feel better by criticizing?
4. Finally: do you like them? As a person, do you like them? Because there will be times when you feel like a failure. When the publishing industry will spit you out and they will be there to pick you up. You should like that person now, because you will need them later.
Once you find the right writing partner, make sure you do your part to keep the relationship humming. It takes work, just like any relationship, and you can’t let it fall to waste.
The perfect writing partner is a gift, and it’s a gift you, as a writer, should choose give yourself.