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Writing with a partner, continued

March 26, 2013

We aren’t Lennon and McCartney, but I hope we’re productive.

Earlier on most of this same blog, I talked about my sparkling new relationship with a writing partner. For various reasons, we weren’t able to connect until recently. Now the first date, if you will, is over. And it’s time to dish all the details.

  1. Both of us really want this to work. When I spoke to this person back in the fall and we decided to go on a literary first date, I was excited about it. My writing partner was either excited about it or a very good actor. Both of us respected each others’ work, at least from a distance, and thought we could both benefit from the partnership and help the other. That hasn’t changed after our first go-round.
  2. My partner go to reviewing my stuff before I reviewed theirs. I was hoping I had hit a home run, that my work would return with something to the effect of there’s little things you can do here or there, but overall this totally rocks. I am amazed at your skill and if I were an agent, I would sign you up now. I was prepared for less than that, though. In reality, if you go into a writing relationship really wanting someone to say that, send it to your mom. She’ll be happy to lie to you so you feel good.
  3. The best part of my partner’s responses were thing things that illuminated my blind spots. In a piece I was writing for the FWA Collection, one of the characters referred to her brother as retarded. Today, that word isn’t very appropriate. The story is set in the mid-1960s, though, when it was often used without rancor. Because I hadn’t done enough work to establish the timeframe, the word was unsettling and disruptive. There were other, similar things that I completely missed. Having my blind spots illuminated helped me strengthen my work.
  4. The hardest part for me was reviewing my partner’s work. My partner’s a published author. Unless you count this august forum, I am not. So to be honest, I was a little intimidated to provide my feedback. A small part of me considered it presumptuous to presume to pass judgement on a published author’s work–especially critical judgement. But that was one of the ground rules. As gratifying as it might be to hear that your work is almost perfect, it’s not very useful.
  5. The second hardest part was trying to step up my performance on the critique. In the critique group I used to be a member of, I was a strong critiquer. Then I joined Jamie Morris’s Woodstream Writers workshop and felt like the last kid picked at gym class. Although my supposed skills were massive for my critique group, they were puny in the workshop at first. I worked hard at it, and by the time we were done, I didn’t think I was out of my league. I didn’t want to be out of my league with this partnership, and I don’t think I was.
  6. The best part was seeing that I had progressed as a writer. The things I was critiqued on now were different than the things I was critiqued on at Jamie’s. The framework of the story was fine. Most of the critique points were about blind spots and technical things. My work didn’t totally suck. (Either that, or I fooled yet another reader.)

Overall, I found the first “date” to be useful and exciting. I am eager for a second time. But I understand that for the relationship to be most helpful, it needs time to naturally grow. Just as you get to know someone and fit together better over time in any other relationship, so it is with this one.

(To be continued later.)

  1. March 26, 2013 9:03 am

    What an excellent idea to find a writing partner. I am fortunate to have one built in. Bob and I learned to critique one another’s works years ago. Once we got past the fact that we were critiquing the story and not the person, we were on a pretty smooth track. We still find strong differences of opinion from time to time, but we respect each other’s opinion and both know we have grown tremendously as writers over the years. I would encourage everyone to find a compatible writing partner.

  2. Peggy Lambert permalink
    March 26, 2013 2:58 pm

    Twenty years ago, a co-worker and I discovered we had the ‘writing bug’ in common. We had known each other about ten years before finally deciding to try a collaboration – just for fun. I started by writing the first paragraph, he did the second, I did the third, etc. It was a lot of fun and took no tme at all for a story to take on a life of its own. Around page seven of the story, we hit a little snag. I had created a character, a middle-aged, snippy woman with a huge chip on her shoulder. My writing partner didn’t like her and, to my mind, he wasn’t supposed to. But, he felt a need to reform her and made her do things In his paragraphs that were completely out of character.

    I told him, “Create your own perfect-little-pincess and leave mine alone.” He didn’t think that was nearly as much fun.

    We had to work together daily and mutually decided to stop the story while we were still on speaking terms. Our friendship survived and ‘The Story’ still comes up in conversation four or five times a year. I think we both intend to finish it some day – and we’ll probably do it together. I still refuse to change my character’s attitude but it might be okay if she does something nice occasionally. Or, maybe not.


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