Writing Buddies

by Barbara Beckwith

I write alone, and that’s the way I like it. But I still need a writing buddy. She’s like a boss who’s never bossy, a therapist who will listen to my craziest ideas, a defending lawyer — she’s always on my side, and a proofreader who sends no bills for services. Over the years, we’ve figured out a half dozen ways to support each other:

Query Letter Swaps: At first, we simply traded query letters, and still do. We coach each other on the best way to pitch an idea to a particular editor. We help each other practice what we’ll say in follow up calls. One plays the busy editor, the other the writer who is calling to ask for a higher fee, a contract change, or the right to see the galleys before a piece goes to press. “More testosterone,” we urge each other.

Brainstorming in Cafes: We often meet in cafes to “freewrite.” I order a tall skim latte, she orders an herbal tea. We agree on a number of minutes, lower our heads to blank paper and explore whatever’s just below our consciousness, like scuba divers exploring a coral reef. We surface just long enough to ask — what did you find? where next? — and submerge again. At first, we followed Natalie Goldberg’s Wild Mind exercises. Now, we freewrite on our own.

Check In at Home: We usually write in our separate homes. To support each other, we call in the morning to set goals for the next hour. We call an hour later to check how we’ve done. If we don’t reach our goals, we don’t scold each other. We set more realistic goals and press on.

Copyediting: When I’ve worked over a piece too long, it bogs down. My writing buddy helps me find the basic story in the morass. She’ll help cut a piece in half to fit a publication’s specifications — a job that’s painful for a writer to do herself. My writing buddy will be ruthless for me, crossing out every expendable word.

Proofreading: We both go dumb just before we putting our work in the mail. We want so much for it to be ready to send off. We’re can’t see the typos that have slipped into the final draft. We are each other’s final proofreaders. We’ve saved each other from small errors that editors sometimes consider mortal sins.

Bouncing Back: When a rejection letter arrives, we do crisis intervention. She reassures me that this one rejection does not mean the end of the world. She points out that the editor has invited me to submit other ideas. She suggests what publications I should try next. We make sure we send out our writing over and over, like bird lovers releasing homing pigeons, until they reach their destination — publication.

Congratulations: When I see my work in print, my writing buddy basks in my success and when she has a breakthrough, I glory in it with her. We’re not immune to jealousy. But we use it to spur ourselves on. “If she can do it, so can I,” I say. And my writing buddy sees to it that I do.

Ed. note: Barbara is NWU-Boston co-chair. Visit her Web site to see some of her published work.