How to find your perfect writing partner

Writing collaboratively can be a fantastic experience. However, you don’t necessarily need to work on the same project with someone to benefit from having a writing partner.
Rather than team up with another writer to produce a joint story, script or series of articles, why not use their knowledge and experience to better your own work? And, of course, you can do likewise for them.

Because I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, writing can be a solitary pursuit. Rather than lurk in the shadows of your study for hours, days or weeks on end, find yourself a writing partner instead. Develop a good working relationship another writer and reap the rewards.

Why do I need a writing partner?

Good question.  You might not need a writing partner. If you’re able to write a novel or churn out blog articles without the slightest dip in quality or any editorial guidance, that’s just brillio.

Seriously, top work. Some people love the introspective side of the writing process and can produce high-quality work consistently. And that’s great. However, it doesn’t apply to everyone.

A lot of writers need some form of guidance, whether it’s basic editorial help or problems related to confidence and motivation. We get incredibly close to our work and it can be tough to find that guidance from within.

A writing partner helps to take the pressure off. They provide both practical advice and an outlet for your ideas and frustrations. It’s a real commitment from both parties, but a good partnership can help you to take your writing to the next level.

It can even be the difference between completing a project and abandoning it mid-flight.

Finding ‘the one’ – the three Ts

I know some writers who have had the same writing partner for several years, but my experience with partners has typically been project-specific. Basically, see what works best for you. But don’t stick with the same writing partner if the relationship isn’t helping your writing.

When trying to find a partner,  I think that there are three criteria thatmnust be met. Conveniently, they all begin with the letter ‘T’.

Trust

When you have a writing partner, you have to put your faith in their judgement. That doesn’t mean  you have to go with every amend or suggestion that they give you, but you should trust them enough to know that any critique is done with thought and careful consideration.

Likewise, if you’re providing feedback or emotional support for another writer, you’re in a position of genuine responsibility. Don’t let the partnership down by abusing that trust. You only get what you give, as they say.

You have to enter the relationship with agreed expectations and work together to make sure that you’re both getting what you need out of it. You have to be able to trust your writing partner. It’s essential.

Time

The most practical of the three Ts and arguably the most important. Before you agree to working with a writing partner, you need to know that the other person has the time to commit fully.

This is particularly relevant if you’re working to deadlines. The last thing you want is to be relying on your partner to proofread your work the week of submission, only to find that they’ve not got the time or resources to give you the support you need.

To avoid this happening, you need to agree how much time each of you is expected to invest in the partnership from the outset. Don’t get caught out by not establishing the finer details of your relationship.

Talent

Sometimes the easy option is to share your work with a friend or family member. I’d say that unless that friend or family member is a working writer, or at a similar stage to you in their writing career, don’t bother.

You wouldn’t ask them to fix your pipes (so to speak) unless they were qualified, so don’t ask them for detailed feedback on your writing unless they know what they’re doing.

You can only benefit from a writing partner if their support, technical or otherwise, is of a high quality. If you find that you disagree with all of their suggestions, the partnership isn’t working.

Similarly, if you don’t enjoy or believe in your partner’s writing, you might want to try someone else. The process should be positive, a pleasure even, so don’t get held back by a lack of talent. Harsh, I know. But true.

Where to find your writing partner

So, you’ve decided you need a writing partner, but you’ve no idea where to find one. Here are just a few suggestions. Please feel free to expand on this list in the comments section.

A postgraduate writing course

I use this example first because it’s where I met and worked with other writers the most. Postgraduate writing courses are expensive, but you know that your classmates will be like-minded and committed to the cause. Also, having been through a strict vetting process to get on the course, they should also know what they’re talking about.

Writing groups

Writing groups are all around us. Google ‘writing groups’ in your local area and see what you find. Hopefully, they’ll have a website and contact information.

Online forums

Popular over recent years, there are many writing-related forums on the web. I’m a member over at the Editor Unleashed forum, although I’ve not used it for partner purposes, I must admit. And yes, I need to post more.

Social networks

Yup, turns out social networking does have real-life benefits. Truth is, there are writers talking to each other and teaming up every day through social networks. Twitter is the place to be at the moment, but there are other networks to look at, including LinkedIn, Virb and of course, Facebook.

One-off courses

A one-off course is a great way of improving your craft and learning new skills. However, it’s also a fantastic way to meet other writers. In the UK, there are the Arvon Foundation courses, or you can even pack your bags and head for the sun on a writing break, like the one offered by Joanna Young from Confident Writing.

Book groups

Potentially, a long shot this one. But if you’re part of a book group, there might well be a closet scribe amongst you that you weren’t aware of. It’s up to you to seek ‘em out.

And finally…

It’s worth reiterating, writing partners aren’t for everyone. However, you never know until you try these things. I’ve benefited hugely in the past from having someone there to check my work and keep me going. Give it a try – you might have a similar experience.

How to use Cueprompter – a free autocue service

What you get here is a very rough and ready overview of a free online autocue/teleprompter service called Cueprompter. It’s a very simple, nifty little tool that I think you might be able to use in your writing.
The podcast features a short screencast in the middle where I show you how Cueprompter works. It might not be fantastically clear quality-wise, but it should be enough to give you an idea of what Cueprompter is all about.

Also, look out for yet another kitten-related incident towards the end of the podcast. I had no idea she was hiding back there, the little scamp.

How do you use yours?

In this podcast, I give you some thoughts on how you might use Cueprompter in your writing. However, the beauty of all these free tools is that we can each take from them what we need and use them in whatever way takes our fancy.

With that in mind, I’d be really interested to read your thoughts on how you might use Cueprompter. Is it something you use already? Is an autocue something you’ve ever considered before? Tell us what you think in the comments section below.

Watch this episode on Vimeo

How to write about your life (without upsetting friends and family)

Whether you’re a poet or problogger, you will, at times, have an instinct to write autobiographically.
As writers, we regularly follow the common piece of writing advice, to ‘write about what you know’. It’s in our nature to draw on personal experience and, in one way or another, write about our lives.

But of course, it’s almost impossible to write about our lives on a regular basis or in any depth without referring to the people around us – our friends and family.

And this can sometimes lead to problems.

Decisions, decisions

You novelists and scriptwriters will understand the difficult decisions you have to make when a character starts to resemble someone you know.

Do you plough on regardless or do you stop and think about whether what you’re writing will have any repercussions in real life?

And what about you bloggers and journalists? What you write is effectively a permanent archive of material that can be accessed at any time by pretty much anyone. That’s a lot of responsibility.

Do you stick with a good story or article no matter what, or do you run it past the people it might affect to make sure that your work won’t bring heartache later on?

Writing about your life can be a tricky business, but there are a few things you can do to make sure you don’t get yourself in an emotional tangle.

They can handle the truth

Once you’ve made the decision to write about your life in a way that might affect someone you know, be open and honest about it. More importantly, ask permission.

There’s no harm in telling that person that you’re writing about them, or that you’ve been inspired by something they’ve said or done. Most people will take it as a compliment and maybe even help you out with any research that you might need to do.

But it’s vital that you’re up front with them from the get-go. Otherwise, what you write may just cause upset later on. And by that time, it’ll be too late to do anything about it.

Be inspired don’t imitate

Another alternative is to simply use a snapshot of a person or event.

You don’t always need to go the whole hog and base an entire character on one person, or relay exact events that reflect their life and actions.

When I began writing my novel, I had no intention of using any part of my life as inspiration. But inevitably, it happened.

My lead character’s father shares many similarities with my own father, including his job, dialect and some of the phrases he uses. But he’s also a borderline alcoholic who may or may not have had an affair with his daughter-in-law’s mother.*

My character, that is. Not my Dad.

The point is, I’m never going to write a story, poem or blog article based entirely on someone I know personally. But they can still inspire me, and I can use that inspiration in a way that won’t compromise the relationship.

Write anonymously

Here are some practical examples for when you really have to write about a friend or family member, but need to protect their anonymity:

  • If you’re writing fiction, give someone a different name. Make one up. It’s obvious, I know, but worth saying.
  • If you’re writing fiction, give someone a different name that doesn’t sound very similar to their real name or have the same initial. Don’t laugh. It happens all the time.
  • If you’re writing non-fiction, reduce the name to an initial, so Sally becomes ‘S’ and Bob becomes ‘B’.
  • If you’re writing non-fiction, use a different name and include a disclaimer that indicates what you’ve done.

Put yourself in their shoes

Another way of looking at it is to try and put yourself in their shoes.

Read your work again. Would you like to have the article or story that you’re writing written about you? Would it hurt your feelings or jeopardise a relationship?

The old saying, ‘treat others how you would want to be treated yourself,’ is a pertinent message for writers.

With the power of words comes responsibility. Think about how your words might affect you if the shoe was on the other foot. I know that’s way too many shoe/foot analogies, but the point is a good one.

Do the write thing (sorry)

Finally, what I think is probably my most important piece of advice. If you think there might be any chance that what you’re writing will affect someone you care about, don’t do it.

It’s just not worth it.

The written word is our passion. For many of us, it’s our occupation too. But it will never be more important than the people we love.

When your work starts to have a negative impact on the people around you – your friends and family – it’s time to find a new subject and move on to the next idea.

* It’s less complicated than it sounds, I promise.

Why you should always stay proud of your writing

This post came about after a brief email exchange last week with Richard Crowther, a fellow wordsmith and regular commenter on Write for Your Life.
As an afterthought to a more general conversation, we were both derogatory about some of our old writing. I didn’t think anything of it at the time, but later I found myself questioning what I’d said.

Correct me in the comments section if you disagree, but I think it’s fair to say that most writers, at some point, feel either embarrassed by or somehow divorced from a lot of their earlier work.

As writers, we have a tendency, a need almost, to think that whatever we’re currently writing is our best work yet.

And that stands to reason, of course. Because although the very best writing requires that special indescribable something, essentially, it’s still a craft. It’s something that we can work on.

The more we write, the better we get.

Repeat after me: I write, and I’m proud

So, if we accept that practice makes, well, not perfect, but for improvement and progression, then are we right to feel a little red-faced about the things we wrote, say, a couple of years ago?

Well, of course not. And here’s why:

  • Old writing gives you a benchmark
    When you revisit old work, you need to make a simple distinction, and then use it to your advantage. If you think it’s awful, acknowledge it for what it was and use it to measure how far you’ve come, and where you can still improve. If it’s wonderful and chest-beatingly brilliant, you know the standard you’ve set and need to strive for and surpass from now on.
  • All writing is of its time
    Can’t bear to reread your collection of heartbreak-laden poetry that you wrote following the split from your first boyfriend or girlfriend? Grit your teeth and go and read it immediately. Remember, that’s how you felt at the time and by writing those poems, you’ve become better at your craft. Don’t bin your work. Assign it to a certain time in your life, stick your chest out and be proud.
  • All writers are in the same boat
    If you think you’re the only one to look back at old work and cringe, you’re wrong. We all do it and it’s just part of the writing process. No one writes perfectly at the first attempt. Novels, poems, scripts, articles and blog posts – they all go through several drafts. Accept it. Be proud of your commitment to getting it right.

As a little treat, I’ve managed to dig out the first poem I ever wrote. It’s terrible, of course (I have long given up writing poetry). But I’m terribly proud of it, because to this day I remember my English teacher’s kind feedback. And then my decision to write another poem. And another.

You can download He is the Pint Glass here and now. Don’t laugh.

Share your thoughts

Do you look back in anger or mild embarrassment when you think about your past scribblings? Are you a serial shredder or do you keep all your old writing for prosperity? Let us know in the comments section.

Writing goals 2: Short-term targets, long-term goals

The first post in Write for Your Life’s ongoing ‘Writing goals’ series encouraged you to aim high, but manage your expectations. Now, it’s time to look at how you approach your writing once you’ve decided what you want to achieve.
I’ll use my own writing as an example. It took me a long time to write my novel, partly because I also had to hold down a full-time job, but also because it took me the best part of a year to work out how to set achievable goals.

The problem was, I never did set myself goals, as such. Instead, I had just one singular objective: write a novel. That’s all I wanted to do. It’s what I was working towards.

In 2005, with 10,000 words under my belt and some handsome feedback, I took two months sabbatical from work and moved to a friend’s house in Bath. My goal was to complete my novel, in peace, while I was there.

On leaving Bath, I had just 24,000 words. I would go on to write another 35,000 over the next two years before finally achieving my ‘goal’.

The reason I wrote so little in that time was a lack of planning and foresight. I had a goal, but no idea about how I was going to reach it.

What I needed, was short-term targets.

Writing targets and writing goals

Okay, so what’s the difference between a target and a goal? Here are a couple of relevant definitions from dictionary.com.

Target: a goal to be reached.

Goal: the result or achievement toward which effort is directed; aim; end.

So yes, I know what you’re thinking, and you’re right. A target and a goal is pretty much the same thing. Well, okay, they’re definitely the same thing.

Actually, that doesn’t matter, because it’s what goes on in your brainbox that counts. It’s you who defines what a target is and what a goal is.

This is how it works for me:

A goal is a long-term project with a definite ending or result to aim for, such as completing a novel. A short-term target is an event or milestone that seems achievable and has a clearer time-scale, such as completing a chapter.

A goal, therefore, is made up of a series of targets.

The dictionary might not recognise a difference between goals and targets, but you can. Truth is, the words themselves are irrelevant. You can call them what you want. If it’s easier, or just more fun, you can call your targets bananas and your goal a fruit salad and no one’s going to stop you.

The important thing is to think short-term to achieve your long-term objective.

Step by step by step by step

There are obvious advantages to working with short-term targets. When I was in Bath, without realising it, I put myself under enormous pressure to write.

I wanted to finish my novel so much, that I didn’t think clearly and my creativity dried up. Instead of waking up each day and setting myself a target of, say, 1000 words, I simply got frustrated at my lack of progress towards ‘the end’.

By setting short-term targets, you adjust your mental approach to your writing and gain more freedom by focusing your energy on what you’re doing in the here and now.

And although my example is something very long-term, writing a novel, the theory works for shorter pieces of writing too.

For instance, I’ve just spent the best part of a month on a copywriting job that saw me and a team of writers craft around 200 case studies in pretty quick time.

It was a frantic process with tight deadlines. A case study was between 350 and 380 words. To make sure I got the work done, I forced myself to break each case study down in to paragraphs – physically and mentally.

I knew that if I started thinking, ‘Arrrgghhh, I’ve got to research and write all this in an hour,’ I wouldn’t get it done. So I took each case study one paragraph at a time, working step-by-step towards a whole (or goal (or fruit salad!)).

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes!

So, short-term targets help you achieve long-term goals because they give you focus and help you adjust your mental approach to your writing. Lovely stuff.

However, I think there’s also another benefit that’s equally, if not more important.

To go back to my novel, once I started working short-term, I was able to better understand what my long-term goal actually was. I could appreciate the task more. I had respect for it.

When you approach any meaty writing project, you never exactly know what you’re letting yourself in for. All manner of things can happen along the way: writer’s block, lack of motivation, pregnancy. I had problems with at least two of these things.

In terms of time, long-term goals are often subject to change. If you don’t have short-term targets, you can end up losing your way and find yourself forgetting what it is you’re aiming for.

By approaching a project as a step-by-step process, you can manage it more effectively. You can recognise patterns in your writing and predict where you’ll be at any given point in the project’s timeline.

Essentially, short-term targets allow you to manage your writing, so that your writing doesn’t manage you.

Share and share alike

So now you know how useless I used to be and how unrealistic my goals were, it’s time to tell us your objective-setting experiences.

Can you work long-term without short-term targets? Do you gave an ingenious technique that allows you to structure your workflow? Are you a bit confused by the fruit salad bit?