Writing is one of the loneliest professions. Especially in early drafts, you’re on your own… Later in the process, you might work with editors, beta readers, or publishers–but when you’re writing, it’s just you.
Some writers love that! It’s why a lot of people decide to be writers. But sometimes the isolation just becomes a little too much. What’s an easy solution? A writing partner!
Besides quelling the loneliness, a writing partner can improve your writing, keep you on track, and help you finish projects quicker.
Here’s what you’ll learn about writing partners:
- What is a writing partner?
- Why might you want a writing partner?
- What are things to look for in a writing partner?
- How do you find a writing partner?
- Writing partner vs writing groups
- Tips for using a writing partner
- Some reasons you might NOT want a writing partner
What is a writing partner?
A writing partner, or a critique partner, is another writer you can swap writing and critique with. You might read everything each other writes, you might only have a writing partner for a specific project, or you might work on a consistent schedule where you regularly exchange chapters, stories, or writing exercises.
Sometimes a writing partner is an actual collaborator for co-writing. A lot of this information and advice can apply to co-writing, but this blog will focus on a writing partner as a critique partner.
Why do you want a writing partner?
Now that we know what a writing partner is…why do we want one?
- Like I said, writing is solitary! It’s nice having someone in on your writing with you, there to help you brainstorm, and just to have someone to talk to. Even if they aren’t writing collaboratively, a writing partner can offer new perspectives and help you over writing humps.
- New perspectives. Having someone else’s eyes and opinions on your work is valuable for having a full view of what you need to improve. It’s easy to get myopia if you’re the only one looking at your writing.
- Regularly consuming another work-in-progress can be inspiring for your own writing! “Critiquing other’s writing sometimes inspires me in my own work. It gives me ideas or helps me figure out problems I have.” — Krystal Dean, one of my writing partners.
- Improve your writing. Having feedback on your writing and critiquing other’s writing are two of the most helpful activities to hone writing skills.
- “Writing partners hold you accountable.” — Gloria Russel, another writing partner. Even if you don’t have a strict submission schedule, just having someone expecting progress on a piece can keep you on track.
- “It’s a nice way to ease yourself into other people reading your work and receiving critical feedback.” — Micah Klassen, my New Writer writing partner.
If you’re new to the feedback and workshop process, a writing partner can help you get used to sharing your work in a safe and familiar environment with a friend! Letting someone you trust read your story is a lot less intimidating than sending a manuscript to a literary agent or publisher.
What are things to look for in a writing partner?
When choosing a writing partner, it’s great to be selective. You can always break off a deal with a writing partner if it isn’t working out, but it’s much easier to put time and thought into who you partner with at the beginning.
So what kind of characteristics make for a good writing partner?
Here are a few things you might look out for:
- Someone you get along with! You’ll spend a lot of time communicating with a writing partner, so it’s best to have someone you’re friendly with–especially because you’re critiquing each other’s writing. Regular critique requires good communication and a fair amount of trust. If you’re uncomfortable with your writing partner, or you’re just not good at communicating, it won’t be a good relationship–it might even scare you off of writing.
- Someone at a similar writing level as you. You want to have around the same skill and experience level to have a fair exchange of critique. Ideally, you’ll have strengths and weaknesses that complement each other’s, but you should have around the same level of skill. If one has much more experience, it likely won’t be a fair exchange.
- A good writer. There are lots of levels of experience in writing, but some writers are just better equipped than others. You want someone who is striving to learn, always improving, and passionate about writing.
- A good critiquer. I know a ton of great writers who are just awful at giving feedback. You want an attentive, observant, caring reader who knows how to communicate clearly. You can read a story and know it’s bad, but if you can’t pinpoint and express specific issues, you might not be good at critiquing others.
How do you find a writing partner?
If a writing partner sounds good to you, and now you know what to look for, how do you find one? The best place to find a writing partner is by being friends with writers! I’ve chosen my writing partners and critique groups from friends of mine who were already writers.
This has worked best for me because I already know we have good rapport AND I know they’re strong writers–I even know our personal strengths and weaknesses to be sure we complement each other.
If you don’t have a network of writer friends, you can find some:
- Try joining a local book club or writing group. If none exist in your area, contact your school (if you’re school-aged), library, or community center to see about starting one.
- If that isn’t an option, or you’re just not feeling the in-person interaction, there are tons of online book clubs and writing groups!
- Twitter is a great place to find other writers, especially indie writers. Some hashtags you can check are #AmWriting and #WritersCommunity
Writing partner vs writing groups
Some people prefer one-on-one writing partners, but there are benefits to having a group of writers instead:
- More eyes and opinions on your work
- More writer voices to learn from
- More strengths and weaknesses to balance yours
- A great way to build strong relationships with other writers!
In a critique group, you have the opportunity to select writers with various strengths. One might be great with writing natural and compelling dialogue, one might be a master of imagery, another might have a talent for realizing subtext and working with symbolism. The more varied your talents within a writing group, the more rounded your critiques will be.
Also consider diversity in your critique group. Different ages, genders, ethnicities, orientations, life experiences, and perspectives will give you more rounded critique. If your writing group is solely people who are very similar to you, you’ll get more standard feedback, and likely an echo chamber of thoughts you’ve already had.
If you’d like to put together a writing group, consider the following elements:
- Compatibility amongst everyone. Different personalities can get along great, if everyone is a good communicator.
- Similar goals and schedules. Make sure everyone is on board with whatever schedule and routine you decide on.
- Similar works in progress. If one person is a poet, one is writing an autobiography, and one is writing a science fiction novel, it’ll be difficult to determine what is due when, and feedback might be unfair. It’s obviously quicker to give feedback on a single poem than it is to give feedback on an entire chapter of a science fiction novel.
If you want a writing group but the idea of putting one together is intimidating, consider starting with one partner and growing from there.
Tips for using writer partners
Here are a few suggestions to utilize a writing partner or group to their fullest potential:
- Set up a schedule to swap progress on your works in progress. Having an agreed-upon schedule written out makes it much easier to hold each other accountable, and it will help limit disagreements and conflict.
- Use the same prompt for writing exercises. I love using this for my short story writing group. Take the same prompt, write a story or poem from it, then see what each other comes up with. It’s a ton of fun seeing the different styles and stories from each writer and it’s a great writing exercise.
- Do word sprints together. My favorite writing memories are staying up all night with my friends as a teenager, word sprinting for NaNoWriMo. My writing partners and I like to sprint for twenty minutes, then share our new word counts and our favorite line from that sprint. Almost anytime you can make something a collaborative effort or a fun activity, you’ll get more done.
- Swap stories! My partners and I have written scenes of each other’s WIPs to give a fresh perspective or to break a writing block with a scene. If you’re stuck on something, you can ask your writing partner to write a few paragraphs and see what they think should happen next. It’s unstuck me several times.
- Use “I” statements in feedback. Especially early on, getting criticism is hard! To be respectful of your writing partner’s work, try phrasing feedback with an “I” statement. So instead of saying something like, “this chapter is boring,” you could say, “I feel like this chapter doesn’t have enough content.” Acknowledge that your opinions are subjective to keep everything in perspective and sound less like you’re attacking them.
Some reasons you might NOT want a writing partner
Obviously, there are lots of benefits to having a writing partner or group, but that doesn’t mean it’s for everyone!
Here are some reasons a writing partner might not be right for you.
- If it will make you nervous to actually write. If you know someone is reading early drafts, you might get so in your own head that you’re too nervous to produce new content–you might second guess yourself and fall away from the project. You can always try it out, but if you realize writing partners aren’t your style, that’s fine too! Everyone has a different process.
A solution: Maybe you have a writing partner for a second draft instead of your first one.
- If you work on an irregular schedule. If you can’t commit to submitting projects or feedback on a timely basis, writing partners might not work for you.
A solution: If you can write regularly and commit to a schedule, but you and your writing partner have very different timelines, goals, and expectations, you might just need to find someone with a similar lifestyle to partner with instead.
- If a writing partner gives feedback in a way that makes you defensive. There are so many different types of communicators, and some of them clash. If you feel the need to defend yourself or your writing against all of your writing partner’s critique, you might need a new partner.
A solution: Check in with yourself and see if you need to learn to accept critique better. If you’re not the problem, have an open and frank discussion with your partner about the way they present feedback. If that doesn’t help, don’t be afraid to cut ties with that writing partner and find a new one.
Writing partners are a great tool to get feedback, keep on schedule, better your craft, and build substantive relationships with other writers. Like any relationship, they take work! So use these tips to find and sustain healthy dynamics with other writers.