The Writer’s Companion

It’s the last Wednesday in October, and that means many brave writers out there are in final preparations for National Novel Writing Month. If you are partaking this year, may the word count be ever in your favor. But before you manacle yourself to your keyboard for 30 days, let us all take a moment to celebrate, encourage, and thank those who make the journey survivable: our trusty writing companions.

However, some folks might be new to the experience of writing using the buddy system. What does being a companion mean exactly? What could someone do to support the writer in their life? To gain some suggestions for practical application, I discussed the topic with a real life companion and just as importantly, someone who is not a writer himself: The Hubs. My guy has plied me with support (and ice cream) over the years, and now I share his efforts in solidarity with y’all.

The Planning Stage

What to Do:

  • Listen attentively. Never underestimate this!
  • Engage in conversation with your writer about his/her ideas. Ask questions.
  • Show your enthusiasm. Be the one to bring it up now and then.

What NOT to Do:

  • Lie about your thoughts and feelings. (Be sensitive, yes, but also be honest. If an idea doesn’t work for you, explain why.)
  • Be offended if your suggestions are never implemented. (Remember, this is their story, not yours.)

The First Draft

What to Do:

  • Keep listening!
  • Check-in regularly about the draft AND the writer. When in doubt, ask your writer what they need.
  • Show your curiosity and offer feedback as requested.
  • Gently remind you writer that this is the first draft, not Shakespeare (not yet, anyway).
  • Establish a schedule, but stay flexible. A routine might be a comfort for your writer, but if he/she hits their stride, be willing to ditch the plan.
  • Administer coffee, alcohol, and/or ice cream as needed. And probably some vegetables and protein, I suppose.

What NOT to Do:

  • Pester. (There’s a fine line between checking in and hovering.)
  • Shame your writer for lack of progress. (It’s one thing to keep them accountable. It’s quite another to make them experience shame, which will actually make progress unlikely.)
  • Judge your writer for their consumption of ice cream.

Editing & Revision

What to Do:

  • Offer to read your writer’s work. And of course, do actually read the darn thing, carefully and considerately.
  • Give specific feedback. A general “I really liked it” isn’t helpful. Take some time to identify moments that did and did not work for you and why.
  • Be present. Editing and revising can leave a writer in a state of exhausted doubt. Encouragement and attentive listening at this stage (and every other stage!) is crucial.
  • Share your excitement. This is an extension of feedback, but offering your experience and what resonated with you can be a real consolation to your writer.

What NOT to Do:

  • Fixate on a singular issue when asked for input. (If it’s recurring, identify it as such, but avoid dwelling on the subject.)
  • Expect the subject to never come up. (It most likely will.)
  • Get ahead of the game. (Unless your writer requests your assistance, this might not be the time to show a draft to all your nearest and dearest or make a list of every possible beta reader, editor, agent, and publishing house for your writer.)

At any time in the process, there are a few things that will always be good to keep in mind.

  • Did I mention listening? Seriously, listen. Be a safe place to vent.
  • Remember your writer’s goals for a story. Help them remember as needed too.
  • Advocate for your writer. It can be hard to explain that one is working and therefore, is not available to socialize. Having someone willing to back a writer up and even provide a cover story now and then is extremely valuable.
  • Be an escape. Take your writer’s cue, and when he/she needs a break, help make it happen. Remind your writer of his/her humanity. If they haven’t seen the sun in two weeks, it might be time to get creative with the physical location of their preferred writing apparatus.
  • Celebrate. I can’t stress this enough. Outlining a novel, slogging through a draft, and improving it through revision are all really difficult and worthy of acknowledgement. Perhaps the occasion calls for more ice cream . . .

remember to celebrate

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