Why We Need Writing Buddies

The concept of writing buddies is kind of strange if you think about it. Once, several of my writing friends and I checked in a hotel for President’s Day. We went to Jersey, far outside our home in New York. While the rest of the country was sleeping in and celebrating, we congregated in a lobby area, surrounded by a scattering of pencils, post-its and notebooks, each staring at a laptop screen. For hours.

Apparently, some people think it strange to spend one’s time this way. The staff got used to us; I guess they liked that we were friendly and also constantly ordering coffee. But the other guests? We got so many weird looks we put up a sign that said, “Don’t feed the writers.”

That got us more weird looks.

But writing friends are strange. Unless you’ve got a co-writer, writing buddies are more like a support group than colleagues. You can’t really help each other. Let’s be honest-- only you can write your book. When you’re faced with the blank screen, having a person beside you facing a blank screen, too, doesn’t take the pain or terror away.

But throughout history, writers have done well by banding together. The American ex-pat community brought together Hemingway and Virginia Wolfe. A writing retreat gave us Frankenstein. Tolkien and Lewis meeting in a pub gave Tolkien the courage to show people Lord of the Rings. Also, have you noticed how many writers marry each other? Stephen King met his wife in a writing class.

So why the phenomenon? And what does it mean? Here are a few reasons why we need writing community, and a few ways to find it.

1) Writing is hard

We band together for a lot of reasons, but the main one is that writing is just so darn hard. When a hero goes on a difficult journey, he almost always has buddies, because journeys are hard, too. Friends don’t just make it easier; they make it better. Even if you know you’ll have to slay the dragon alone, you want support in as many ways as you can get it first.

2) Iron Sharpens Iron

It’s cliche because it’s true. Whether it’s just sitting down and writing words together, keeping each other accountable, or reading each other’s work, having other writers on your team will improve your craft. Having trouble focusing? Grab a buddy and agree to do a writing sprint. You can do this over email, Twitter or Facebook–or in a cafe if you’re working together. Set the timer for thirty minutes. Then check in with each other afterword.

The same concept can be applied on a more broad level. Every time I make a list of goals and deadlines, I email it to my friends. They do the same with me. Knowing you’re accountable to someone else can keep you on task. And it helps to have that outside perspective. Sometimes, if I send a list of goals, my friends will tell me I’m over-shooting. “You always take longer than this, Bess. Don’t set yourself up for failure.” Point taken.

And then, of course, there’s the actual writing. It’s all well and good to have your mom read your work, but she’s going to love it. So is your significant other or your best friend. And if they don’t love it, they probably aren’t going to tell you. Or they won’t know how to tell you. Writers are in the trenches, too. They can be honest in a way our friends and family can’t. And they can probably give better advice on how to fix what’s wrong. Also, the act of editing is itself instructional. You can learn a lot by reading other people’s work.

3) They’re Not That Hard to Find

There are many wonderful things about living in the age of the internet, even if it can be hella distracting! One of them is that it’s just not that hard to find people anymore. There are so many ways to connect with other writers online as well as in person. Conferences are a place to start. So is Twitter, or Facebook. There are writing hashtags, writing classes, writing Google+ groups. Don't be shy -- hop in a twitter chat, google writing classes, conferences or groups., oin your local RWA or SCBWI chapter. If there isn't one in your area, consider starting it!

Writing is a long, long journey, but it doesn't ever have to be a journey you take alone. 

A version of this article was first posted on DIYMFA.com on April 4, 2014.