Dancing by Yourself Sucks


I face a constant struggle while pursuing writing as a full time career.  The act of writing—butt in seat, words on a screen—is extremely solitary.  You’re essentially playing with imaginary friends and recording their escapades.  My natural proclivity is to be extremely social.  It’s an asset in my day job as a consultant and at the core of who I am.  These two sides of me don’t play well together.  Right now, I’m sitting in my chair fighting the urge to reach out to friends via internet or text.  Yet oftentimes when I do, I mentally kick myself for not putting more time into my writing.  It’s a bitch of a balancing act.

I may be in the minority with my situation because it’s not something I’ve heard from many other writers.  Their struggles tend to be carving time out of the day for writing.  Even so, I think I’ve stumbled upon a coping mechanism that allows me the joys of interacting with another human being while still letting me dive deep into narrative structure, character development, and story arcs.  Hopefully this approach may work for my fellow social butterflies who burn with a passion for storytelling.

One is the Loneliest Number

I would crumble in solitary confinement.  No human interaction whatsoever and four walls staring back at me is my idea of hell.  That’s the main problem I deal with.  The act of writing involves cutting yourself off from the rest of the world.  A self-imposed solitary confinement in order to focus on the work.  I’ve tried writing in public, in an attempt to stave off the isolation, but I always end up talking to someone.  Frequently, it’s them coming up to me and asking about whatever I’m writing.  Not to mention, I’m an avid people watcher and while some folks can translate that into real stories (the talented Jeanne V Bowerman and her short film IMPASSE), I have yet to make my observations into anything tangible.

Group situations haven’t worked for me either.  I’ve tried a couple of writing groups that meet in person and they devolved into a bitch-fest about their inability to get published or confessions of crippling insecurities with their work.  Neither of those situations is ideal.  You can easily get sucked into the drama and lose all your creative momentum.

For me, social interaction is about connecting with others.  It’s difficult to connect with an entire group because not everyone is on the same page.  When all the people involved are running on the same wavelength it’s like catching lighting in a bottle.  Sadly, I haven’t found my own personal Rat Pack.  Maybe someday, but it’s not on the horizon.

For a long time it felt like I had run out of options. Writing in public didn’t produce anything worthwhile and writing groups were not about the writing. All I could foresee was a lot of hours spent in a tiny room slaving over a hot keyboard. Then I stumbled upon an alternative I had never considered before and everything turned around.

It Takes Two to Tango

My friend Thersa Matsuura (author of the killer short story collection A ROBE OF FEATHERS AND OTHER STORIES) was working hard on her first novel.  She wanted a second opinion on her plot progression and shared some of the chapters she had written.  I tore into them like a fat kid at a candy buffet.  Not only was it exciting, but I was able to apply the laser beam focus to her work that I could never muster for my own.  Email wasn’t the right medium for my feedback, so we decided to try out a Skype video chat.  Folks, that’s when the magic happened.

Thersa and I were only supposed to chat for an hour, reviewing my feedback and discussing the novel as a whole.  FOUR HOURS LATER we were still running at full speed; dissecting characters, hammering out pacing, and analyzing scene structure.  It was pure heaven.  I left our meeting with a runner’s high, my brain buzzing with pieces of her novel and ready to write a million words of my own.  I had never before experienced anything like that.  We continued working on her novel at least once a week.  Then I started introducing my own work into our sessions.  After months of jamming out on our stories I came to a sobering realization; I now had a bona fide writing partner.

Whenever I had previously thought of writing partnerships I always assumed it was two people working on the same manuscript.  I had never considered the possibility of two people working on their own projects, but still sharing the development, editing, and sometimes re-writing.  We pushed each other to be better writers, to look at the layers of storytelling and make sure we utilized them all.

Each meeting filled me with inspiration.  Instead of feeling isolated I felt energized.  I hammered out words with vigor because I knew we would tear them apart later in the week.  It worked in ways that no other motivating device ever had.  This was my secret sauce.

If this kind of writing partnership sounds good to you, then here are a few suggestions to ensure it goes smoothly.

  • Work with someone whose writing you respect and vice versa.  If you don’t have faith in their skills you’ll never value their feedback.
  • Make a schedule and stick to it.  Consistency is key in maintaining the creative momentum you so dearly need.
  • Work on the same type of writing (short stories, novels, etc.).  Different story types need different perspectives.  Working in the same medium helps you both maintain the proper frame of mind when dissecting the words.
  • Deliver your work several days before the meeting without comment.  This allows the other person to formulate their own feedback free of any influence.  It also keeps the energy in the meetings and not wasted in an email thread.

What are some of your experiences with writing partnerships?  Let us know in the comments or shoot me a tweet @gabrielnovo.  If you enjoy these articles then feel free to have them delivered directly to your inbox or share them with a friend using the buttons below.

1 comment… add one
  • Thersa Matsuura Jan 4, 2014

    I echo every sentiment. It’s a joy and a thrill to talk story and character, plot and dialogue with you. I’m really looking forward to what we will produce this year. Thank you.
    Thersa Matsuura´s latest post ..testMy Profile

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