Before we talk about who a writing buddy is and how they can help you write more and better, let’s talk a bit about writing.
Writing is a lonely journey and if you are not a full-time writer, it is even more so. There are many excuses to not write and the temptation to succumb, high. This is the reason why many wonderful stories continue to languish in the minds of would-be writers.
How many times have you woken up in the morning, all pumped up, ready to churn out a few thousand words, but went to bed at night wondering where all the time went? Have you spent hours staring at a blank word document, wondering what to type, or worse, spent a hectic day only to realise at the end that you could not write what you set out to?
This is where a support system, from a community of like-minded individuals, helps. The First Draft Club (FDC) hosted by the Himalayan Writing Retreat (HWR) is one such.
There are ways to get more out of this support system and one such way is to have a writing buddy, preferably from the FDC group.
Who is a Writing Buddy?
Writing Buddy is any person who shares a similar wavelength and interests as you do, in terms of writing. They can be writing in similar genres or themes. They have to be someone you trust and relate to their work. You then decide to buddy up together to work on your independent writing projects using each other (or more buddies) as your sounding board, agony aunt, confidante, critic, and much more.
For the FDC #4 hosted by HWR in September 2021, two participants, Shalini Mullick and Ramanjaneya Sharaph buddied up, to nudge and encourage each other to write better, and write more. In this recollection, they talk about their buddying up the experience: how to buddy up and how to make it work.
Shalini is a practicing doctor and a parent of two teenagers. She has been writing blogs and short stories and has recently completed her fiction manuscript.
Ram is a business consultant and entrepreneur, at the beginning of the journey to getting published.
He writes plays, short stories, and poems and is working on a novel.
Shalini and Ram now talk about their buddying experience.
Choosing a buddy
This is very important because the right buddy can help you further your writing goal. We knew each other from earlier FDCs, as active participants on the WhatsApp groups. We had read each other’s published stories and were aware of each other’s writing styles. We had also exchanged notes and messages in earlier FDCs. While the acquaintance helped, awareness of each other’s writing styles helped more: basically, we liked what we read of each other’s writing.
Having the reasons right
Before choosing a buddy, it is important to figure out why do you want a buddy and what help do you need from your buddy. This is what we were looking for:
Ram: I admired the amount of writing that Shalini accomplishes, despite a punishing schedule packed with many commitments on the professional and domestic front. That calls for tremendous discipline, an area where I was lacking. I wanted to buddy up with someone whose discipline would motivate me to write consistently, and who could help me keep on track. So I reached out to Shalini.
Shalini: I had noted Ram’s focused approach and consistency in the Sunday evening guest sessions hosted by HWR as part of the FDC. His structured approach to writing, and learning the ‘craft’ of writing was very different from mine. So buddying up seemed to be a good way to learn from him.
Making buddying-up work
In addition to clarity on expectations from the buddying-up process – yes, the expectations are from the buddying-up and not from the buddy – it is important to agree on a mechanism with your buddy. Before the FDC month began, we agreed on the protocol: daily check-ins. We shared our writing habits – one of us is an early morning writer and the other is a late-night writer. This made it easier for us to report progress and check in on the other person.
The protocol was mandatory – no matter what, we had to check in on our buddy and also report our progress. This built-in accountability as well as a competitive spirit. On days when one of us was lethargic, seeing the word count notched up by the buddy motivated us to sit down and get some writing done.
The most important part of buddying was the pep-up support. There were days when the going got weary for one of us: the usual culprits – bad day at work, family responsibilities, creative juices drying up et. al., – reared their heads, but the buddy was there to give a little pep talk, a little nudge, to get over the excuses and sit down to write.
As we settled into the writing routine, we shared writing tips and tricks picked up from books and online articles, flagged writing contests and submissions, and discussed writing-related topics that ranged from whether it is a good idea to participate in contests to the relative merits and demerits of literary vs. genre writing.
What started off the productive buddying-up was a clear setting of expectations and an unambiguous protocol and sticking to it.
Can’t your phone reminder / Siri / Alexa do this for you?
Sure. We have all made to-do lists, set reminders on the phone and computer, tied a knot in the hankie, and turned the finger-ring facing inside. Did any of that help?
Shalini: Around the middle of the month, unexpected domestic commitments upended my writing plans. Ram’s encouragement helped me bounce back. I am an immensely private writer and had not shared my writing in many public spaces. Sometimes, when the WhatsApp group was very active, Ram sent me a short personal message encouraging me to share my work. The subsequent feedback from the larger community was very helpful.
Ram: There were times when I felt burnt-out and not up to writing during the day. At those times, Shalini would nudge me with a gentle, ‘You have a novel to complete!’ and report her word count for the day, which she had written waking up at 5.30 AM. The combination of gentle rebuke and inspirational discipline helped pull me out of the self-induced stupor.
You can get Alexa or Siri to check in on you every night at 23:00 hours, but buddying up can be more than a clinical reporting of word counts. This is what makes the experience enriching.
Hear what other participants had to say about their experience of participating in the First Draft Club. (In the video below)
What did we get out of it?
Picking the right buddy, setting expectations, following a proper process – all that is good, but a recipe book does not a good meal make. So, what did we get out of the month-long buddying?
Ram: I clocked about 40,000 words in the FDC month, one of my most productive months ever. That included 20,000 words on the work-in-progress novel (the target was 10,000), and another 20,000 on a couple of short stories and articles. Shalini also beta-read a novella that I had written earlier and gave unvarnished, insightful feedback. Her observations were so deep that the resultant edits have made the story more powerful.
Shalini: I finished editing my 50,000-word manuscript, completed a couple of essays adding up to 12,000 words, and wrote some small pieces of fiction. Ram also beta-read my manuscript and gave in-depth feedback. The fresh perspective that Ram gave to the manuscript was very helpful during the editing process.
Both: We continue to buddy-up post the FDC, checking in, nudging, and helping each other progress on our writing journey. A writer’s journey has more misses than hits. Sharing our disappointments, and venting out our frustrations, helps us get over them and return to what we set out to do in the first place: writing. More than the tangible results, we are glad to have found a fellow traveller on this not-so-easy path of writing.
What if it doesn’t work?
We were lucky to find a buddy in each other we could collaborate productively with. Shalini is twice lucky – she has a wonderful buddy from an earlier FDC and they continue to collaborate. But it is not necessary that all buddy-pairs click. An earlier attempt at buddying didn’t work for one of us. So if you and your buddy don’t click, it doesn’t matter.
- Look at the group – there is a lot of energy, and people are writing a lot.
- Set up an accountability mechanism for yourself.
- Look up the Google sheet and update your word count every day
- Be inspired by the group interactions, reach out for help (Shalini was stuck in a situation in her story and put the question to the group. One of the responses is now part of her story), and participate.
You will make a lot of friends; you will get a lot written. So, get on board, pull your buddy in, and enjoy the ride!