Write Together: The Blessing of a Writing Buddy

Write Together: The Blessing of a Writing Buddy by Najiyah Maxfield

When I first started writing, I had a secret weapon. I had a friend who had self published her very own novel. It was 2002, and we had just endured the first “after” year of the divide known as 9/11. Her novel was a year in the life of a Muslim family who were adjusting to the new normal – complete with street harassment and airport interrogations. She was hard at work on her second or third novel by the time I started writing, and I picked her brain for every bit of advice I could wrangle out of her.

We got together once a week and read what we had managed to scribble during the previous seven days, between kid taxiing, teeth brushing, story reading, laundry folding, part time teaching and dinner burning (we had 12 kids between us – six each!).

We helped each other with things like escaping corners. Because every so often an author writes herself into a one. “OK, Joshua has been arrested on false terrorism charges,” she’d say, “And his wife is charging off to the police precinct. Should she rant at them and get arrested, too? I feel like that’s what she really would do, but if she does, her arrest record will affect the scholarship she just got…”

Or I’d wail to her, “I just read that Quantrill was actually an abolitionist at the time Sophia’s Journal is set! How can I work THIS in?”

Talking it through with someone else who cares about your characters almost always reveals the way out (or around or through) the problem.

Writing buddies also help keep your timing straight. “Hey, wasn’t it his June birthday in the last chapter, and now suddenly it’s Halloween?” Or stay your hand when you’re foreshadowing is getting a bit heavy. “Don’t give that much away! Everyone will realize he’s a bigot before he gets to reveal his true colors.”

But mostly writing buddies keep two things alive for each other: discipline and hope. Discipline because that weekly writing meeting makes you write, even when you don’t feel like it, because sitting down to write is not as bad as the humiliation of having nothing to show. And hope because watching someone else go through the creative process and begin putting out feelers into the publishing or marketing worlds reminds you that you can do this, and it can be successful. And discipline and hope are the two things a body needs the most – in life and in literature.

So if you don’t have a writing buddy, look around and find one. No one will be a more dedicated secret weapon. And no one will be happier for you when your ARCs arrive.

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