Whether scuba diving or hiking, experts warn against going out on the water or up the mountain on your own. Why? There’s strength in numbers, and you are more likely to live to tell about your adventure with a swim buddy or hiking partner along. While writing might not carry the physical risks of these outdoor activities, writers can use the same principle to find a writing partner and help each other get their writing done.
If you’ve ever tried to write a novel, you know it is darn hard work, especially since life seems to conspire against you the moment you begin. As an introvert, I resisted joining writing groups or finding a writing partner for a long time, afraid a writing partner would be “just one more thing” that kept me from the work of writing.
I was wrong.
A couple years ago, I realized I needed some short term accountability on a project, and I reached out to a writer in a Facebook group on a whim. We were writing in similar genres, and I knew from her posts that she was trying to finish a novel over the summer.
She responded to my message right away, and we agreed to buddy up for the summer to help each other finish our first drafts. I learned several things from our short-term partnership. Maybe they will help you too.
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Clarify your project
First, clarify what you trying to finish. Is it a novel? How many words? What genre?
Have a clear, one-sentence goal. This makes it easier to ask someone to be your writing partner, because it sets clear expectations for both yourself and your potential buddy.
My goal that summer: I will finish a 70K word cozy mystery.
Identify some possible writing partners
Once you know which project you are trying to finish, look at the writing groups you belong to in person or online. Who is posting about their current work-in-progress?
Choose a couple people who engage with the group regularly (and are not admins or moderators). Just like scuba-diving or hiking, you want to find someone who is on a similar path or adventure.
This part stretched me because I found myself combing through posts looking for signs of instability or the creep-factor. (That sounds terrible, but I don’t have time for drama and neither do you.)
Calling a person’s profile pic gorgeous? No. Encouraging a writer who didn’t meet his goal? Yes. Look for people who are focused on writing.
Make the ask
This was the most uncomfortable part for me. What if the person turned out to be an ax murderer? (I might be the tiniest bit prone to exaggeration). But to get a writing buddy, even short term, you have to make the ask.
I sent a private Facebook message with my short proposal. Here’s what I wrote:
Hey, I’m also in [insert writing group name], and I noticed you are working on a novel. I’m trying to finish a 70K cozy mystery and looking for someone to check in with weekly short term. Would you be interested? We can send a quick Facebook message weekly with our word counts and encourage each other. No worries if you’re too busy or not in a place where you’d like accountability. Have a great week!
Notice that I listed my specific goal (a weekly check in on our novel word counts) and how we’d connect (via Facebook message). These are simple boundaries, and might help you and your potential buddy feel better about trying it out.
My buddy agreed (whew!) and we chatted via Messenger about our projects.
Set a time limit and follow through
My writing partner and I set a six-week time frame for finishing our drafts. Both of us had already started our projects, and we had weekly targets that broke the word count down to a manageable size.
I liked having a specific time limit since I wasn’t sure how well we would connect. Plus, it pushed me to finish my project on time to respect the commitment I made to myself and my buddy.
We set our weekly check in day, and after the first few quick messages, we eventually felt comfortable enough to check in more often than once a week.
I couldn’t believe the difference it made. There were still obstacles, but I found myself more focused because I knew that check in was coming. I did not want to report that I hadn’t met my word count.
By the six week mark, I had met my goal and my writing partner was on her final five thousand words.
Keep building community
I can’t thank my writing buddy enough for showing me how a little accountability goes a long way. Any time I am stuck on a project now, I challenge myself to reach out and ask someone new for help. Keep it simple, with a short timeline, and don’t worry if the first person you ask says they can’t commit.
If you don’t have any writing groups? Get active in a short-term group like our 7 Day Creative Writing Challenge or join a writing forum like Becoming Writer. You’ll find there are writers just like you slogging through daily word counts, and maybe one or two who are a good fit for the writing adventure you are trying to finish today!
Have you tackled a writing project or adventure that required accountability or a writing partner? How did it work? Give your best tips in the comments.
Today, clarify your writing goal. What writing project do you want to finish? What's your word count goal? What's your deadline?
Take fifteen minutes to consider your goal. If you have time left over, pick up that work in progress and keep writing!
When you're done, share your goal in the comments below. And if you share, be sure to leave feedback for your fellow writers. Who knows — you might find your accountability buddy right here!
Sue Weems is a writer, teacher, and traveler with an advanced degree in (mostly fictional) revenge. When she’s not rationalizing her love for parentheses (and dramatic asides), she follows a sailor around the globe with their four children, two dogs, and an impossibly tall stack of books to read. You can read more of her writing tips on her website.