Thursday, November 13, 2008

Et Tu, Brute? (Or the Danger and Joy of Writing Buddies)


This week, I’ve had the privilege of observing (from a safe distance) a brouhaha on a new writing forum. I’ve seen it before: one person decides to push his or her weight around and offer dictatorial, snide, nasty critiques. In return, the rest of the community bands against the offender with a pack mentality until the offender flees.

In this case, buddy Stephen offered up a slice of story that used third person present tense. To the critic, this POV choice was simply intolerable and required an aggressive offensive determined to MAKE STEPHEN CHANGE THAT STORY.

Personally, I feel sorry for everyone involved. For my buddy, because he’s a damn fine writer and a helluva nice guy who doesn’t deserve to be ragged on so viciously. For the critic (who shall go unnamed), because she’s one of those people who always have to be right. Right can be a lonely place and lonely places aren’t the best for us writers.

Stephen’s bad experience got me thinking about my own experiences with writing buddies. I’ve been a buddy to many. I’ve had many buddies myself. And I’ve had some real nightmares, people like our critic above who insist you write your story their way or you’ll never achieve an ounce of success. (Or they call names and run away. Bullies are the same whether you’re twelve or forty.) But, after sifting through the duds, I find myself graced with a handful of particularly fruitful writing friendships.

So here are my thoughts about what makes a good writing buddy.

1) Honesty

A good writing buddy wants you to succeed, so he’ll give you his honest opinion, even if it hurts.

2) Kindness

A good writing buddy tempers his honesty with kindness. My playwriting teacher in Rhinelander this year, Liz Fentress, phrased the nature of constructive critique perfectly: DO NO HARM.

3) Ability to communicate

A good writing buddy knows how to put his thoughts into words. He can identify what he sees and name it. He can offer suggestions to help you improve.

4) Vision—both literary and career

A good writing buddy knows about literature and good writing. He reads books. He has his eye on literary trends, past, present and future. He also has an eye toward career track. He knows your strategy for reaching your goals. He watches for articles that may help you fine tune your plans. He wouldn’t insist you try something you aren’t comfortable with. He keeps you on the straight and narrow.

5) Commitment and an earnest desire to helping a buddy succeed

A good writing buddy makes time to read your stuff. He reads it with an eye toward making your writing its very best. He takes his time when critiquing your work. He thinks it over while he’s in the shower or on the freeway. He isn’t distracted by petty jealousy. He cheers you on when you hit a roadblock. He believes in your work as strongly as you do. He tells other people how talented you are. He reads your stuff again when it’s published.

6) Ability to offer both constructive criticism and praise.

A good writing buddy points out what works and what doesn’t. He helps you learn to work to your strengths and either eliminate or circumvent your weaknesses.

7) Respect

A good writing buddy treats you like he wants to be treated himself. He acknowledges graciously that you’re the author of your work and he doesn’t try to bully or intimidate you. I saved respect for last because I believe it’s the most important. It’s the fuel that drives the friendship forward.


Stephen said...


Thank you so much for the support this last week. That situation will remain with me for the rest of my life.

I agree with your list 100%, and I am blessed that you have been there to offer me your respect, friendship, and honest feedback (even when it hurt).

Good post.

Greta said...

Awwww, Stephen. You're such a pal.(sniff, sniff)