26 Feb Writing is not a solitary craft
The Facebook messages almost always come late at night.
Sometimes it’s me, about to press publish on a post that I know will ruffle some feathers. Could she just take a quick look, give me a neutral perspective, tell me how she thinks this paragraph comes across, suggest a better headline?
Sometimes it’s her, requesting feedback on her latest chapter, celebrating her latest invitation to speak or downloading typical writerly night-before-publication fears to someone who gets it.
For the better part of twenty years, we’ve been writing partners, propping each other up as we endeavour to ride the rollercoaster that goes with a creative life. We’ve whinged and worried, we have laughed and we have celebrated, we have shared writing opportunities and we have backed each other up. She is the indispensable crutch to my creative life, and her name is Bronwyn Sell.
When we first met at 19, we were living parallel lives, both having considered the other’s study path – hers in communications, mine in law. I applauded as she took out top journalistic awards at graduation and was immediately snapped up by the leading national newspaper, while I was still wading through my five-year degree and feeling well out of my intellectual depth.
Later, once I was working in law and travel blogging on the side, she gave me my first regular newspaper column, helping me believe that I could do something with my love of words. Over the years she introduced me to editors, gave me feedback on my pitches and connected me with opportunities to ghost write. When our babies were young, we snatched weekends holed up in hotel rooms scoffing M&Ms while we binge-wrote or smashed out a competition entries. Together, we co-authored a blog for a national paper and then wrote a bestselling book – my first, her fourth.
In return I’ve been her early reader, providing feedback on her novels, celebrating her many awards, listening to her worries while publishers sat on manuscripts for months at a time and watching always with pride and awe. My clever witty friend, the one living my parallel life, is now a celebrated novelist, with her books in stores all the way from Waterstones on London’s Piccadilly, to Times Square New York, to Perth, Western Australia.
Have you found your person yet?
We are led to believe that writing, or artistry of any kind, is this solitary life. That if someone has written a book, then they did it all on their own. Yet behind almost every book is a team consisting of at least an editor, a proof reader and a group of early readers who provide conceptual or detailed feedback on the ideas, the flow and the execution.
No matter how much writing you’ve done before, a book is no small undertaking. It can be hard to see our own ideas clearly. We don’t always see the connections between one concept and another. We become attached to a beautiful piece of prose when really we should hack it back.
Then there’s the vulnerability that comes from putting creative work into the world. Even globally-renowned writers suffer from imposter syndrome, second-album angst, fears of not-good-enough, and doubts about whether we really do have something worth saying.
A good writing partner brings fresh eyes and clarity to your work. They will see where it shines and offer suggestions to polish up the rough. Feedback may feel harsh at times, but always brings something valuable. Sometimes they will lift you up, just when you’re tempted to give it all up. Sometimes, you will hear their opinions, but still take a different path. Sometimes you will have to say hard things in return.
Of course, you must choose your person wisely, and a true partnership takes time to develop. A frustrated artist – someone who has not yet found the courage to fully pursue their creative work – may end up projecting their fears onto you. Look for someone who is walking the path alongside you – even if you are at different stages of the journey. Someone who comes to value your success almost as much as they value their own, who will be your champion, your realist and your valued companion.
If you haven’t found your creative partner yet, try joining in-person writing groups, writing classes, or hanging out in online forums and Facebook groups where you can meet others who share your writing aspirations. Start sharing your work, exchanging mutual feedback, and see how the relationship develops.
Without Bronwyn, I would not feel brave enough to take creative risks, or to have gone as far as I have with my writing. I trust her writerly judgement implicitly (heck – I showed her this post in draft and she even made a few corrections!), she knows the pressures of juggling motherhood and a creative career, she always has my back and lets me download any rant I want before she erases it from memory.
She continues to inspire me with her dedication to her craft, her delicious wit and her never-ending stream of clever ideas. And while a teensy part of me can’t help wishing I was the award-winning novelist with books on sale in Times Square, the vast majority of me swells with pride every time I see her work praised, and every time she trusts me (me?!) for my opinion on her emerging work.
So this blog is dedicated to the brilliant Bronwyn Sell, whose hilarious novel Lovestruck has just come out across New Zealand, Australia, the US and the UK. Its witty banter and dysfunctional family fun has been compared to the much-loved Australian TV series, Offspring (and for those in the US, I would say those Brothers & Sisters phone call scenes). Go buy it, especially if you need a cheer-me-up or an amusing escape.
(And if you’ve got a non-fiction book you’d like to bring into the world, I’d love to coach you through it. Click here and let’s make a time to talk )