Every night for the 30 days in November, 2009, I received an email from my friend, Tracy Million Simmons, a fellow writer. She’d tell me how many words she’d written that day. And she might throw in a mention about a character or how her plot was moving, or how she managed to squeeze in her 1,700 words that day around her kids’ activities. In return, I’d pass along my word count for the day, and perhaps express my angst at feeling completely ill-equipped in writing fiction.
During that month, Tracy and I were both participating in National Novel Writing Month, NaNoWriMo for short, or NaNo for really short. NaNo is a free online event, providing a platform for writers across the world to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days.
I foundered. I was lost. Writing a novel was bigger than I was. But what kept me going was having a lifeline, a writing buddy, someone to check in with at the end of the day. That kept me in the game.
A few years later, Tracy published her novel, Tiger Hunting, and it’s a really fun read. My novel, well, it’s in a file on my computer and I’ve never looked at it again. But I definitely learned a lot in the process. I learned that in order to finish something, you just have to stick with it, that it’s possible to carve out two hours a day to work on a project, and that in 30 days I could produce a really rough draft of a novel. And – I learned the power of the buddy system, of having someone there to keep you from quitting when you really kind of want to quit.
For Tracy and me, our paths first crossed online when we were both blogging – in 2004 or 2005. She lived in Topeka at the time. I was reading a lot of blogs and she was, too. We had a shared interest in Kansas and writing and lucky for me, she and her family moved to Emporia in 2006. I finally met her in person. Thereafter, she and I met at least once a month to talk about writing and life.
She and I started a writing group in 2010 that met once a month in a coffee shop, the library, and currently in a bar. In addition to that group, Tracy and I have continued to meet regularly ourselves, keeping our own little group of two intact.
When I’ve needed a sounding board for a project, Tracy has been there. When I’ve been shut down, frustrated with writing, Tracy has listened without judgment. She never says: You should do this or that, she simply listens. And she understands.
Over the years, I’ve occasionally needed someone other than myself to be accountable to on a project, so I’ve asked Tracy if I could report in to her once a week with progress. And I’ve done that for her as well. Tracy has said, “There were times I knew I had to write something, because I didn’t want to report to Cheryl that I had nothing.”
She cheered when my two books were published; I cheered for hers. Tracy also founded her own publishing company a few years ago, Meadowlark Books, and has published a handful of great books by local authors. We support each other, we encourage each other, we help promote each other’s work.
Recently, I’ve felt the need to up my game, to become a more efficient writer, to produce more on a daily basis, and Tracy is at a point in her life where she has more time to commit to writing, so now we’re back to the weekly check-ins. We each set goals for the week. And I’ll meet those goals – because I don’t want to report to Tracy that I haven’t.
So now we have decided to push each other – and by that I mean we push ourselves by expecting more of ourselves. We’ve made a commitment both to ourselves and to each other for productivity and for excellence. That, my friends, is the value of a writing buddy.
Anyway, I just wanted to suggest to other writers that you, too, might benefit from a writing buddy. Maybe you already know a writer that you can team up with. You might find someone at a writing conference, or in an online class. He or she doesn’t even have to live in your own town, the internet makes communication instant and easy. You can stay in touch daily, weekly, or monthly.
Writing is a solo sport, so it’s fun to have someone with whom to share your progress, your trials, and your successes. Find a writing buddy. Find your Tracy.
Keep writing! Cheryl