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How to Have a Successful IRL Co-Writing Session

Writing can be a lonely, alienating endeavor, with hours spent only in the company of the characters bickering in your head. Arranging to meet up with a writing buddy and having an in-person co-writing session is a great way to change things up and keep your creative energy at its peak.

But there are some key things that will keep the writing session from devolving into a chatterfest, or blowing up into a debate over the musical taste of the coffeeshop staff.

Find the right partner(s).  There is more to being a writing partner than just showing up with your Macbook. You are getting more involved in your own writing process, and investing in the other person's writing as well. Be sure that the person, or people, you choose to write with share similar goals as you, have work ethics that jive with your own, and hope to get the same things out of an in-person co-writing session. Most important is to be respectful of your writing partner. Be on time. Tell them you appreciate their help. Communicate with them frequently, checking in on their progress even if you aren't meeting with them to write in the near future.

Choose an appropriate place to write. The library, a coffee shop, your kitchen counter---it doesn't really matter where you write, as long as it's:
  • Quiet. It can still be a crowded coffee shop, if you're both comfortable with that, but it's best not to schedule a session at the soccer field or, you know, a monster truck rally.
  • Spacious. Not abandoned warehouse big, but with tables or bar seating set up and plenty of space for any and all writing tools: your notes, laptops, coffees, and pastries. It also needs to have outlets for those using a laptop.
  • Convenient. Don't be that person who suggests a place two blocks from your house when the other person has to drive across town. Or at least switch off convenience so that both parties are putting equal effort into the partnership.

Set Goals. When you meet up with your writing partner(s), don't just say, "Yeah, I'd love to get some words in today." (Hopefully that goes without saying!) Make goals, be specific, and share those goals with your partner before you start. That way, when your attention wanders to the man making a fuss because his extra-hot non-fat three pumps cinnamon chai latte isn't foamy enough, you can say, "Hey! This isn't how I'm going to get to 2,000 words!" Which is more motivating than, "Hey! Some indeterminate number of words needs my attention, sort of, unless the 10 words I already wrote count for today!" Then, before the writing session is over, share your progress with your partner. The two of you are there to make each other accountable. Use that.

Keep Chitchat to a Minimum. If you want to get together and just talk about books, writing methods, revisions, the questionable-at-best Mortal Instruments casting decisions*, then set up a lunch or a dinner. Writing time needs to be writing time. Respect that.

Limit Social Media. You set up an in-person write-a-thon for a reason, right? To be social (kinda)? Well then if you talk to someone, make it's the person you're writing with and not the entire rest of the internet. It's like going to a fancy dinner and staring at your iPhone the whole time---it defeats the purpose! Having an in-person writing session is supposed to not only help you as a writer, it's to motivate everyone involved to develop better focus and work harder. If you wanted to tweet each other you could have stayed at home, where the coffee is free.

Finally, and most importantly, Celebrate together. When your partner reaches their goals (during writing time, and on a larger scale in the writing process) celebrate with them, and be genuinely happy for them. After all, you had a hand in their success---whenever they achieve something, so do you!

* I mean really. This guy?

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  1. oh yes! I was beginning to think I was the only one who thought that wasn't the best casting :-)

  2. Bahaha--totally agree with you about the casting thing (*snort*)! I don't currently have any writing buddies (thought maybe my sister, but that didn't pan out), but would love to find one/some. For now it is definitely a solitary venture.

  3. Exactly, what I need a writing partner!

  4. Ugh that sounds horrific. Beta buddies and readers absolutely, but writing for me is solitary and often intimate.

    Unless your sketch comedy writing with a group or actually co-writing a novel or more likely a screenplay, for me that just doesn't make for my best writing environment. Interrupting each others concentration to run idea's or ask...what's a word that's like this word but isn't this word...and no it's not that word.

    It would be like a conference call or a circle jerk. Maybe not the later presumably something actually gets accomplished there.

    Anyway I'm all for the solitary experience. Except I have started a Query Critique page on my blog. Where everyone chips in and leaves a comment on the query and the next week we post another that has been submitted.

  5. Also, group writing can totes be helpful. Even if it's just catching a little thing like not understanding "your" vs "you're." :)

  6. Love it Sarah! I see all these writing retreats and get totally envious of being able to just immerse in writing with like minded people! (THough I'm afraid if I wrote with someone, there'd be too much talking! I love taking writing and books!)

  7. I quite liked Jamie Campbell Bower in Camelot :)

  8. Thank you for the tips! :D I was just planning to have in-person writing/drawing(?) sessions with my mom, so that's well-timed to say the least!

    to Alex, writing sessions are not about interrupting each other! It's about each person doing their own thing for a set amount of time, with the added motivation of seeing someone else work as hard as we do. Remember: no chitchat!

  9. Thanks everyone, and asiamorela is right, writing with someone else is like having a workout buddy---the progress is individual, but having someone else there is motivational :) It certainly isn't for everyone, but it can really help others.

    And I do need to rent Camelot! But man. Jace? Really?

  10. I don't know Asiamorela, seems like a hassle. I'm all for beta readers and discussion. But when it's writing time it's writing time.


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