This quality applies to the relationship as much as it does to the individual partners. I highly recommend the book Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. And then explore Dr. Cloud’s wealth of resources at his website, Dr. Henry Cloud.
Every successful writing relationship needs boundaries. Each partner needs to know his own boundaries and be ready to enforce them. As much as possible, these limits need to be discussed at the beginning of the partnership and reviewed and adjusted periodically. Don’t take for granted your partner knows what the boundaries are.
For example, one partner should not unilaterally rewrite the other’s work without permission. This isn’t critiquing or suggesting. This is an attempt to make my partner write like me. It disrespects my partner’s work and skills. The purpose of the relationship is to help each other grow, not to produce a clone. One James Joyce or George Orwell or C. S. Lewis is enough.
Another aspect of boundaries in a relationship is to keep the relationship professional. We are writers. We share emotions on the pages we write, and we have emotions we need to express. This does not give us permission to take the relationship to a more personal level. Yes, we can and should be friends. And we will care about each other as persons and writers. This will make the relationship stronger. As I wrote in an earlier post in this series: our partner should never replace Jesus or our spouse in our lives.
Another key trait is developing the ability to listen to our partner. This goes along with the keys of empathy and boundaries. I need to hear my partner, even when it hurts. As writers, we need to develop a thick skin. We need to hear without becoming defensive or personalizing what’s said. As partners, we have to speak sensitively and non-judgmentally. Watch for words that come across as put-downs rather than recommendations for improvement. Building up my ego has no place in trying to help my partner.
There will be times we need or want to discuss specific areas in our writing like characterization, dialogue, or plotting. This is when we’ll have discussions and brainstorming.
But there are also times when we need to listen without commenting or defending. This is a fundamental tenet in Word Weavers International. We need to listen to our partner as we would listen to a reader. When our book is in the hands of the reader, we can’t be with them to explain or justify. We need to be like this with our partners as much as possible.
We listen and pull the nuggets of gold we hear, the recommendations, and comments that will improve our story. And we apply them.
We form writing partnerships to help each other. The relationship is not a competition to prove who’s the better writer. It’s a team of writers helping each other grow.
The last key I want to discuss in this series is, as a partner, we celebrate our successes and our failures. Each rejection is a learning opportunity. We move from it, with our partner’s help, to move our careers forward, even if it’s only an inch at a time.
What have you found to be the most helpful traits in a writing partner?