March 24, 2014

Working with a Writing Partner

By Kellie Coates Gilbert

Recently, I’ve heard a common complaint from full-time novelists. Demands on our time—manuscript submission deadlines, marketing, blogging, book tours, social media—all contribute to our social lives suffering. Isolation seems to be a universal malady we all fight. Isolation leads to cramped creativity. A vicious cycle.

There is a remedy to these obstacles:  a writing partner!

About three years ago, I connected with a gifted writer named Lynne Gentry. Every weekday morning, between six and six-thirty, we talk on the phone. We discuss plot issues, character development, marketing ideas, industry news—anything that is on our minds regarding our writing careers and the stories we write.

This tiny investment of time has produced huge benefits. After leaving a full-time legal career to write novels, my time with Lynne fills the need I have to collaborate. Iron sharpens iron, and we propel each other to excellence. Our brainstorming reduces the risk of rewrites. We motivate each other. We are that one safe and confidential place to share whatever we struggle with, or the place we can shout out our successes with another writer who truly understands.

If interested in finding your own writing partner, here are ten things to consider:

1.     Evaluate the kind of writer you are.  Are you a person who carefully plots or are you a person who writes by the seat of your pants? Writing partners do not need to match in this area, but it’s helpful to know each other’s writing style.

2.     Evaluate what kind of person you would most like to work with. Your writing partner doesn’t necessarily have to be just like you, in fact, while Lynne and I have a lot in common, we find our very different styles complimentary.

3.     Make a list of potential candidates. I recommend both being experienced fiction writers. Someone you can trust to remain confidential. Sources can be writing groups, authors you admire, critique groups, etc.

4.     Narrow the list to three, and prioritize. Contact them with your idea and then agree to a ninety-day trial run. Evaluate at the end and only continue if BOTH of you feel the time has been a benefit.  If you find your match, agree to move forward on a more permanent basis with the understanding either party can bale for any reason. No hard feelings.

5.     Define your primary needs. However, you will likely find the conversations tend to morph into what’s important to both of you. I know some writing partners who read everything the other writes and does a line-by-line critique. Lynne and I don’t. We ask for what we need that morning. I need help with this plot or that character, or I need a way to get from here to there in the story. Sometimes, we want to read a few paragraphs of our brilliant work, just to show it off.  We love applauding each other.

6.     Be honest – yet sensitive. Lynne knows I have a background as a legal investigator—that my style often incorporates a lot of information processing and analysis. I write women’s fiction that focuses on relationship tensions. She writes adventures with strong women characters who love justice. We take our differences into account as we seek to guide and provide feedback.

7.     Keep the sharing balanced—no one person hogs the effort. Be sensitive to writing deadlines and family commitments.

8.     Absolute confidentiality is essential.  NOTHING gets shared without permission.

9.     Don’t do the work for the other person.  I suggest solutions, evaluate Lynne’s story development. I do not write for her. Neither do I get offended if she doesn’t follow my advice. Our stories are our own, and we have entire freedom to write the stories as we see fit.

10.  Thank God often for your writing partner. A good fit is a huge blessing.  And, pray for one another.

I hope this list is helpful. My writing partner relationship has blessed me beyond expectation.  If you establish a new writing partner relationship, write and tell me about it. I’d love to hear.  

A former legal investigator and trial paralegal, Kellie Coates Gilbert writes with a sympathetic, intimate knowledge of how people react under pressure.  Her stories are about messy lives, and eternal hope. Ahe is the author of Mother of Pearl. Her next release, A WOMAN OF FORTUNE, will be available this June.  For more information, go to

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