When most of us were little, we learned about the buddy system. This was to protect us from 'stranger danger', or from being left behind on field trips. The truth is, it isn't an ideology only for young kids. Even though we don't give it a lot of thought, we've adopted this unique and effective system into our day-to-day lives. Whether it's dieting, taking a class, walking home at night, or going to the bathroom at the bar, we usually have a 'buddy' accompanying us, offering support, a laugh, verbal banter or, at the very least, tissue when you're stranded in a stall with an empty roll and nothing to wipe with.
The thing is, it's nice to have someone to lean on. Rely on. Work with. And offer up as bait if, and when, you're knee deep in a zombie attack.
Personally, I think it is crucial to have a buddy system in place, especially when it comes to our writing worlds. Yep, this is a blog about writing, not about people who want to lure you into their van with candy and a promise of a better tomorrow.
As awesome as a writing community is, it can be very damaging. Yes, you heard me. The thing we covet so much, people who understand and appreciate the work we put into our stories, can actually be detrimental to our success. Which is why I say: seek out a buddy. Not only because it's nice to know someone always has your back, but because of time, energy and dedication.
Here's what I've been thinking:
1. There is a false sense of community that is found in numbers. Having five hundred followers on twitter doesn't mean you have support. Neither does having three hundred friends on Facebook. Out of all these people, there are only a couple who will offer up the motivation and understanding you need to keep going. Not to mention read your 275000 word sci-fi novel about the planet Glothal. To put it simply, you don't have time to support all of your five hundred followers on Twitter and, this might sting a bit, they don't have the time to support you.
This is where a the buddy system comes in handy. Instead of feeling like you're tweeting your sorrows into the intersnack ether, you will be dedicating your time to one person. And, in theory, that person will be dedicated to you.
2. The social communities, while nice and fun, also are a distraction from the work that needs to be done. More than anything else, I hear writers joking about how much time they spend on social networking sites where they should be writing, editing, querying or tending to their children. Do not let your writing community make you unproductive.
Once again, the buddy-system kiboshes this problem, because, instead of trying to attend to the throngs of people who are posting in your feed, you're dedicating your time to one or two people. Your buddy will be the first person to tell you to get off Facebook and get to work. Trust me. Mine hounds me all the time.
3. We tend to forget this is a business. When we're out there, basking in the attention of our followers/fans/friends, we have this tendency to forget about professionalism. We get a bad review, we tweet it. We get rejected, we snark the agent off on our Facebook. We are verbally obtuse when it comes to our opinions and often overlook the importance of actually thinking before we speak (press enter). The internet is a huge place, but it has eyes. And Google likes to cache things. All of us know, it isn't unheard of for agents, publishers or other authors to run your name through a search engine to find out a little bit more about you. Sure, your writing community might think your outspoken, no-holds-barred, I just don't give a f*ck attitude is cute, other people might not.
The other night I was participating in the WritersRoad chat on Twitter and Heather McCorkle said something I thought was positively genius:
"My motto is, never say anything anywhere that you wouldn't want to see on the evening news."
A simple thought, really, but one I'd like to see more people, not just writers, take into consideration. When you want to vent, curse, complain and moan, go to your buddy, preferably through email, Skype or MSN. They will be able to offer you a shoulder, a hanky, some chocolate and maybe a little bit of perspective.
Ah, perspective. There it is. Probably the single most important factor to the buddy system.
As a buddy, it is our job to be honest, while still maintaining the caring, supportive and giving nature our partners need. Honesty is something you do not get from writing communities. People are, essentially, a bit coy when it comes to telling the truth, especially if the other person is already down in the dumps. Except, honesty and truthfulness is needed. Some random person on Twitter might shout out, "Screw that agent, it's their loss. They obviously have no taste. Your book is amazing." And while that might give you a fleeting moment of triumph and an "I knew it" feeling, it won't keep you warm at night. What you need is someone to read over the bad review, rejection, editing notes, book, WIP, or short story and tell you the truth, whether or not a fraction of it might be valid.
Don't get me wrong. I love my writing community. It gives me a lot of things, but I have been utilizing the buddy system for some time now and, I have to say, it's been fairly successful. I am not saying stop investing time and energy into the friendships you've cultivated on-line. Nor am I saying stop building your cult, er...following. All I am suggesting is for you to go forth and fund a buddy or two.
If not for any other reason than to keep you safe against 'stranger danger'.
I mean, for crying out loud, if it's good enough for the army, it should be good enough for us writers.