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I Love You, Hon, Will You Critique This For Me?

Writing partners and romantic partners? Best of both worlds or trap? That’s pretty much going to vary on a case-by-case scenario. However, there are many well-known couples who collaborate on projects. The Girl Genius creators, who finally withdrew themselves from Hugo eligibility so that someone else could win, are an excellent example. However, since every case DOES vary, here is a bit about my own experience, and some tips that have helped *me*.

I’ve been absolutely useless with a story for the better part of a year, now. I’d poke around, and promptly get lost. Lots of starts and stops, but nothing really in between.

Until about two months ago, when an old flame struck up conversation with me. We used to chat on IM several nights a week, usually for hours at a time. Suddenly, we were doing that again. It’s pretty casual: we’ll be working on stuff and just generally harassing each other.

But the first night we started chatting, I made MULTIPLE breakthroughs on my writing. I started a new story, plotted a new series, was spouting ideas. It only got better after that. He writes erotica, so he’ll send me snippets of his latest Principle or historical character, and I’ll jabber on about prehistoric monsters. Weird discussions get going sometimes, like the other night, when he was talking about foreplay, but I thought we were still talking about necromancy. Hey, it can be hard to keep up with multiple things.

The other night, we worked through a scene that was giving him trouble, and he helped me redefine a short story I was floundering on. I started thinking about the patterns of productivity in my life, and made a somewhat painful discovery: I write better when I’m in a relationship with someone who writes.

I’ll be honest: it can be absolute shit.

My ex fiance and I were working on a series together. When I walked away from the relationship, I walked away from the story, too. It was too painful to work on it, because I kept discovering things he’d written. He was too integral to the world by then. In the end, I scrapped the majority of ten years of work, and, taking the themes and some ideas that were mine, started rebuilding from the ground-up.

In another of my relationships, however, we were short-story writing machines. It was fun to endlessly brainstorm. Our styles were totally different, but that worked out well: we contributed things that the other wouldn’t have thought of.

There’s a lot to be gained from writing together, and a lot to be lost. Here are a few of the things I have learned from my personal experiences:

1.) Have a discussion, early on, about honesty. Writing is writing, the relationship is the relationship. If a scathing critique is called for, give it. If your partner gives you a scathing critique, be very careful to keep any hurt feelings separate from your feelings about your relationship.

2.) Not going to lie: it’s probably best if you write for different markets. I’ve had head-to-head subs before (neither of us got accepted, at least), and it’s a bit uncomfortable. The people I’m working with now write for totally different markets than I do. I can be completely happy for them, without negativity creeping in.

Equal collaboration on the same project is another way to avoid competition. Again, watch out for blame or jealousy.

3.) Share. I have been able to bring partners into writing groups, set up connections that furthered their careers, and given them ideas. They’ve done the same for me. It’s not a competition. It’s a partnership. It just happens to also be a partnership with mushy feelings.

4.) Be very, very careful of jealousy. If you’re feeling inadequate, channel that frustration into renewed work-energy. Be aware of your feelings. If your partner gets published, take then out to dinner, or a movie, or whatever they want to do to celebrate. Make sure they know that you aren’t upset. If it’s an adult relationship, this shouldn’t be an issue, but writing is a frustrating career, and it can sneak in.

Have you been in a writing relationship? How did it go? What worked for you? What pitfalls did you discover?

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