Midwifing the Story: The Role of Writing Partners
We writers each have stories we view as “my baby,” but how can we help each other to love forth a “baby” that is not our own?
As writing partners, we have grappled with that question over coffee and manuscripts for the past four years. We’re not here to recreate the other’s story in our own image—to remake another’s story into what we want a story to be. Instead, we try to approach each other as midwives, listening for what we believe the story wants to be.
This is what midwifing a story has taught us:
1. Find your writing partner.
Look for someone with strengths, life experiences, talents, and consciousnesses different from your own, so you’re not just reflecting in a mirror • Seek someone who offers a different literary lens, someone who provides a complementary sense of logic, emotional intelligence, intuition, or feel for story • Above all, invest in someone who holds the same high standards to which you aspire and whose opinion you respect.
2. Read the whole manuscript, so you know where the story seeks to go.
3. Check your ego at the door.
Be gentle with each other’s faults • Create a safe place to explore what is not yet known • Truth is more important than ego.
4. Nurture trustworthiness.
Make honesty a core value • No backstabbing • Have faith in the relationship • Commit to confidentiality.
Listen to the end of the other’s thought, not just her sentence • Put your ear to the page and hear what the story is trying to say • Suspend ordinary time and enter the other’s dream state.
6. Reveal yourself as you build trust in each other.
Risk taking off the mask • Revisit your life’s foundation to deepen the basement of your story • Accept the other’s “This is what it was like for me.” • Risk feeling stupid.
7. Believe in story evolution.
Trust the story in the raw sewage of early drafts • Have patience with the story, with yourself, with each other • Be willing to wait for the story to reveal itself, admit when it “isn’t there yet,” no matter how many iterations.
8. Be writers.
Drill down into the material • Ask, “What is the story trying to say?” • Offer a willing suspension of disbelief • Affirm what is working well • Pay attention to craft • Clarify • Identify gaps • Don’t be afraid to pause and ponder • Ask the seemingly small question • Honor the lines that may not advance the plot but sing the soul of the writer • Respect the need to hunker down and write out of your own personal vision, to keep it from evaporating • Trust that taking turns bringing work to the table may not involve equal time at each meeting, but each writer will receive equal time in the course of time.
9. Read the entire manuscript again to discern if the story has achieved its intentions.
10. Keep going.
Stick with a scheduled meeting time • Keep each other informed of workshops and lectures • Be willing to read each other’s letters to agents and editors • Bring to light helpful material that pertains to the work at hand • Be generous • Always say thank you.
Caren Stelson and Kristin Gallagher graduated from Hamline’s MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults program in 2009. They meet to listen, encourage, and midwife each other’s stories onto the page—because after graduation, without a writing partner, Baby, it’s cold outside.