My writing partner, “Dolly,” is … not very good with writing. Inconsistent, not very willing to change bad ideas because “I thought of them” and I hate it. We met online, she had a pretty impressive following, and she had a few books up, so when she suggested to collab, I thought, “Why not?”
I should have flippin’ checked the story quality first. (I did, but much later and I was in too deep.)
By the advice of my friend, I left. But by the advice of another friend, who says I should write with Dolly again, I came back. And now I regret it.
Dolly keeps on generating ideas from Bad to Absolutely Terrible. I tried to help with criticism, but she’s too inconsistent. I don’t want to write with her anymore but I don’t want to hurt her feelings again. I don’t trust her with my characters (that I will forever love and protect.) Auntie, what should I do?
For starters, Sparkler, I’d suggest taking a) a big step back, b) several deep breaths, and c) a moment to remind yourself what’s actually at stake here.
Because look: as much as you may feel truly and urgently protective of your characters, Auntie SparkNotes must point out that their well-being does not hang in the balance here. For that to happen, they’d have to be first, and they… aren’t. In the most basic sense of the word. The only actual person who stands to be injured in this scenario is Dolly—a person you barely know and hardly respect, and with whom your relationship, such as it is, has never been especially stable to begin with.
Which is to say, in the pantheon of breakups, this one ranks somewhere between “giving notice at a temp job” and “switching to a new dentist” on the Spectrum of Angst. It’s awkward, yes, but it’s not personal. The fact that you don’t want to collaborate with Dolly doesn’t speak to some terrible secret truth about the value of her writing. Sure, you think it’s garbage—but that’s an entirely subjective opinion (and one with which her impressive following would almost certainly disagree.)
And now, repeat after me: “I’ve really appreciated the chance to collaborate with you, but it doesn’t seem that our working styles are the best match, and I think it’ll be more productive if we find other writing partners. I wish you all the best and can’t wait to see what you put out next.”
… Only, y’know, in your own words. As long as you’re polite, professional, and to the point, you really can’t go wrong—and unless Dolly is an emotionally unhinged lunatic in addition to being an inconsistent writer, she’ll find a way to cope with any hurt feelings without making it weird… although because this will be the second time you’ve ended your working relationship, she’d also be within her rights to call you out for wasting her time, which is something you should be prepared to acknowledge and apologize for.
And once you’ve taken care of the immediate business of breaking up with Dolly, please do let this be a lesson—not just in politely calling it quits with a collaborator, but in learning to trust your own judgment. And the next time a friend is urging you to make the same mistake for a second time, have the presence of mind to say, “Been there, done that,” and choose not to do it again.
Got something to say? Tell us in the comments! And to get advice from Auntie, email her at email@example.com.
Want more info about how this column works? Check out the Auntie SparkNotes FAQ.