Writing Collab by P. Springer + Podcast: COVID + P. Wight Flash Memoir

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Shhh… don’t tell my K-D-doggie that I spent a quality afternoon with this friend, Charlie.
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Connection… collaboration… We affect each other, for good and bad. Please know that your visits, likes, and comments go far in helping me keep writing my novels (about them h-e-r-e) and the rest of my creative endeavors.

Connection includes your postcards! Rebekah, whose mom, Pat, wrote of her challenge of getting into the Marines h-e-r-e, recently completed the very difficult “The Crucible” culmination of boot camp! Moreover, she didn’t incur further injuries!! Yay!!! Pat says Rebekah, who still isn’t allowed to communicate with the greater outside world, is extremely grateful for your support. Rebekah will soon be in town, so I can’t wait to see her 🙂

This week I’ve slogged more through learning to start a podcast, hence I only got a little novel writing done. With luck, the Happiness Between Tails podcast will appear on least 50 directories (already included are Apple and Spotify). Each directory asked for my RSS feed, bios of varying character counts, different sizes of graphics, email verifications, etc. Halfway through submitting stuff, I discovered I was copying and pasting typos and repeated sentences. Oof! There was even junk to scour from this site’s “Welcome” page.

Next week, my ToDo List includes sorting through the rubble. Meantime, I also found stuff to fix in last week’s podcast version of “Khashayar’s Healthier Carrot Cake Recipe.”

Sheesh, how do people do all this and also promote?! I’m gonna say it now: Twitter, I hate you. I’m forever feeling like I’m hash-tagging you and sharing you and retweeting you all wrong, wrong, wrong. Most people who request to friend me aren’t “friend material” anyway. And Instagram, why, oh why, don’t you make yourself easier to use?! Life would be so much easier if you’d let me share to you from WordPress and from my desktop computer. (Oh, wait, I take back the second half of my rant about Insta thanks to Ashley of Mental Health at Home. She generously commented below that there’s a new way to upload to Instagram from desktops, so here’s a how-to I found on that.)

Today I got my first follower whose link is  a Snapchat. Ms. Sexy Snapchat, I’m not falling into your minefield of clicking on your sleezy-from-a-mile-away link, although I don’t mind that you increase my “followers count.”

Add in “life stuff,” and I wasn’t getting this week’s blog post written until the goddesses came through via Pete Springer. He’s contributed the immensely heartening post you’ll read further down!

Here’s a brief intro to author/blogger Pete Springer. After retiring from decades of teaching second to sixth graders, he published a book for future teachers called They Call Me Mom. He explains, “Every elementary teacher gets the title reference because kids are forever calling the teacher mom. Even though it was said unintentionally, I always took it as a beautiful compliment being compared to a mother.”

Now he’s finished his first middle-grade story, Second Chance Summer, which he’s trying to find a publisher and agent for. Thanks, Pete, for your wise and inspiriting words that follow…

Author Pete Springer.
Author Pete Springer.

The Importance of Collaboration in Writing: 6 Steps by Pete Springer

I’ve reached the age (62) where another birthday isn’t much cause for celebration. On the other hand, I’m still here, or as my mother-in-law used to say, “It’s better than the alternative.” One perk of being older is I’ve had a lifetime of experiences. I want to think I’ve learned a few things over that time. One of those beliefs is that it’s much better to try and fail than not to play the game.

I wish I could say that I’ve always been this fearless guy—the type who wasn’t afraid to try something new and equally comfortable in public speaking situations. The reality is I used to play it safe and took the easy way out. Look where that got me! Instead, now I put on my big boy pants every morning and go after what I want. I like this version of myself better than the old one. I love it when people say things like, “How do you do that?” or “I wish I had your nerve.” 

I have a couple of advantages over most others. I was an elementary school teacher for 31 years, so I got used to speaking to other people and doing things in front of my students that most people would never consider. I’m the one who wore his tidy whities over his dress pants on Backwards Day, the knucklehead who dressed up as one of the Blues Brothers while singing and doing cartwheels on stage, and the crazy guy who took his entire class and their families on biking fields trip across town.

It’s not like I’ve got one foot in the grave, but the hourglass has turned. I don’t have time to dilly around working up my nerve. That’s why I encourage anyone reading my piece to find your inner courage and go after your writing goals. Don’t wait until retirement to start that book you want to write. Get out there and sign up for that writing class you’ve always wanted to take. Above all, don’t be afraid to share your writing with other people because you worry that it doesn’t measure up. We all have to start somewhere, and that time is now.

I’ve done a lot of things to further my writing in the last few years. I’ve taken classes, read many books about writing, joined SCBWI (Society of Children’s Writers and Illustrators), started a blog, and networked with other writers. I didn’t consider myself a writer before, but now I do. Seldom does a day go by when I’m not writing something. I take my craft seriously because there is no substitute for practice if we want to improve. While these things have helped me develop better writing skills, the most crucial step was finding a critique group.

Being a retired teacher, I’ve always believed in the collaborative process. Getting regular feedback from others is a critical step in any endeavor. Anyone who has been part of a team understands that we get extra juice from our teammates and don’t want to let them down.

The most critical ingredient in a critique group is trust. I understand that when my partners make recommendations and suggestions, they’re offering their opinions because they’re trying to help. As writers, we need to be open to constructive criticism. Sometimes things that I don’t see right away become apparent when someone else points them out. I’d estimate that 90% of the time, I agree with my critique partners’ recommendations. 

Of course, sometimes there are differences of opinion. We don’t get into prolonged debates trying to prove that we’re right. Getting feedback from others doesn’t mean we always have to agree with it, but we should try to listen and understand their point of view.

Ultimately, writers must be happy with the words they choose. If someone makes a point that I differ on, I either respectfully disagree or don’t say anything and write what my heart tells me is the better choice. When my editor made recommendations and changes, I listened to these thoughtfully. She was usually right, and I trusted her judgment in most situations. On the rare occasion when I didn’t, I explained my reasoning and went with what I believed was better. Working with an editor should be a give-and-take process.

Every critique group must find a process that works for them. Because most of the people in our group are retired, we’re able to meet nearly every week for four hours. Regular feedback is critical as a story develops. I’m sharing our process, knowing that others may have formats that work better for them:

Step 1: We do a brief check-in where each member shares what has been going on in their life.

Step 2: We hold a one-minute meditation to free ourselves from outside distractions and get our minds focused on the task at hand.

Step 3: We have a regular order, so we always know who the first person to share will be. Whoever comes first after the last person who read the previous week begins. They give a brief thirty-second reminder of what was happening in their story and then pass out the new chapter to each of us. We have a limit of up to ten pages per week for each member.

Step 4: Everyone reads the paper silently and makes written notes on the draft. After everyone finishes, we share our thoughts. One of the most crucial parts of the process is that the writer may not immediately respond to any feedback. This part is vital because it forces the writer to listen to each comment critically rather than act defensively. 

Step 5:  After everyone has commented on the paper, we move into the period called “Open Discussion.” At this point, the writer may react to any feedback. Sometimes thoughts are briefly debated, but everyone understands that the writer may accept or reject the suggestions.

Step 6: We continue this format throughout the meeting. If we don’t get to someone by the end of the session, that person has the choice of whether they would like their chapter to be homework or not. Those writers who haven’t had their chapter read will go first at next week’s meeting.

I sat in one week with another group, and the group dynamics felt much different. The one person I knew from that group couldn’t attend that day, so I worked with strangers. Their format was completely different; that threw me off. Each writer read their paper aloud, and the others were making notes on their papers simultaneously. They were in the middle of stories, characters, and plots I was unfamiliar with, and I was pretty much lost. I also found it challenging to write notes while listening to the story at the same time. By the end of the meeting, I knew it wasn’t a good fit, but I didn’t have any regrets about trying.

One final area that I want to address is that of having friends read your work. I did that with my first and second books, but I’ve learned this creates difficult situations. I had friends who told me they were dying to read my story. After I gave them a copy, I didn’t hear back from some for months. I don’t want to make it sound like this was the norm because many friends responded quickly with helpful comments. When I heard nothing, it created some confusion. Did they read it? Maybe they thought it wasn’t good and didn’t want to say anything. Perhaps they were too busy and forgot all about it. I tried to keep the process moving forward, but I also didn’t want to be a pest.

Having experienced this a few times, I was left wondering what to do. If I hadn’t heard anything for several weeks, I reached out again (once) and asked if they had a chance to get to it. A few times, I got the “I forgot all about it” response or “I’ve been super busy, but I’ll get to it soon” answer. I understand that those things can happen, but I’m the type of person who follows through when I make a promise. Knowing how uncomfortable and awkward this scenario felt, I’m no longer putting my friends in that position. Perhaps they didn’t know what they were signing up for when they volunteered. From now on, I will rely on my critique group, fellow writers, and other professionals in the industry. 

While writing is primarily a solitary pursuit, all writers should periodically get feedback. I am the least experienced writer in my group, but I didn’t let that intimidate me. The others made me feel like a valued member right away. I love the camaraderie of working with others, but what I like best is seeing my improvement as a writer. 

I’ve heard of critique groups that function online with Zoom. I can see how that could work. Others don’t meet face-to-face, and instead, people respond by email. I prefer meeting in person, but this method might work better for people who are still working. If we’re serious about improving as writers, then working with a group of equally committed people is an essential step in the process.

Do you find collaborating with other writers helpful?…

123 thoughts on “Writing Collab by P. Springer + Podcast: COVID + P. Wight Flash Memoir”

  1. Before I retired from teaching, our institution had a federally-funded cooperative learning program. Teaching college instructors new tricks was no mean task, but I found techniques that worked and was happy to share them during workshops.

    Same with my writing life now. Collaboration is key. First of all, I had to learn how to tell a story, a very different “beast” from academic writing which came naturally. A newbie at storytelling, I took two memoir-writing classes. Then, I submitted rough drafts to beta readers, who gave me good feedback. That worked well, but I think the critique group you describe is optimal. Thanks, Pete, for this post and to da-AL for hosting! 😀

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Collaboration is the key to learning any new skill quicker. I know I’ve still got a ton to learn, and I’m not ashamed to admit that. The first thing we all need to do is check our egos at the door. As you said, Marian, different types of writing require separate skills. I’m trying to write fiction now, which is a whole different ballgame. I’m fascinated by everyone’s path on their writing journey, Marian.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Great post, Pete! And thanks to da-Al for sharing!

    I love that you had the courage to follow your dreams and now you’re passionate about warning others against leaving their dreams until the “perfect timing” bc there really is never going to be a perfect time to pursue things that will bring you joy. Why prolong the joy when you can make adjustments now to move towards that goal sooner?

    Thank you for outlining the process of your writing group, I find this so helpful for others who might be interested in sharing their writing in this format, especially if they are writing on a bigger project like writing a marathon of a novel – I feel this can be so helpful to have critical feedback!

    And I totally agree about sharing writing with friends and expecting feedback… I sent don’t know what it is but my friends and I we don’t share writing.. It’s a bit awkward tbh but I’m glad we don’t as I’m not sure how I’d feel about being honest with my feedback if I ever felt like they needed me finesse than they believed?

    Anyway, great post as always, Pete! 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I used to get a bit frustrated with friends because I’m the kind of person who follows through with what I say I’m going to do. When I thought about it more, I realized I was not going to ask friends anymore. It creates multiple layers of awkwardness because there is all of this reading between the lines. Maybe they didn’t feel qualified, didn’t know what a commitment it was, forgot about it, or didn’t like it. I don’t want to guess why, and I’ve got more pride than to beg. Finding others with the same level of interest and commitment is where it’s at.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I couldn’t have said it better, Peter. I find I have no patience for flakiness — if someone says they don’t want to, I much prefer that to their saying yes & then not doing or doing badly…


    2. I’ve been told that NANOWRIMO – do I have that correct? national writing month… anyway, that organization provides lots of fun support for writers in the way of incentives, community, etc – tho I haven’t tried myself…

      Liked by 1 person

  3. WAYYYYY behind here–lots of harry homeowner tasks are finally about done. Anyway, didn’t find time to watch the podcast but it’s been up so long I thought I better say something now. Truthfully, I’ve never watched any of the hundreds (thousands?) of them out there. Maybe some from this friend on Google +–remember that site?! Seemed like a pretty good thing–but I guess Alphabet didn’t think so. I probably SHOULD be doing one myself, but I can’t imagine how I’d find time to do that when I can’t get the books done that I’d promote on it! LOL. (I promise that I WILL watch the one here–in a few days).

    As for critique groups–I really miss them. They were integral to getting that memoir done in 2007. All the other people were also working on memoirs. Most were successfully published; not sure about some that had issues other than the writing that hung them up. In the small town where we live (about 10K) there are a surprising number or writers–it’s an artsy place. Could possibly have an in person critique but Zoom is a more likely venue, which enlarges the potential members. I see it on the horizon in 2022 on.

    Thanks for sharing this collaborative venture!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. The joys of homeownership, John. I much prefer it to renting, but it seems like there is always something to fix. I’m at the age where my eyes and patience for such things are lacking, and I usually pay somebody to solve our problems.

      Podcasts are here to stay. I haven’t explored them enough to consider doing one, although I do enjoy listening to some. Maybe I’ll jump into the water someday as da-AL has. Others have told me that I have a good radio voice, for what that’s worth.

      One of the benefits of critique groups is they provide motivation as I see others investing their time and energy into their projects. I would write anyway without a critique group because I have the writing bug, but having this great opportunity provides even more incentive. I also love watching my partners’ stories develop and come to fruition. I wish you well with your writing goals in 2022, John.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Congrats on the podcast, it seems o be the way of the future!
    I love my critique group, Pete. I couldn’t manage without them. There are five active participants in our group. We send chapters via email for critiquing inline with the Word program, then meet once a month for a reading and chat on industry news and our lives 🙂
    Enjoyed this post. I’m glad you’ve found a format that works for you ❤

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Your format is more practical, considering that most people probably don’t have access or can’t find a local group. Zoom makes so much sense for long-distance critique partners.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. We’re all vaccinated, but one of the people in our group feels safer if we all mask up. Of course, we want her to feel comfortable, so we do. Other than the occasional foggy glasses, it isn’t that bothersome.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Thanks for sharing!!… enjoyed the podcast, you are doing very well, I don’t recall K-D barking so you must have had Charlie present, won’t tell K-D doggie though I suspect he knows, glad the veggies are doing okay….. 🙂 .. wonderful about Rebekah, sent a couple of letters and did get a reply before she returned to boot camp… having been there myself (San Diego), I know it is difficult to communicate with the rest of the world….

    Some interesting and helpful thoughts and ideas about writing and no doubt will be helpful for many… of course I am not a writer but when I do pen something, I just follow my heart, no doubts or fears… “The only thing that stands between you and your dream is the will to try and the belief that it is actually possible.” (Joel Brown)… 🙂

    Until we meet again..
    May your day be touched
    by a bit of Irish luck,
    Brightened by a song
    in your heart,
    And warmed by the smiles
    of people you love.
    (Irish Saying)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I felt self-conscious for the longest time, referring to myself as an author/writer, but I’ve gotten over that. I’ve come to realize that one doesn’t have to be published to consider themselves a writer.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Congrats on starting a podcast!! Anchor makes it a little easier. This is a fabulous piece from Pete. The saying comes to mind, “it takes a village.” While writing can be a solitary endeavor, we need our tribe to keep us going. Thank you so much for sharing!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Writing is a bit of a balancing act, isn’t it? We need to put in the solo time in the writing trenches, but feedback helps us steer the ship.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. thanks for sharing your insights, Pete. I agree there is power in collaboration, and this writing group you are in seems fabulous. And I agree that face-to-face would seem to be the most effective approach, if possible.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I know face-to-face is not always practical. I think online groups can work too. I’ve read that some groups have found Zoom to be a beneficial tool for writing groups. That makes a lot of sense to me because we may not understand a written comment and may need clarification. If face-to-face meetings aren’t possible, we still should seek feedback in other ways. Scouring someone’s draft at one’s own pace works well too.

      Liked by 2 people

            1. and you don’t have to turn on your camera if you don’t want to. the ones I attend don’t do critiques but I’m sure those exist. also, just remembered that some do charge $ — however many are free

              Liked by 1 person

  8. Looks like you’ve got a perfect situation Pete. When I was writing more, readers were very difficult to find. I attended a writing group once. It had 30 people. Far too many in my book. Unfortunately there were no other groups around. When I was writing short stories for my collection, which eventually got published, I would fire them off to literary journals to test the waters. Sometimes I received very encouraging feedback. When I finally started getting my stories published, I knew I was figuring it out. I do wish there were writing groups around here. I got really tired of being in a bubble.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. So true. It’s not a matter of just finding people—it has to be those we trust and can provide meaningful feedback. Part of that is learning to check one’s ego at the door.

      Wow, —30 people? It seems challenging to expect any substantial feedback in such a scenario. Many of my friends look at me like I’ve lost my mind when I tell them we typically meet for 4 hours each week. Retirement allows us that luxury. The time goes much faster than you’d imagine, Jenn. What kind of short stories did you primarily write—fiction or nonfiction?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I took a community college class with about 30 people. we couldn’t critique each other as often, but it was helpful to see whether just one person had a certain opinion about my writing or if many people did

        Liked by 1 person

        1. That’s why having to listen to others’ comments before responding is such a good strategy. (Not mine, it’s been in place long before I came into the group.) When two or three people have a similar thought about how to improve a piece, it provides more credibility.

          Liked by 1 person

            1. Excellent point! One of the tips I like to use in revision is to read my thoughts aloud. It’s an excellent technique to catch awkward sentences that we can write another way with more clarity.

              Liked by 1 person

  9. I read Pete’s description of his critique group with a great deal of interest, as I’m a product of the university fiction workshop system. We were not allowed to submit pieces from works-in-progress–only compete stories. The rationale was that we couldn’t provide a useful (or valid) assessment of the work if it was incomplete.

    I’ve had other writers ask me for feedback on excerpts from works-in-progress, which I found very difficult because, well, it all depends on what came before and what comes after. I’m finding it a little easier now because I can just ask, what kind of feedback they would find most helpful with where the manuscript is now.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. We all have to find what works for us, Liz. It reminds me of teaching—one size does not fit all. I can understand the idea of wanting to wait until completion. Still, I LOVE the concept of getting feedback right after each chapter because sometimes I assume things are clear when my group tells me they’re not. We share our opinions honestly but sensitively. I don’t take offense because I know they’re helping me make my story stronger in the long fun. It’s also fun to see their stories develop week by week.

      It’s a little different process than the norm of finishing the first draft before getting any feedback. It probably won’t work for everyone, but we’re finding it does for us. They’ve used this format for quite some time, long before I was a part of the group.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Hi, Pete. I agree that we all have to find what works for us when it comes to feedback on our writing. I just want to make sure that whatever feedback I offer is helpful for what the writer needs at that point in the manuscript’s development.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. it depends. I only did the ‘whole book’ one one time, so that was ok. for the others, I have trouble with 2 things: when writers only show when they’re contributing pieces, & when they resubmit same chapters over & over as I find I can’t be objective or fresh for them…

          Liked by 1 person

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