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…
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?…