I get by with a little help from my friends…
Writing can be lonely business. No one can write your book for you (unless you’re a celebrity or pseudo-celebrity and can hire a ghost writer). Nope, it’s just you. You have to wage your own battle with words and ideas…and wrestle them all to the ground.
It basically says what every serious writer already knows: get your butt in the chair, set goals, and just do it. Writing is not about inspiration. It’s about discipline.
Silvia also talked about connecting with other writers. You need someone to hold you accountable to your goals. You need someone who knows how hard writing is and who can give you gentle encouragement or a swift kick when the going gets tough.
For nearly four years now, I have had the fantastic good fortune of being part of an online writing group. It first started with my fellow professor-friend, Christine who was looking to jump start her research too. Thanks to Google Docs, she and I kept a shared daily log of the time spent on each of our books and how many words written. This keep each of us from falling off the radar for more than a few days.
Every Monday, we’d send each other an email outlining our goals for the upcoming week. Those emails also became spaces where we could talk about whatever roadblocks, obstacles or–more happily–writing triumphs we were experiencing. And at the end of every month, we did a “text swap.”
Christine and I soon learned that we could trust each other with even the roughest of writing. Sometimes, I’d give her fragments of Blood Work that were nearly incomprehensible. I’d ask her to do a “truffle hunt” on them–that is, she’d sniff out the more promising bits from what was otherwise a mess. And then there were the “surgical strikes,” where I needed her to cut out the digressions and other sections to which I really too attached but needed to excise nonetheless.
She and I were always clear with each other about what we needed: a proofread, a check of the main lines of the argument, attention to flow, to character, etc. This helped us get input on precisely what we were needing, nothing more, nothing less. This is important in writing groups, because sometimes even the best-intentioned reader can inadvertently stifle the writing flow if the parameters are not set.
We also agreed that whatever idea or prose fragment that one of us offered to the other was theirs to keep. This way, there would never be any confusion or hard feelings. And I can tell you that every time I look at the first few paragraphs of Chapter 4 in Blood Work, I think of Christine and the week she spent at my house during one of our legendary “Writing Boot Camps.” At different moments during the week, we did a writing swap. (I love giving things names, so I called it our Freaky Friday speed write. She’d take my computer; I’d take hers. And then we’d write for each other. Sometimes that alone could unlock all sorts of ideas.) There’s nearly an entire paragraph in Chapter 4 that she wrote. And it’s beautiful.
Not long after we started working together, Christine mentioned our writing group to Eric, a professor-friend at her home university. They decided to do something very similar…but in person, rather than at a distance. They actually met regularly and wrote together. Nothing like making sure you’re not goofing around when you have someone across from you saying: ”Get Busy!” (Christine or Eric, could I talk you into sharing more details about this?)
In just two and a half years, our little writing group produced THREE books. I finished the manuscript for Blood Work. Christine finished her book, which is now under review at a great university press. And Eric finished his book, for which he is finishing up revisions this month. It will be coming out soon with another fantastic university press. I’ll let them decide whether they want to share additional details about their successes here.
The three of us are now hard at work on proposals for our next books. We’ve also expanded the group to include three other members and use a free Wiki hosted through PBWorks to communicate together.
I’ll write more about the nuts and bolts of the Wiki later. But believe me when I tell you that I could not imagine writing this next book without the support, encouragement and expertise of my generous writer-friends.
Any writers out there? I’d love to hear how you rely on others for motivation and feedback. Also, anything you’d like to know about the writing group or the writing process?