Writing is a bit of a contradiction: the physical act of writing usually happens in solitude, but the only way to succeed at writing is through collaboration.
When I say that, I don’t just mean the sorts of collaborations where two people sit down and try to write one story. I also mean collaboration in the sense that everyone who gives you feedback or helps you brainstorm is a collaborator.
The people in your support system can be some of the most important collaborators you’ll ever have, even if the only credit they’ll ever get is in the acknowledgements or a thank you speech at an awards ceremony.
There is this romantic idea of the writer who disappears into a cabin somewhere and whips up the Great American Novel, fully formed. It’s complete bullshit.
Even masterpieces needed a good editor, and all of the classic authors worked with one. Most of them probably also had beta readers, friends, and spouses who read their work and gave them feedback.
I’ve been working hard to develop my craft by doing something writing-related every day, but making a habit is just the first step on my path to development. Whenever I finish a new unit of story, I can’t just send it out into the world and try to win awards or get it published. Instead, I need the reality check of some good feedback from people I trust.
In fact, I’d say that I need the help of others at all points in the process - before, during and after.
- My writing turns out much better whenever I have someone to use as a sounding board for my ideas.
- I’m far more motivated to write when I know people are waiting for my work.
- My stories are only ever improved by the cycle of feedback and rewrites.
The biggest problem I’m facing right now is that asking for feedback is an imposition on someone else’s time. Everyone who reads my story is doing me a favor, especially if they read it quickly.
I recently sent my newest story out to a few friends and asked for their feedback. More than one of them was kind enough to do me the favor of reading my story and providing a thoughtful, detailed response. Everything they’ve told me is going to be a huge help once I actually get around to doing my final rewrite, but even as I appreciated their feedback, it occurred to me that I can only ask my friends for this kind of favor so many times.
I mean, sure, I have great friends who are more than willing to help me out, and I’m definitely willing to do the same for them whenever I can, but I don’t want to abuse that relationship. If I’m using up favors every time I ask for feedback on one of my stories, it feels like I should save those favors for when I really need them.
What I really need is some kind of arrangement that doesn’t rely on the kindness of my friends. Finding a writing group would be the ideal solution. Writing groups are founded on the principle that everyone has to give and get feedback on a regular basis. I wouldn’t feel guilty about asking a group to read my stuff because I’d be earning my keep by reading their work in return.
The problem with writing groups is that I can’t seem to find one to join, and I haven’t had any luck trying to found one. I talked to a few writers from last year’s screenwriting class about starting a group, but I couldn’t get anyone to commit to actually getting together for a meeting. Eventually everyone just stopped responding to my emails and I wrote off the whole thing.
I’m planning on trying again with my newest class, but I’m not sure how much more successful I’ll be. At least one person in class seems driven enough to actually make good on a writing group, but I’m not sure about everyone else. That also wouldn’t solve my problem when it comes to getting feedback on short stories; any group I found with the people from class would naturally focus on screenwriting.
I’d also like to figure out how to find myself a writing partner. Writing The Leet World with Eddy is the closest I’ve ever come to a true writing partnership, but he’s a busy dude and I think we have different priorities for our writing. It would also be a big help if I could find a partner who actually lived in the same place as me.
For now, I’m going to keep plugging away on my own while I work on building up that network of collaborators.