Team Writer, Assemble!

Avengers_large_poster

Okay, I’m a sucker for super-hero movies, so when I recently saw the trailer for the new Avengers movie, I admittedly got a little giddy. I can’t help it. It’s the nerd in me. (Side note—Chronicle was very well done. Made me think of what Heroes could have been, if it didn’t blatantly rip off every major story line from the X-men). But it got me thinking about the process of writing (no real shocker there, lots of things do that).

You don’t have to read much pass the acknowledgement section of any novel to realize that writing is not a solitary sport. The production of a novel is seldom the accumulated efforts of one person. Perhaps its an editor or an agent, a publisher or a contributor—any given novel is more indicative of several hours of work from many different people. Of course, the writer is the one who dumps hundreds of hours of work into the pages, but that doesn’t minimize the contributions others make to the prose. Even Hemmingway sent his stuff off to Fitzgerald to look over.

When I first studied fiction in college, I wrote all of my stories by myself. No one saw them until I handed them in to my workshop. Those workshops were seldom fun. While a few students liked what I had to offer, others clearly pointed out the areas that were rough, that could have been smoothed if I had a careful set of eyes (other than my own) go over them before handing the story in for a grade.

By the time I made it to grad school, I’d made enough friends who’d earned my trust to serve as my readers. I still maintain several of those friendships today.

If you’re just getting in to writing, I’ve a few suggestions to get you started. The first is this: take a writing class. It might be at your local college, or a community center. While you can teach yourself a lot about writing fiction through other means—blogs, podcasts, books on the craft, etc., there’s a certain lack of personal response to your writing. For example, I learned a lot about writing from Stephen King’s On Writing, but Stephen’s never looked at one of my books (that I know of). He’s never sent me a letter detailing the specific traps I’ve fallen into. It’s up to me to take his advice and look my work over and hope that I notice the places I’ve stumbled.

Make a writing friend. Even if they’re not as gifted as King, they’ll at least be able to bring an outsider’s perspective to your craft, which is what you need. Don’t rely on friends or family (who may not be writers). They tend to love you too much to tell you the truth.

Go to a writers conference. There’s no better way to make friends in the industry. These are professionals who earn money to write—which is where most writers want to be. Pay for a professional review/edit if you have to.

Keep at it. Start a writers group if you have to. Find a few people that you trust to be honest and fair, and let them be your alpha readers. As you write the book (or story), they give you criticism that can help shape the pages to come. Make others your beta readers—that is, those who read the finished product and give you feedback on story arc, grammar, punctuation, consistency errors and the like.

Thank them. They should know how much you appreciate them. One of the best ways to do that is to review some of their work. They’re giving their time to you, you can give some of yours to them. I’ve traded work with several friends over the years, even co-wrote a book with one. I have numerous beta readers and two alpha readers. I make sure to return the favor when I can by reviewing their work. Then we meet for coffee. It’s a great excuse for some Starbucks.

Don’t over-do it. You don’t need 900 alpha readers and 1,000 beta readers, or even 100 editors. That’s too many opinions. Keep the numbers low, and make sure you trust the opinion of those you ask to help you as a writer.

13 Comments on Team Writer, Assemble!

  1. Well, your dad never has a problem telling the gruesome truth!!! Blessed to be one of your readers. I’m finishing Lori R’s manuscript then it’s HOA 2! Yipeeeee!

  2. alexandria heins | February 20, 2012 at 2:51 pm | Reply

    In all honesty I don’t like to write. I enjoy reading so much more. I think that if i were going to take a class in writing it would be to advance as a critic or editor (even if its just for the laid-back reading, not as a career or anything). Which I get all involves writing at some point. I went back to read the acknowledgment section of a few different books that i enjoyed. I found out that the ones I really loved to read were all read and edited by other authors that I loved to read. I think that you are right, there is a team that does a book, the authors’ “x-men” or “avengers”, if you will, that all add to or subtract to a novel and make it enjoyable.

  3. Leslie washington | February 20, 2012 at 11:14 pm | Reply

    I think that every writing needs an editor or a staff if they want a book to be successful. You need an a opinion or someone to point out your flaws if you want the book to sell.

  4. A lot of people fail to realize that writing is not a solo effort. I have several friends who enjoy my work, though I have more or less given up on letting my family try to read or edit it, even on the extremely rare occasions that they ask. (According to my mother, everything I write is “dark and scary”, even when the part she reads consists only of a character making a sandwich and cursing himself for forgetting to buy chips to go with it… No, this is not an exaggeration.)
    I personally really need to find some decent “alpha” and “beta” readers to get more opinions or suggestions for my work. The hard part is finding enough people who are both readers and writers, and not complete morons. I shall continue to pursue this quest, and will start my own group if necessary.

  5. Shaquille Dudley | February 23, 2012 at 8:32 pm | Reply

    The fact that writting requirs a bit of team effort should be no surprise to not only writers but people in general. In fact you cant do nothing on your own thats a proven fact. For example we all have to be taught how to walk, how to read, how to dance, how to do math equations,how to drive,manners ect. Considering that when people just start becoming writers, their product is of their own limited knowlege, and the work of writing needs to be adjusted to become appealing to an audience. Therefor every writer will need ideas and advise from others exsperience or intrested in this kind of work.

  6. Brittany Walters | February 23, 2012 at 9:24 pm | Reply

    I believe that it’s important to have others help you out with your writing. It will help you learn how to write better and also get the opinions of other people. You’ll be able to improve yourself in writing by getting others to help you out with your work. They may give you ideas, or help improve your writing in a certain area. I often help my best friend with her writing. She also helps me with mine. It’s all about working together.

  7. Most of the time I love to read, but then sometimes I just need to write what my mind says. When you write a book or even story you need some of your closest friends or even family members to read your writing and fix the things that need to be fixed. When they help you it will make your writing sound much better than it would if nobody revised it. I always let my sister read the stories that I write to see what she could find that I need to improve in. At the end team work is the best strategy.

  8. ashley lopez rivera | February 27, 2012 at 6:56 pm | Reply

    i do think it is important to have other people review your work…… but i dont really trust anybody.. all my friends are too nice to me. they cant tell me what’s wrong or right with it. my friends cant help me with it either because they dont know whats wrong with it, they dont want to seem mean to me, or they dont really care. And i dont really follow up on their suggestions. like, i’ll go back and fix what i can, but when they tell me to change something in the story, i just cant do it. i might reword it, but i just can’t change what i wrote. maybe because it is MY writing and it is MY story and because it is, it is difficult. But honestly, after reading over it it starts to get out of order and the story then becomes random things that have norelation to the plotline (for me anyway). so i guess i should take beta readers and all that into consideration.

  9. I think its probably just me but I don’t like people reading my stuff unless I my self think it is good enough to not be burned (which lately has been almost everything… haven’t had a cold night) but there has been one or two page things that I thought were a good start but I didn’t keep going because I just could remember what would go great next Ill have the idea but lose it a few minutes later or it doesn’t come out the way I like

  10. Writing is a team effort. It makes it easier when you’re working with someone else. You can bounce ideas off of each other and have great work. Alex and I always bounce ideas off each other. Our stories or works turn out genius. People help critique you’re work, they might see something you don’t. Working with different people gives you different ideas and outlook on your work.

  11. team work in writing can be very good at times since you are getting two different points of view. although sometimes they can be mean about your work it’s very important to not take it in a bad way. you need to think about it like helpful tips that can make your work magicially amazing.

  12. Darryl_Sanderson | May 2, 2012 at 8:07 pm | Reply

    I am very shy with my writings. I have been working on it though. I do have a friend who also writes and I have been letting him read my stuff to tell me what he thinks about it. This is helping me come out of my shyness and is also helping me become a better writer

  13. Cameron Rohskothen | May 16, 2012 at 11:22 am | Reply

    I need friends. Friends who write, that is. This is a problem that I have, none of my friends know much about writing, and they also find that it is lame, so I don’t get much help with my writing. Along with haveing no writing friends, I also have a great fear of showing someone my work if I do not feel that it is my BEST. I know that I will eventually get over this, and when I do, I know my writing will improve because a new mind will improve my writing.

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