Monday, March 19, 2012

How a Writing Partner--or a Writers' Group--Can Help You Finish Your Book

Finding a writing partner is like finding gold.  A solo journey to writing a book--or just making time for regular writing practice--can be hard.  I've worked with a writing partner for many years, and we meet monthly by phone to report on our writing progress and set goals for the month.  My writing partner holds me accountable and gives me encouragement when I feel blue about my creativity.  I found my writing partner via a writers' group that disbanded; she and I stayed in contact and decided to start our partnership.  It's morphed over the years as our writing needs have changed.  We're both working on books, and we both believe our partnership has helped us keep going.

Lynn and Carole are two blog readers who live in the Midwest.  They are writing partners.  After my book, Your Book Starts Here, was published, Lynn asked if it could be used as a weekly study guide for writing partners or book study groups. Of course! I said.  

Over the year since my book was released, Lynn has updated me on their progress.  They have been steady about using the book to help their writing partnership (and their writing!) grow.  

Such a support team is inspiring--and I thought you might like knowing how to put one together for yourself.  I asked them a few questions about their writing partnership.

How long have you been writing? Are either of you working on a book--and what kind?
Lynn:  I have been writing (letters) since grade school and dabbled around with stories in my early thirties.  In 1993 I attended a seminar/writing conference in Minnesota where I started taking writing more seriously.

Coincidentally I met Carole at this seminar and we realized we both lived in St. Louis. Carole’s been dreaming up stories for years. She started writing in junior high school when a teacher inspired her with creative writing assignments. When Carole recently moved out of state, we wanted to keep checking in with one another. So when Your Book Starts Here came out, we both knew we’d want to use it for the stories we were working on--and for future stories.

How long have you been writing partners, and how often do you meet?

We started helping each other with writing a long time ago, but we began working together with your book in July 2011. We check in with one another on a weekly basis. We decided to work together on a chapter each month in Your Book Starts Here. 

We stay flexible; sometimes we need to spend more time on a chapter, so we will. Or if we get through a chapter sooner, that’s fine too. Of if something comes up on either of our ends and we can’t finish, we don’t punish ourselves!

How has your writing changed from using a writing book as a study guide?

Having a book on writing to follow is a great tool.

I’m not structured at all when it comes to writing a story. I can’t do outlines, etc., but Your Book Starts Here helped me see that it’s not as scary as I thought. Carole is all about structure and outlining, so freewriting and "island" writing in Your Book Starts Here was a new approach for her. We have different writing styles and have been able to help each other in that way.

When you try the writing exercises, do you have favorites--ones that have helped your writing the most?

A hard question!  We are only on Chapter 10, so we haven’t gotten through them all yet.

Lynn liked Chapter 4, p. 53,  "Letter to Inner Critic" – since she struggles with the Inner Critic and since she love to write letters.  She says she needs to do it more often! Carole liked this exercise too, not realizing how powerful the Inner Critic was and how inhibiting.

Lynn also liked p. 25 "Following the Unexpected" and p. 78 "My Life and My Writing," which asks you to list the minimum requirements to keep a writing practice going in your life.

Lynn:  I started using this book with a completed rough-draft manuscript in hand. I thought I could skip ahead and figure out what I needed to do to make it better. When I read a chapter where I thought I could start at, I realized I needed to go back to the chapter before. Once I got to that chapter, I again had to go back to the previous chapter.

It finally became evident that I needed to start right from the beginning. This has been a bit of a challenge—applying things to an already written story… like Chapter 10 which focuses on working with Acts 1, 2 and 3.

I had a hard time figuring out where those were in my story. But with Carole’s help and talking through it, I started to understand and then could see more clearly where the different acts were in the story.  Having a writing partner to work with has made all the difference!

Anything you'd recommend to other writers who want to get support for their writing, or use Your Book Starts Here as a study guide?

Lynn:  I’d imagine you could use this book on your own if you wanted, but I think it’s really helpful to have at least one other person you can work with because you can bounce things off one another—especially if you’re styles of writing are different like Carole and mine.

What works for me sometimes doesn’t work for Carole, but when we talk through the process she can see how it could work for her, and vice versa.

Also by going through the book with someone, it holds you accountable.

As a writer—especially a new one—you can easily get discouraged or distracted and put it away if you don’t get it. By working with someone, there’s less chance of giving up—it’s like you’re encouragement and inspiration for one another—just like the book.

It may take us a while to get through Your Book Starts Here, but I think having it as a guide will help it along faster than trying to write the book alone, and will ensure that it will get finished. When I’m finished with all my “in progress” manuscripts, I’ll be excited to use this book for a fresh idea.

Your Weekly Writing Exercise

1.  Consider the benefits of a writing partnership.  Is there someone who might support you in your writing journey?  A fellow book writer, especially?  Take one step toward exploring this idea this week.

2.  Visit Carole and Lynn's blogs--they are wonderful.  

Lynn: Present Letters

Carole: Lasting Impressions