I’ve said it before, I’ll say it a million times: every writer writes alone, but no writer succeeds that way.
The world is not necessarily kind or understanding when it comes to writers. We’re not even kind to ourselves. The best way to survive is to build a support team. Without this team, you can of course continuing writing, make sales, even be successful.
That said, I’ll wager it’s more difficult, more painful, and a hell of a lot less satisfying. Just sayin’.
If you’ve gone through NaNo, you probably know what a difference it makes to have people expect something from you, and to watch other people working. While the NaNo experience might be traumatic for some (the time frame, the competition, the public word count) the idea of checking in with other people in order to goose your own production is a tested one, and can be very valuable.
The trick is to get like-minded authors — one or two at least — and then set up a time to check in. By like minded, I mean authors who are just as committed to writing as you are. If only one of you is writing on a consistent basis (or promoting, or whatever) then there tends to be resentments as one person does the work and the other feels gradually more and more pressure. Better to be “in the same boat.”
As for the check-in themselves, once a week is good. In a check-in, say what you managed to get done the week before, and what you’d like to get done the next week. It makes a difference!
Critique Partners vs. Beta Readers.
A critique partner is someone you work with on a continual basis, swapping stories and exchanging critiques. You can bounce solutions and brainstorm with a critique partner, generally because he will already be familiar with both your story and your style. The tricky part there is again, to find someone like-minded.
If you get a critique partner, make sure they’re familiar with your genre. I’ve seen too many people get sunk in depression by bad critique advice… like the helpful reader who suggests that a happy ending in a romance is ‘too cliche” and then suggests something more dramatic. Like a death. (Yes, I have had this happen.)
Your critique partners can be your accountability partners, especially if you’re meeting once a week, which can be a good exercise.
Beta readers are simply fresh eyes. You don’t really brainstorm with them, or necessarily ask for in-depth critiques. A beta reader is there to help you get perspective. And I can almost guarantee that at some point in your book, you’re going to need this.
The Crap Continuum.
In teaching my writing classes, and in my own writing, I’ve discovered a very strange phenomenon. Most writers will go along swimmingly. Then, somewhere between the midpoint and the end, a strange thing happens.
Suddenly, the writer is completely convinced that the story sucks. Either the premise is stale and cliche, or the plot is disjointed and weak. The characters are cardboard, the words are flat, and the whole thing is, as Anne Lamott would say, “a boring, sentimental, self indulgent sack of spider puke.”
The whole point of beta readers is to act as a “crazy check” when you lose your mind. Your readers are going to be the canaries in your coal mine. If they all say your work is craptacular and should be burned…
Well, maybe then, you check in with your final group.
Writing is a weird profession. As well-meaning as friends and family can be, if they’re not writers, let’s face it… they don’t get it.
Which is why I strongly recommend meeting with writing cheerleaders once a month. These are fellow writers — whether they’re in your genre or not — who love you and who love writing.
These are friends. They believe in you, and you believe in them. Meeting with them at least once a month is a method of self-care. You feel better, energized, when you meet them.
Note: if you’re meeting with a writer’s group, or a chapter of a national writing organization, and you find yourself feeling depressed and drained afterward — you’re in the wrong group. Seriously. Whatever they’re teaching can be learned somewhere that isn’t sucking out your soul one hour at a time.
The Supporting Cast.
There’s the professional cast of characters that act as a support team, as well: if you’re indie published, you’ll want an editor (both high level and copy); you’ll probably work with people on design and promotion; if you’re not technically inclined, it’s worth it to shell out for a formatting person.
If you’re traditionally published, you’ll probably have an agent, a publisher’s editor, possibly a publicist. These are also very valuable.
But no matter how you’re published, or even if you’re not published yet, the crucial network of accountability, beta readers and cheerleaders can be a game changer. If you don’t have them, I’d start looking for them now.
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