As writers, we often face a very solo experience when we’re writing, but it doesn’t have to be a lonely experience. Sure, we have our characters for company, but beyond that, there are three synergistic relationships for writers: community, collaboration, and commission. By incorporating these into our business model as a writer, we can stave off frustrations, depression, and inertia.
The first of the three Cs is Community. I put it first because I feel it’s the most important. I’d like to say its the only non-optional C of the three, but the truth is, even community is optional, but without it you may find you, and your writing, loses a lot of heart.
Community is a spirit you can build around yourself. It’s the gathering of like-minded individuals in a way that brings them together as a greater whole. When you find, or create, your writing community, you discover friendships and motivation that power-up your writing experience.
One of the greatest community building things I did was become a National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) Municipal Liaison (ML). This volunteer position gives me an opportunity to work within the literary industry, to specifically build a writing community. From simply attending write-ins at my local library, I met a dozen fabulous local writers. But the following year my local council librarian and I joined with three other councils in my NaNo region to create the Write Along The Highway (WATH) project. Together we brought NaNoWriMo into several libraries along the highway and expanded the writing community we were building. This year we have seven councils involved. In collaboration with a writer I met through our NaNo events I am also introducing the OzNoWriMo Young Writers Program (YWP) into local schools. Through both programs we are expecting the biggest community growth to date.
Through my role as ML I’ve had the opportunity to meet hundreds of writers across the state, and from other parts of the country and the world. I’ve also met with agents, editors, publishers, bookstore owners, and other industry experts. As the liaison I have a prominent role, but you don’t have to take on a similar role to enjoy your local community. Yes, it does supercharge your experience, but you still gain community simply by being a member within it.
Find local writers’ groups, look for local writer events, festivals and conferences, and join local notice groups that share industry information in the community. Many public libraries host a regular writers’ group for their community. Every group is different, so don’t be afraid to roam a little to find one that suits your tastes and current needs as a writer, or attend many and spread your opportunities for community a little wider. If you can’t find one that runs at a time you can attend, consider starting one, even if it’s just a regular write-in where you invite other writers in the community to join you for an hour or four of writing once a week, like I do with my Sunday Roaming Write-In.
Having a community of writers around you gives you a greater sense of your place in the world. It gives you like-minded individuals you can talk to about writing, people who really know, who understand, what it is like to be a writer. They face similar challenges and often have similar quirks, interests, and dreams.
Being around other writers who are actively writing helps fuel your motivation, it also gives you opportunities for learning through lectures and talks, and to explore new ideas, genres, styles, and techniques. By finding your writing community, you’ll make valuable friendships and exponentially empower your own writing. You might even find valuable relationships that turn into collaborative ventures.
When I first started The Flight of Torque, it was in collaboration with a friend I’d met online. I owe that book, and the three that will follow it, to him. While The Flight of Torque has very little resemblance to the ideas we initially forged together, our collaboration played a vital role in breathing life into an infant concept. It also gave me the courage and passion to push ahead with this story through the years of its ups and downs.
While that collaboration ended early, there are several writers I know who collaborate beginning to end through their projects. Their collaboration takes many different forms.
This month, I’m enjoying experiencing the collaboration of Johnny B. Truant and Sean Platt as they work together on a new book. They’re doing something I think is very brave and magical. They’re bringing down the walls as they write by sharing their work every day. They record their collaborative story meetings on video, and they’re even collaborating with their community for some parts of the process. What we can see in the Fiction Unboxed project is the synergistic power of collaboration. Together, Sean and Johnny build a quality product by combining their strengths and offsetting their weaknesses inside a very healthy relationship.
In Sean and Johnny’s situation, you’ll see Sean takes the role of the primary ideas man. They both play story ideas together, but Sean takes those basic ideas and forms them into an outline that presents the story arcs. He also develops character sheets and defines the characters’ core essence for Johnny. Johnny then takes these bones and writes the first draft, he speaks directly to these characters that Sean created and from them draws out the real story that is hidden in the bones. He collaborates with Sean as the book progresses to discuss how the unfolding story is changing the outline. Sean meanwhile is keeping right on his tail, editing the pages as they’re produced each day.
One of the most powerful aspects of Sean and Johnny’s collaboration, is that when Johnny hits a snag in the writing process he can call Sean. Rather than spending hours or even days (or in my case months) trying to puzzle it out by himself, they are able to talk through the snag together in an hour and get Johnny back on track with the writing.
This isn’t the only way you can collaborate either. Sometimes, collaboration is as simple as having a very close friend to bounce around ideas. Sometimes it’s alternating scenes or chapters so you write half of the draft and your partner writes the other half (Morris Gleitzman and Paul Jennings did this with some of their books). Sometimes your collaborative partner comes in at the editing stage and is your fresh set of eyes.
For example, your pre-readers are collaborative partners. They’re invested in you and your book on a personal level and work with you to make it better. That’s what true collaboration is. They’re not in it for themselves, they’re in it for the story.
The people you commission are in it for themselves. Yes, they might be invested in your story because they value it as a product and you as a writer, (in fact I recommend only working with people who do value you and your product), but ultimately, they’re in it because working for you puts food on their table. These professionals are immensely valuable. Finding quality commission-based freelancers can significantly improve your writing and your book.
Although you do the hard slog of writing the book, you might find it makes sense to hire freelancers who specialise in particular skills in the industry. They can take on those jobs required to release your book into the waiting arms of the public.
For example, you might want to hire professional editors and proofreaders. These people focus on developing their skill with language. As the writer you can often be too close to the story to gain enough perspective to see all of its faults. I’ve been so close to my stories that I’ve completely missed seeing the word “She” when the word should have been “The”. We read what we think we wrote, rather than the words on the page. Commissioning professional editors and proofreaders gives you highly qualified eyes on your story, to help you polish it to a sparkling and professional shine.
You should definitely hire a professional cover artist unless you have exceptional artistic skills yourself. Your book’s cover is one of its first selling points. Despite the adage, “don’t judge a book by its cover,” we do. So make sure your cover design is one that will entice your target market to look a little closer and don’t be afraid to invest in this aspect of your book. It will payout tenfold.
Other professionals you might commission or that might work on a percentage of your royalties are agents, managers, and publishers. Before hiring these people understand exactly what services they’re offering and weigh up the expense against the time and energy it would take to do yourself. The same can be said for public relations and marketing experts. You can, and should, hire these people if you’d rather spend your time writing new books and don’t want to learn the grittier business-side of the industry. Having said that, understanding your business can save you a great deal of money in the long term so weigh up what you can do for yourself against the value of hiring others to do it for you.
Ultimately, every time you consider working with other writers and industry professionals you can look at how that relationship will work for you and your book. If there is potential for exponential, synergistic growth then the investment in time and money will be worth every penny. A solo writer can produce magical stories, but it’s together, through the power of We, that those words will perform to their greatest potential.