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The Not-so-Solitary Writer: Team Up to Step Up

Writing alone is like drinking alone: it's OK, but you don't want to be doing too much of it.

One of the most treasured memories of my career in publishing was a weekend spent in upstate New York, near the Sleepy Hollow of Washington Irving’s famous legend. An energetic and visionary general editor had managed to secure funding for his team of specialist editors and me, the in-house editor, to spend the weekend getting a new major reference work off to a flying start.

On the first day we introduced ourselves, he spoke about his vision for the book and its unique take on history, I explained the architecture and process for creating the text, and we discussed both as a team at length. The next day we hammered out the book’s framework: the balance between the various sections, the key topics and the inter-relationships between them, how we would handle problematic areas, from historiological controversy to non-responsive contributors, and so on.

I’m sure it’s no coincidence that this was one of the smoothest projects I ever worked on: it was delivered on schedule and to the correct extent, no small feat for a book of around 500,000 words, and the quality was uniformly superb.

I’ve often thought, though, that the real magic happened below the surface, not just in the discussions themselves: in the conference room each individual was fully present, engaging intellectually and emotionally in a shared project; in the coffee breaks and over dinner and in the shared experience of Tarrytown in its winter splendour we quietly built up relationships based on mutual liking and respect, becoming part of each other’s personal and professional network for years afterwards. Throughout the actual writing of the book, the editorial team members were constantly in touch with each other. It would have been unthinkable for one to let the others down.

Sadly, not every writer can afford the luxury of a weekend in Tarrytown with a team of like-minded individuals, but no matter what your situation, there’s no excuse for trying to do everything alone in the 21st century.

Writing works best with a bit of creative friction. You need other people’s oddly shaped ideas to bounce off if you’re to keep momentum and find new directions, and you almost certainly need someone checking in with you if you’re to have any chance of hitting a deadline. Writing alone is like drinking alone: it's OK, but you don't want to be doing too much of it.

Here are a few ideas to get you out of your garret and into the bracing embrace of others who can help you not only get your book written, but make it better:

  1. find a friend. Do you know anyone else who’s in the throes of writing a book? #amwriting is a useful hashtag to search on Twitter, you might be surprised to find some of your Twitter buddies using it. Why not buddy up – even a monthly call to report in with each other on progress and talk through knotty issues can be helpful.
  2. join an online community. You’ve just missed NaNoWriMo (orNaNonFiWriMo, for non-fiction lovers) but the community lives on, and there are others, such as Completely Novel. There are LinkedIn groups, Facebook groups: look around, find a place that feels homey, pull up a chair and get involved.
  3. join a programme. A step up from simply joining a community, and significantly more likely to provide the results you want, a small-group programme is a more focused and supportive way to combine the benefits of working with others with the direction of an expert. Especially if this is your first book, there is likely to be much that you don’t know you don’t know: a small-group programme is part therapy, part training, part coaching.
  4. get a coach. This is the gold standard. It’s particularly important if your book is intended to build your business: investing in a specialist writing or publishing coach who will work with you to clarify exactly what you should be focusing on and how to link it to your business activities will avoid you wasting precious time and energy on an ineffectual end product. And nobody does accountability like a coach – trust me on this.

Do you have any more ideas for tapping into the energy and motivation that comes with working with others as a writer? Please add them in the comments below.

And if you want to write a book for your business and you feel the small group approach might be right for you, there are 4 places left on The Expert Author programme which starts 1 February – early-bird discount has been extended to 11 January! See http://www.alisonjones.com/time-for-tea for full details.

If you’d like to discuss TEA, coaching or publishing more generally, why not book a free 30-minute discovery session? Subject to availability – book your slot here:https://doodle.com/thealisonjones.

This entry was posted on 09 January 2015 at 08:09 and is filed under publishing | writing | books. You can leave a response here.

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