I get by with a little help from my friends

'Help!' photo (c) 2013, Betsy Weber - license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/I’ve been investing more time in my fiction writing since January. Not only have I written more, but I’ve attended a conference and a workshop. I’ve been happy with the progress, but I’m still working out my process long form writing. Recently I was feeling at wits end with the story. I knew I had something good, but it felt amorphous and I felt like I was flailing. I needed to bounce some ideas off of someone. I bit the bullet and asked a friend and fellow romance writer if she’d help me see the holes. Prior to this, I’ll admit some reticence about asking others for help with my stories. I readily admit I’m still at the beginning of the process, so the structure and ideas feel fragile. We’ve all heard horror stories of sharing our work with family and friends too soon and getting crushing feedback. I needed someone who could be constructive. I wanted real feedback, but at the same time, I needed someone who understood the process and could respect where I was. Someone who could offer helpful suggestions as opposed to “that’s great, keep going” or “You should totally name your hero Kurt” (not that there is anything wrong with the name Kurt). I have a friend who is also a romance writer and working mom. I had recently critiqued one of her manuscripts (with what I hope and she says was constructive feedback). So I felt confident in asking her if she’d spend some time helping me shape things a little. Thankfully she enthusiastically agreed. I sent her my character descriptions and plot summary/outline in advance and we met for lunch. After we ordered our sushi, I tried to open my mind and shut my mouth. I *think* I was mostly successful. I know the feedback I got was invaluable. I tried to listen and hold off on evaluating her suggestions until I’d had time to digest them. It didn’t hurt that she said she liked the story and was interested in my characters. She did point out that my heroine wasn’t flawed enough and we bemoaned the challenge of writing flawed female characters. I took four pages of notes and came away reinvigorated and excited about the story again. It’s been two weeks and I’ve had time to ponder her questions and process her suggestions. Some I took to heart, others I discarded as not a fit for this story (at least the way I want to tell it). I’m to the point where I’ve gotten as far with my plot summary/outline as I’m going to get with out writing more scenes (I’m a hybrid plotter/pantser). On the docket for this week, is finalizing some characterizations and adding some meat to the outline. Asking for help in any situation is hard for most people. We like to think we can do it all ourselves, but that just isn’t realistic. With a creative endeavor, it can be even riskier especially if you don’t ask the right person or you don’t have enough faith in your own ability. It might not take much to let someone else’s ideas (well meaning as they may be) overrun you own thoughts or crush your momentum. Here are my suggestions for getting the right kind of help for your writing.

  • Find someone who is as experienced as you or better yet a little ahead of where you are.
  • Friends can work, but make sure they are familiar with the genre your are writing in. They don’t have to be a writer, sometimes readers can also provide valuable insights.
  • Don’t impose. Ask your helper how much time they have and supply only enough material to get the answers you need.
  • Evaluate the information provided. Don’t take everything someone else says as the Gospel Truth.

What has your experience been asking for help with your writing?

5 thoughts on “I get by with a little help from my friends

  1. fabulous advice! love this: “Evaluate the information provided. Don’t take everything someone else says as the Gospel Truth.” and it’s funny (I hope it doesn’t sound arrogant), but I don’t much ask people for their input. seems like people offer whether I ask or not, so I just take it with a grain of salt, learn what I can, and ignore what bugs me!

  2. I would love to get help with my writing, but the challenge is I only know one acquaintance who is a writer, and while she is very good, she writes a completely different genre than I do. How do you find other writers who are “ahead” of you – and who have similarly scrutinizing (or more so) abilities?

    • It takes time and perseverance. First look locally for writer’s groups. If you’re lucky, you’ll find one focused on your genre, but don’t necessarily get stuck on that. Try local colleges and universities or look at Meetup.com. If you can’t find anything and are feeling brave, start you own. If not of that pans out, that look online for a virtual group.
      Once you find a group, get involved, go to meetings, post in online discussions etc. get to know your fellow group members either IRL or online. Eventually, you’ll come across someone to partner with.
      It took me almost 2.5 years to find someone.
      Good luck!

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