The art and craft of writing is mysterious. Why does one thing work for Joan and not for Dave? That’s a good question.
My son Forrest helps counsel writers who are having problems, and a few weeks ago he mentioned something that he’d noticed. Time and again, he’d talk to authors who had been on fire at some point in their careers, writing away joyfully, but now found themselves stuck. So he’d ask them a few questions to find out what had changed.
The answers tended to be amazingly simple. One woman, when brainstorming a novel, used to write her notes down in a notebook and think about them. But when she switched to a word-processor, she found it hard to brainstorm. Why?
Who knows. She suspected that it was because she felt more relaxed with a notebook in her hand. She didn’t have to worry about blinking cursors, power outages, and the demands of a blank screen. So Forrest’s advice was simple: use your notebook when you brainstorm.
Another man found that he just couldn’t get started. There was a time when he would get up in the morning and write in order to start the day. But now he automatically answers his emails. I could explain to him about mental states, and how writing requires him to be in the alpha state while answering his email put him in the beta state, but the answer was simple: don’t open your danged email before you write!
Another writer I know used to sit up late at night and put on acid rock while he wrote, but when he got married and had a baby, he was afraid of keeping his wife and children awake, so he switched to writing without music in the morning. Suddenly, he couldn’t find the words he wanted. The answer: he needed to listen to his own personal biorhythms and write at night. A pair of headphones solved his need for loud acid rock.
This problem strikes over and over. A few months ago, I started the Apex Writers Group. When the Covid19 pandemic hit, I noticed that a lot of writers were stressed and not producing.
I began trying to get them to huddle up and get back to work. I recognized that there are a lot of phases to writing: brainstorming, drafting, editing, and so on, and I suggested that we start “Writers Rings”. In a writers’ ring, you get several people who are writing in the same genre and have them share audiences.
But I wondered whether it would be good for them to work in close-knit groups. In addition to just advertising to each other’s audiences, I realized that they could brainstorm together, for example. So a fantasy writer living in the wilds of New Zealand could suddenly be brainstorming with other fine writers in her field, the way that Tolkien and Lewis did it in the Inklings. For those who have trouble self-starting, we could have writing sprints, so that authors can get on and maintain a writing schedule. Again, if the authors want to, they can have critique sessions where they look at one another’s works. They can even advertise together–start blogs together, share cover quotes, train each other in how to use electronic advertising well, and so on.
Suddenly my writers are killing it. I think I’ve seen them release 7 novels just in the past week, and some of the writers who’ve never completed a book are suddenly putting “the end” to their first novels.
And I noticed something yesterday: the writers who are getting the most done are the ones who are doing it all together—having brainstorming sessions, participating in sprints, critiquing together, and pushing their books together.
I hadn’t expected that, but then I got thinking. Back when I first began writing, I too joined a writing group that kept me focused and kept me writing like mad. We were all trying to figure out how to make it in the speculative fiction market. We’d challenge each other and celebrate one another’s victories. I remember how fun it was to brainstorm in groups, and how fulfilling it was to find out how well a scene worked in a critique group. Eventually, I had an editor tell me to “quit wasting your time with writing groups. You’re way beyond that.” Yet, what I had been doing was working fine, so now I ask myself, why exactly did I change?
As I consider this, I can think of dozens of professional writers who are under-performing for much the same reason. They started out in a writing group, went solo, and suddenly found that their work went flat and they weren’t creating as much.
In the music industry, we see singers doing this all the time. The lead singer in a band goes solo and suddenly discovers that without the drummer who was writing most of the band’s songs, he goes bust. Without the lead guitarist who was always pushing them to do more gigs, he falls out of the limelight.
So there may be group dynamics involved in many authors’ success stories.
Do you find that your productivity isn’t where you would like it to be? So ask yourself, what has worked for you in the past? What best practices have you abandoned? Maybe its time to retrace your steps.
Joining the Apex Writer’s group is now even easier! Go to https://www.thecompleatwriter.com/ to learn more about the group and to apply. If you are dedicated to your career as an author, you need this group.