Tim says: This article is part of our Myths of Writing series. Ally Fallon is the author of Packing Light: Thoughts on Living Life with Less Baggage and The Chase: Waking Up the Power and Beauty of Your Creative Life. She’s also the creator of Author Launch, the program to help authors write and launch their first book.
One of the greatest myths I believed about writing when I first began doing it is that it is a solitary activity. I thought this is something that I would do by myself, locked in a small room somewhere, or tucked behind my computer screen in a coffee shop. And I suppose there is some truth to this.
There are some aspects of writing that are incredibly internal.
But the truth about writing is that there are so many people involved in the process.
Here are some of the most important.
Friends and family.
Not only are your friends and family your biggest supporters when it comes to writing a book—the ones who accommodate your new writing schedule, who send you back to the page when you want to quit, who remind you why you wanted to write a book in the first place when you start to wonder who’s terrible idea this was. But when you’re writing a memoir, friends and family are also bound to have an influence on what you actually write.
Some of this influence is direct. There will be times when you will write about something that takes place in your life—like a fight with your spouse or a life-changing piece of advice from a friend. But some of the influence is indirect. You’ll bounce ideas off the people in your life, process with them, receive their feedback, and some of what they say will help you to shape and reshape and improve your manuscript.
In fact, when writers are lacking inspiration, I often tell them: look to your life.
What are you learning?
How are you growing?
Who is teaching you?
Write about that.
Not to mention, your friends and family are like a practice audience. Start conversations at the dinner table about what you’ve been working on and get some feedback. See how it falls on their ears. What questions do they still have? What is their greatest resistance to the message? what language feels like it really works for them? What resonates? Not every piece of feedback you receive will be helpful, but some of it is sure to be.
We talk about this in the Author Launch process, but every good book goes through multiple rounds of editing before it is complete.
Here are the three main stages of editing:
- Developmental editing—this first round of editing is about the big picture of the manuscript. The person who does this editing will be looking at what pieces of the story are still missing, where the manuscript feels weak or rambling, if chapters need to change order, and what threads or themes need to be strengthened or clarified throughout. Think of this as the 10,000 foot view of the manuscript.
- Structural editing—Structural editing looks at things like turn of phrase (how one sentence moves into the next), changes in word choice, and any repeating patterns that may be present or missing. For example, often times authors will solidify the title of their book between the developmental and structural stage, and it can help to have that title repeated or emphasized throughout.
- Copyediting or line editing—the copyediting or line editing stage gets really nit-picky. In this stage, you’ll want to have someone fact-checking, proofing your quotes and attributions, catching spelling errors and making sure spacing is all correct.
A bad editor—and by “bad” I mean someone who doesn’t understand you or the project, or who doesn’t understand what makes a good book or a bad one—can really derail a project, so make sure you pick your editors wisely. Just because an editor doesn’t get paid to edit full time doesn’t mean they won’t do a good job.
If it were me, I would pick an editor who reads even more than I do.
While I’m in the writing process, I’m also reading… a lot. Profusely. Prolifically. Read as much as possible while you write. Read authors who are writing about the same subject as you, and read authors who write in a tone you want to mimic.
These authors—without even knowing it—end up having an incredible influence on your book.
In a way, they are “with you” in the process.
I will often carry books with me to wherever I am writing, even if I know I”m not really going to look at them. Simply the act of carrying the book with me is a reminder of where I am headed. It’s a reminder that the words I’m typing into the computer screen and not going to be lost in there forever. They are eventually going to be on their own, tangible, printed pages, just like that book I’m carrying around.
If you are struggling to stay motivated writing, or if you feel writers block settle in more often than not, there’s a good chance you aren’t reading enough. Take one “writing” day on your calendar and replace it with the same amount of reading.
I would be surprised if that doesn’t jump-start your next writing session.
If you are not in a writing group that meets regularly, start one. Get in one. Whatever you have to do to meet regularly with a group of people who are struggling through the same obstacles you are, do it. Or, if it feels impossible for you to meet in person, find a few writers who would be willing to start a Facebook group or email chain with you.
Bounce ideas off of each other. Share manuscripts. Give and receive feedback.
The giving and receiving of feedback on each other’s work will improve your writing faster than just about any class you could take or book you could read about writing. These skills, like any skills, are mostly acquired by doing. So do them more.
If you are publishing regularly anywhere (Facebook, a blog)—or speaking in front of an audience of any kind—pay attention to how your message lands with them. Or, if you are writing this book for a certain friend of family member, consider them your audience. If you’re writing for your children, they are are your audience.
Whoever your audience is, pay attention to how your message connects with them. Does it connect?
What question are they asking?
What do they want that they can’t seem to have?
What keeps them up at night?
What gets them out of bed in the morning?
Make sure that what you’re writing about matters to more than just you. If you don’t connect with a real audience, in a real way, your book will never do what you want it to do. You want your book to matter to more than just you.
If writing were only a solitary activity, it would be much easier. If it only mattered how I felt about my writing, then everything I wrote would be brilliant, all the time. If it didn’t matter for me to connect to an audience, then I could spew a bunch of words into my journal each morning and call it a day. My guess is that’s not what you want. So make sure you don’t try to do it alone.
September 8, 2016