I’m writing this post during the middle of football season. Which if you know me, this means I’m wearing even more orange throughout the week than usual and especially on game days. (And after a decade of marriage, I’m super encouraged that my wife is now on board with the “orange on game days” tradition for herself and the kids!)
Football is great for many reasons. But one of the best is seeing the power of a number of individuals coming together as a team. Football games are not won or lost by an individual (unless you count the refs, which accounts for at least 1 loss a season for my team). No, football games are won and lost by the team.
This leads me to the biggest not-so-secret secret that professional writers know, but doesn’t get a lot of press.
The best know that writing is a team sport. It’s true. Or at least is should be.
Take a look at the acknowledgements of any book and you’ll see the author thanking dozens of people. I remember being stuck with awe looking at the acknowledgments of a David McCullough book I finished up a few summers ago. The amount of research his books take could not be done by one person in twenty years. Writing books of that caliber is clearly a team sport.
But many of us when starting out as a writer think that it’s a solo job. We assume we’re supposed to be the Lone Ranger. On one hand, that’s true. But not completely.
A professional writer is a lot like a professional tennis player. It is the individual athlete that competes and plays in tournaments. It is the individual that works out and practices. It is the individual that does the work. But professional tennis players have lots of help. They have coaches, trainers, dietitians. But ultimately the athlete must be the one to hit the ball. No one can do that for them.
Same is true for writers.
No one can do your writing for you. You should be sitting down at the computer every day and writing. You have to do your part. You have to log the hours. You have to write the outline. You have to write the draft. You have to write.
Why get others involved? What good does it do?
Getting others involved makes you a better writer and make your writing better.
Why does Roger Federer need a coach? To make him better.
But he’s won more Grand Slam Titles than anyone. Exactly.
Before we look at ways you can get others involved with your writing, let’s look at a few reasons we don’t.
Reasons we don’t get others involved:
We don’t want to ask for help
Many times we’re too proud to ask. We wrongly think that asking for help is a sign of weakness or that we’re a bad writer. We’d rather slog along alone than let anyone know we could use some help. Instead of gaining valuable insight, we squander an opportunity to get better. You must move past your own pride and get others involved.
We are afraid
This could easily be connected to pride, but there’s other variables involved. Often we don’t want to ask others to see our work because we’re afraid that it’s not very good. What if they hate it? What if it doesn’t make sense? What if it’s boring? What if…. These questions swirl in your head with no end in sight. What professional writers realize is, these questions are the very reason to get others involved with the project. Wouldn’t you rather a small group of people hate your writing before sharing it with the whole world? Isn’t it better if it doesn’t make sense to one person, allowing you to make revisions before publishing it? Isn’t it much better to figure out why it’s boring, so you can make it better?
You don’t want to bother people
“Hey, can you read my 50,000 word manuscript?” Most people don’t read edited, polished, finished books from book stores. Why would they want to read a first draft ridden with errors and confusion? Great question. The reason is: because you ask them. We don’t want to bother people, so we don’t ask. This is the wrong way to look at it. Think if a friend was starting a new band and recorded a few songs, but didn’t tell you. Later you learn that he’d shared the songs with other people to get their feedback. You’d be hurt, maybe even mad, definitely offended. When you ask him why he didn’t let you listen, he says, “I didn’t want to bother you.” How would you respond? Of course it’s not bothering you. You would have been honored to listen. Most of your friends will be honored if you invite them into your creative process by looking over your writing.
You don’t know who to ask
Let’s assume you get over your pride, past your fear, and know you’re not going to bother someone by asking. The next reason people don’t get others involved is they simply don’t know who to ask. Odds are, you don’t know many writers personally, so when you look around for help you don’t think there’s anyone that can help. This is crazy talk. You don’t have to be a writer to help craft a book. In fact, most of your soon-to-be readers won’t be writers. Their prerequisite is not being a writer, but being a reader. Find someone you trust (and that can read) and get their input.
How to engage others in your writing:
Generally speaking, every way you get people involved in your work is editing. The goal is to make your writing better, so we edit. But there are many ways to do that.Editors are the most amazing people in the whole creative world. Without editors, well, let’s just say it wouldn’t be fun to read. I’m talking about the people that comb over your text finding every misplaced modifier and run-on sentence. I remember hating getting emails from my editor while writing Wasted Prayer, mainly because I knew I had a lot more work in front of me when I saw the necessary edits. But the truth is, I’m so grateful for every edit because she was making the book better.
When you are writing a book, you typically know what you’re trying to say. The problem is, often we are so close to the writing, we can’t tell if what we want to say is what we’re actually saying. Getting other eyes on your manuscript is key to see if your plot (or key message in a non-fiction book) is coming out like you want it too. When working on Wasted Prayer, I had a good idea of how I wanted to organize the book. Then I had lunch with a friend who looked over the draft. He came with a few ideas that radically changed how I organized the book, which made it so much better than it was in it’s current state.
Either you really love your own titles or you hate them. Both options are not good, and you’re probably wrong with which ever camp you fall in. Invite others into the process of naming your book. Let them read the manuscript and see what title comes to mind as they read. Your title is too important to go with your gut or first option.
When Steve Jobs came back to Apple in 1997 after his firing in the 1980s, he wanted to bring Apple back to relevance with a killer new computer. He wanted an awesome desk top computer, which we know today as an iMac. Had Jobs not gotten others involved with the naming process and went with his first idea, the iMac would have been forever known as MacMan, which sounds like a video game and/or comic book. Lucky for Apple Stock holders and any iMac user they didn’t stick with MacMan!
After you finish writing the book, the team sport continues. I had an awesome team at Thomas Nelson Publishers helping with the marketing and release of Wasted Prayer.
All in all, I had over a dozen people who helped shape and launch Wasted Prayer. It was definitely a team effort.
1- Recruit 1 person this week that can begin reviewing your writing.
2- Go watch a football game!