Get writing support – and use it! How to shut the little voices up with real people.
Week 6: Get support – and use it
- “All this STUFF will never turn into a proper, structured book. Never ever ever. No way.”
- “I know exactly what this is about – I can whittle it down to one sentence – so why the HELL am I writing a whole book?”
- “This book will never be finished. I will be writing this book for the rest of my LIFE.”
- “This is completely pointless. There is no reason on God’s clean earth for me to say this stuff.”
Your vision and your progress will help with some of this; ignoring the little voices will also help; but there’s another fantastic tool: people. Get yourself some people.
• Friends & colleagues – find friends who’re also writing that you can club together with.
• Professional – if you have a coach, you might be able to use their support for this too. If they don’t know much about writing, print out this series of posts for them. I also offer professional book coaching, which combines progress-management with feedback on your material.
• Clients – you can use your blog and client base to declare your project, publish sample chapters, and build up a community of readers. This can be fantastically motivating, keeping your standards high and your sense of communication clear, plus publishers luuurve a readymade audience. But make sure this isn’t your only form of support: you need someone you can tell when it’s going badly, going nowhere, or not going at all. Make sure you have at least one person with whom you don’t need to maintain “face”.
When you’ve got it, USE IT. Ideally, you want to use support for two things: accountability and readers. (Both of those bring motivation.)
You can’t thrash out what’s going wrong in your writing if you never admit anything’s going wrong.
“No no no,” I’d protest, “I’m not stuck, I’m just busy – I don’t have time at the moment…” Guess what? I was stuck. Eventually I got beyond the block of refusing to admit it, we discussed it more, I said what I was stuck on… I had to invent the semantic web, for God’s sake! … and he had all the research I needed at his fingertips. Ta-da!
- Tell people your goals. Declare your goals for the year, the quarter, the month. Don’t worry that you might miss some. We’re people, not robots.
- Check in. Report on your progress at least monthly – weekly if you’re struggling to get going. That keeps you from brushing it under the carpet and allowing blocks to build up. It also helps you create baby-steps process goals. (Baby steps are good.)
- Be honest. You can’t thrash out what’s going wrong if you never admit anything’s going wrong. Don’t let ego be an issue here – if you’re struggling with your writing, you’re in some of the world’s finest company.
- Hold other people accountable. Share the support by giving support. Ask “How’s your writing going?” and don’t let mumbly answers pass unchallenged. The physician-heal-thyself syndrome will kick in fast: we’re wiser about other people than we are about ourselves, but we can still use that newfound wisdom on ourselves.
Don’t expect a coherent critique of your writing from friends. Most people can’t give one.
- Publish sections or chapters on your blog. (Be careful not to put everything online if you’re using a traditional publisher – they can object.)
- Put a small excerpt on your website.
- For long chunks, give people hard copy and bind or staple it for them. Make sure the pages are numbered. I use a local academic binder which does a cheap cloth-and-glue spine. Make it easy to read.
- Don’t watch them like a hawk. It’s off-putting. Do not, for instance, sit on the edge of the sofa staring unblinking at your reader, querying every smile and demanding to know where they’re up to and why they’ve stopped if they get up for a cup of tea. (Trust me: I’ve trialled this technique and it doesn’t work.)
- Don’t expect a coherent critique from your friends. Most people can’t give one. When they do, they’re more able to find specific fault than give specific praise. Don’t press for more critique than they’re able to give and don’t be surprised if their more detailed feedback is critical. ”It’s really good” is great feedback; enjoy it for what it is. They’re your readers, not your editors.
- Know what you want and say so. When you’re insecure and looking for reassurance, admit it to yourself and tell your reader. Do not ask for a critique when you’re feeling vulnerable and criticism will upset you. This is especially true when a project is at an early or fragile stage: don’t put seedlings out in the snow. It’s fine to say “I’d like you to read this, but it’s not at the right point for a critique.”
- tell someone your goals – your coach, a friend, or the a writing support group.
- find a reader – take what you’ve written so far, assemble it into something readable, and give it to someone.
- share the support – find someone else who’s floundering in their writing and send them to Week 1 of the kickstart-course. Supporting them will keep you on track.
If you’d like structured support for your writing, let’s start with a chat.