Writing together – and apart?

Writing together – and apart?

Guest Post – Lori Twining

Some weeks ago, one of our regular retreatants, Lori Twining, shared her retreating experience at Writescape’s fall retreat. But what if you can’t get away to write on retreat? How else can you keep the words flowing?

Have you ever considered an accountability partner?

Lori wrote about the magic of accountability partners on her blog in August, and we reprint it here today with her permission.


Accountability Partners: Colleen Winter & Lori Twining

Accountability Partners: Are They Beneficial?

I have a simple goal: I want a writing career.

Unfortunately, it is not as simple as quitting my day job and writing the damn novel. Other things factor into a writing career, besides having money to pay the bills. In 2021, as a writer, it is essential to have a social media presence, network with others, be searchable on Google, be knowledgeable and experienced with the craft of writing, have an agent, have a publisher, and the list goes on and on. It is endless.

Is a writing career something I can do alone?

Somewhat. The writing part falls on the individual writer. However, if you have other people who share your wants, your desires, and your future dreams of a writing career, then you should team up and do it together. Build an army. Challenge each other. Support each other. 

This is where the benefits of having an accountability partner come into play. These people establish a relationship with you to help achieve your goals. They hold you accountable for what you said you would do and try to keep you on track, even if you are experiencing a meltdown of some kind.

Let me explain..

Yesterday, I sent out multiple emails regarding my volunteer role as a Blog Wrangler for my local writing group. Most of my writing group writes novels and short stories as a side hustle to their “other” careers (that pay the bills). All of us write blog posts that relate to our writing lives in some way. As a volunteer, I admit that I get tired and overwhelmed (sometimes cranky) at working behind the scenes for zero money and little appreciation. I’m not complaining; I offered to do this to further my writing career (if it ever gets further than barely existing). I admit that it is a selfish reason. Sometimes, I have days that I question my choices on volunteering. I want to quit everything and just write. But, then something like this happens:

During the frantic emails (and FB messages and text messages) back and forth with my writing tribe, I received a message:

“Has anyone told you that you should be a writer?”

I laughed. Reading this message broke the stress and frustration I had been holding tight inside. My shoulders released the tension, and I relaxed a bit. I wrote back to say, “Not lately. I’m too busy wallowing in a puddle of self-doubt right now.” I often wonder if all this writing is simply a time-waster, and I’m going nowhere. Several text messages followed to say they appreciated my time and effort, and I need to keep writing. This is one writer supporting and encouraging another writer. I love it.

Minutes later, the following email came in from another accountability partner. It said:

“Sorry, I am late in responding to you. Thank you so much for your accountability email (you were on time, I’m two weeks late). Ha! I’m never on time. At the moment, I’m sitting on my couch crying about not making any progress during July. I decided to email you and tell you the small amount that I did manage to find time to do. Then, I surprised myself with what I actually got done. This makes me happy. Writing it down, so I can see the progress. Yes, I was still a couch slug for most of the month, but I did submit two short stories, sent ten queries to agents, and updated my website so that if the literary agents ever decide to google me, I will look important! I might even fool them into knowing what I am doing! Thank you for this. I love you! Talk to you in a month. Or sooner.”

After reading this message, it reminded me to check in with a few of my other writing buddies. I have multiple people that I keep in close contact with, where we exchange emails on the first of every month (with many emails in between, just to keep us motivated). I keep a list of excerpts from their emails to encourage me, so I remember that working toward a writing career is not a waste of time. People do get something out of this. It keeps me moving forward with my goals.

My partners are inspiring

Here are a couple of example messages from them:

“Overall, I did awesome on my goals! I really want to say thank you for this. Having these goals keeps me motivated and helps to keep me working on all aspects of writing.”

And, this one:

“I am excited and scared and motivated and terrified all in one. I am so thankful for you and this accountability thing we do together. I have WORK TO DO… so here are my new goals.”


Accountability Partners: Donna Judy Curtin, Lori Twining and Seana Moorhead.

How I stay accountable

I write an accountability email at the beginning of the month describing everything I accomplished (or didn’t accomplish) from the previous month, and add my goals for the following month.

I exchange these emails with a few different writers to encourage them (or challenge them) to do “something” to further their writing career. And they do the same for me.

Here are a couple of examples that show progress in someone’s future writing career:

  • Woke up at 5 am for two weeks straight. Butt in chair. Writing. 2-hr sessions.
  • Published four book reviews for novels in my genre on Goodreads.
  • Posted five Instagram photos of books I purchased written by my #5amwritersclub writing buddies.
  • Submitted my short story to a contest.
  • Attended Inkers Con virtually.
  • Finished the Dan Brown Master Class on Mystery Writing.
  • Ran a giveaway on Goodreads. Sent out the print copies to the winners.
  • Attended two virtual book launches this month.
  • Signed up for a 7-day IN-PERSON writing retreat.
  • Took a course online, “How to Nail Writing Multiple POVs & Timelines” (this one is something I’m doing this month).

All of these examples keep you in the writing game. You are supporting other writers, networking, learning your craft, or writing the book—all good things.

Cutting Yourself Some Slack

The end of my July accountability email listing all my goals was this:

“My August goals are to tackle as much as possible with my writing, without breaking down and bawling like a baby because I don’t have enough time to do ALL THE THINGS that I want to do this summer.” 

I received this immediate response from one of my accountability partners:

“I have a similar goal for August and the rest of the year. Now that I’ve had a vacation, I will try to go several days in a row without yelling/swearing at my computer screen. And that’s just for work. It doesn’t include the head-hanging despair during the writing sessions. Maybe we should ease up on our expectations of ourselves? Just a thought.”

This excerpt above is from an experienced published writer, and she has made a good point. I have high expectations for myself. Maybe this is why I am biting my nails to the quick? I’m walking the fence between giving up (by sitting on the couch watching every Harlan Coben Netflix series and not writing) and moving full force ahead with writing every chance I get, hoping my novel gets a little better with each pass through of edits. 

Self-doubt is an evil monster, and accountability partners can help with that. They remind you that you are not alone on this path to a future writing career, and everyone struggles with so many things (and I don’t even have to mention the pandemic and all the stay-at-home orders that interfered with our mental state for writing over the last 18-months). They are full of motivation and inspiration. They can help you plan and strategize how to approach editors or agents. They can advise on improvement on your query letter or book blurb. Also, they can help you stick to your commitments and expectations, so you can continue to make progress. 

We are all in a different place with our writing careers. Some writers are already published, and some of us are still struggling with that first novel (that would be me). But, overall, we are suitable matches for being accountability partners. We strive to be full-time writers and are putting in the work to get there. We all struggle with time management, primarily since we all work full-time or part-time for other people. So, being able to discuss it with each other is a bonus. It echoes the reminder that we are not alone.

Every little thing you can manage to do (writing, networking, reading, promoting yourself & your writing friends) proves that you are showing up for yourself and committing to the work. The best part of having accountability partners is that you can share your progress and celebrate everyone else’s progress too. There is no need for jealousy; it is all a wild and fun experience of living life to the fullest and conquering that writing dream. Together.

Bottom line

If you are struggling with pulling your butt off the couch back to your writing chair, maybe you should look for an accountability partner? They are perfect for brainstorming and bouncing ideas around, supporting each other, motivating, and inspiring you to continue with your dream. Plus, they are there if you want to cry or rant about something when you are grumpy or extremely pissed off. They are also there to laugh with you, and everyone needs a good chuckle from time to time. 

If you don’t have one and would like one, just ask another writer if they would be interested. It is as simple as that. Good luck on your path. Baby steps will get you there. Eventually. 


Early morning ZOOM meeting with #5amwritersclub

Lori Twining

Lori Twining writes both fiction and nonfiction, with her stories winning awards in literary competition and appearing in several anthologies. She’s an active member of many writing groups: International Thriller Writers, Crime Writers of Canada, Sisters In Crime, Toronto Romance Writers, and Ascribe Writers. She’s a lover of books, sports and bird watching, and a hater of slithering reptiles and beady-eyed rodents. Find more info at www.lvtwriter.com; Twitter: @Lori_Twining

Ready for Intense Critique

Ready for Intense Critique

Ruth E. Walker

Every two weeks, Gwynn and I head to a small meeting room to join with several other writers. We have the same goal for our meeting: to give/receive in-depth critiques.

We call our group Critical MS (CMS). It’s a fun word play on “critiquing” and “manuscript”, but also on the scientific term that refers to the point at which a chain reaction starts in a nuclear explosion. Business has adopted this term too, for the point when a business starts to take off and be successful. We like to think that with the help of the group, our novels will reach that take-off-and-succeed point, too.

But, it’s not for the faint of heart – if you need to only hear lovely things about your writing, CMS (or any similarly intense group) is not for you.

The process

Manuscript excerpts are submitted by email at least one week in advance. A large submission (40 pgs, double-spaced) gets the whole two-hour meeting. Smaller submissions split the meeting time (we keep our critique focus to two pieces maximum each session.) One person maintains the list of who is “up” for the next two or three meetings and members are responsible to make sure submissions are sent on time, ready or not.

Each submission gets remarkable written comments from all the members – edits and comments to take home to review. Even if you can’t make it to the meeting, comments are expected to be emailed, so a serious commitment is definitely needed. But the true gold of CMS is the lively and diverse group discussion about the submission that happens during the meeting.

Frankly, my CMS colleagues have saved my writerly ass many times.

I can’t thank them enough.

The results

Discoveries are made. Plot holes and thematic possibilities debated. Character arcs and structure are dissected, along with murky or confusing settings. POV shifts. Tense shifts. Time shifts. Smoking guns that need resolution… 

CMS members have a range of professional expertise and resources, and they bring all that to the table. We generally don’t do “fixes” but suggestions can be mused upon – and the writer takes notes and speaks only occasionally (if clarification is needed.) It is gruelling and exhilarating because it validates you as a writer.

There’s an added bonus. Analyzing another writer’s work adds to your understanding of the writing process, of the craft, of the basic nitty-gritty of getting words on the page that will matter to readers.

Plus, listening to what others noticed that I didn’t, or had the opposite view to mine — setting, POV, character trait or plot point — well, that’s a real learning opportunity. Maybe they’re right. Maybe not. But it makes me reconsider my notes and my view.

Ultimately, the writer with work on the table has to go home, sift through the marked manuscripts and their meeting notes. They decide what to do with all that input. But again, that’s the true work of the writer: editing choices.

Accountability

Perhaps the greatest bonus for all members is our goal-setting program. It isn’t enough for one or two members to prepare their work to share with the group. Nope. We ALL get to state measurable goals for the next two weeks. Goals are noted and at the end of each meeting, we announce if we’ve met the last two weeks’ goals.

Goal met: applause. Goal not met: $2.00 fine.

Sometimes, we are brilliant and no cash goes to our goal-tender/treasurer. However, it might be interesting to note that our money pot has grown over time so that it once helped support a financially needy student to attend arts camp and recently assisted a far-north school with some needed supplies.

What can I say? We may not always achieve our goals but we do share the wealth of our procrastination. Seriously, the act of setting a goal is, for some of us, priceless. Not that anyone is brow-beaten for not achieving the goal. We all know that life happens. But there is something affirming about others listening to what we hope to achieve, ready to celebrate when we do or commiserate when we don’t.

Toes in the water first

I’ve belonged to other writing groups/circles before CMS and it was wonderful to give and receive feedback and comments – often carefully broached to avoid bruised egos and more loose in structure. I learned from them and became a better writer because of them. But the time came for a greater intensity.

When you are ready, like I was, to receive critiques on the level of a publisher or professional editor, you need to seek out the next level of your feedback process. It is not easy. And you need to commit to offer careful and thoughtful critiques to your colleagues. But it is an important step to let go of the ego and move deeper into the craft of writing.

So. Where are you on the feedback continuum? Is it time to dip your toes in or are you ready to ramp up your level of critique? If you don’t know the answer, maybe it’s time to give the question greater attention.

Last word

Looking for feedback on your writing?

Sign up for Spring Thaw, Writescape’s all-inclusive writers’ retreat April 26. Participants receive written feedback on their work from two professional editors, Gwynn Scheltema and Ruth E. Walker. That feedback is followed with a one-on-one private consultation with either Gwynn or Ruth, and they’re both available for ongoing consultations during the retreat.

Choose from the 3-day or 5-day options. Workshops, group sessions, full resort amenities and fine dining at Elmhirst’s Resort. Stay in your private bedroom in cozy lakeside cottages. For more than 10 years, it’s been a true escape to write…with Writescape.

The Gift of Feedback

The Gift of Feedback

Ruth E. Walker.

Feedback from colleague writers can be a tremendous help to developing writers. Or it can put good manuscripts off the rails. How do you know comments received in a writing circle or workshop feedback session are useful?

Remember Ruth’s three basic rules of successful writing feedback:

Respect:           Give it and get it. All feedback is an offered opinion. You are free to take it or leave it.

Encourage:      Never intend to diminish another writer; always offer colleague-to-colleague comments .

Inspire:            Go ahead and take risks with your writing but be prepared to hear what may need a second look.    

Receiving feedback is an art

  • respect an honest opinion by not defending your writing
  • take notes of verbal comments
  • all feedback is opinion; you may not agree but listen anyway (later on, you may realize that the opinion you dismissed is just what you needed to hear)
  • all feedback is useful; see above and remember you are free to accept or gracefully decline offered feedback
  • don’t interrupt; if you need to clarify what is said, make a note and wait for an appropriate spot to ask a question
  • if feedback is offered in a group session, pay attention; others discussing their opinions about your submission can lead you to exciting discoveries and new ideas

Giving feedback in an art

  • respect the risk a writer takes in asking for feedback; not everyone is ready for an intense critique so if you are unsure of how much to offer, ask the writer
  • begin with one positive aspect before offering suggested areas to review
  • avoid “I like” or “I didn’t like” as much as possible: this isn’t about “liking” something, it is about technique, clarity, logic, development of plot, setting, characters, etc.
  • focus on words, phrases, rhythms, etc., that stand out – either in a good way, or in a way that doesn’t work; offer suggestions if you can
  • be specific about interesting words or ideas and material that seems flat/stereotypical
  • be professional; if you are uncomfortable with the subject, and it affects your ability to critique, it is okay to pass on making any comment

~~~

On-demand Workshops

On-demand Workshops

Gather your group. Pick your topic and your date. And we’ll bring Writescape to you.

From beginning writer to seasoned professional, we’ll customize sessions to suit your programming themes and audience needs. Choose from Writescape’s Workshop Catalogue 2016 to help you and your colleagues hone writing craft and develop new skills and techniques.

“I came away with an understanding that will stick with me … great handouts and examples.”

From two-hour evening sessions to week-long programming, you tell us what you need and when you need it. Writescape will supply professional workshop leaders, hands-on exercises and practical handouts, and a creative, supportive atmosphere for an excellent learning experience.writing-828911_960_720

“…a safe place to be vulnerable with my writing and to risk trying something new.”

Writescape facilitators have delivered workshops and presentations across the Greater Toronto Area, as well as Ottawa Region, Durham Region, and Northumberland, Kawartha, Haliburton, Muskoka, Simcoe and Niagara regions, Southwestern Ontario and into the U.S.

startup-594090_1920 (1)Step 1: talk to your group or colleagues about what you need

Step 2: choose your program from our Workshop Catalogue 2016

Step 3: contact:
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