Monday, October 28, 2013

Tool #47: Recruit your own support group.

. . .Create a corps of helpers for feedback.

". . .In the real world, writing is more like line dancing, a social function with many partners. . .

     You must create a system of support both wide and deep. If you limit yourself to one classroom teacher or one editor, you will not get the help you need. You must create a network of friends, colleagues, editors, and coaches who can offer feedback--and maybe an occasional feedbag.

Roy goes on to suggest later that we:

"Work on developing the support system you need and deserve." 

And he then lists the kinds of people he needs:

* A helper who keeps me going.  For years, my teaching partner Chip Scanlan has played this role for me, especially when I am working on a long project. . .He says to me, over and over again, "Keep going. Keep writing. We'll talk about that later."

* A helper who understands my idiosyncrasies. All writers have quirks. The fleas come with the dog. . .My wife, Karen, understands this. While I cower under the covers with my dog Rex, she sits at the breakfast table, crunching her Rice Chex, reading my story in the paper and making sure no unforeseen horror has appeared. "All clear," she says, to my relief.

* A helper willing to answer my questions. For many years writing coach Donald Murray has been willing to read my drafts, and he begins by asking me what I need from him. . .My response might be, "Is this too Catholic?" or "Does this seem real enough to publish as a memoir?" or, "Just let me know if you find this interesting." 

* An expert helper to match my topic. My current interest often dictates the kind of helper I need. When I wrote about the Holocaust, and the history of anti-Semitism, I depended on the wisdom and experience of a rabbi, Haim Horowitz. When I wrote about AIDS, I turned to an oncologist, Dr. Jeffrey Paonessa. Such people may begin as interview subjects, but the deeper you get into a topic, the more they can turn into sounding boards and confidants.

* A helper who runs interference. Joyce Barrett blessed me with her assistance for twenty years. I especially remember the morning she came to work, saw that I was writing, closed my office door, and put a motel-style Do Not Disturb sign on the handle. . . .

* A coach who helps me figure out what works and what needs work. For more than a year, an intern named Ellen Sung edited a column I wrote for the Poynter Web site. She could articulate the strengths of a column, ask great questions that would lead to revisions and clarifications, and framed negative criticism with persuasive diplomacy."

He ends with this paragraph:

"You may choose these helpers one by one, but over time they form a network, with you at the center. You may address them as a group via e-mail or ask them in various combinations to help you solve a problem. You can test the criticism of one against the wisdom of another.  You can fire one who gets too bossy. You can send another flowers or a bottle of wine. It's good, on occasion, for the writer to be the king--or queen." 

Now put this tool to use in the WORKSHOP:

--Look at the six categories of helpers described above. Make a list of six people who might be able to serve you in these capacities. Rehearse a conversation with each with the goal of expanding your network.

I hope you found useful this chapter tidbit from Roy Peter Clark's book, "Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies For Every Writer," published by Little, Brown and Company. You can find a copy here.

Next week I feature another of Roy's "Useful Habits": "Limit self-criticism in early drafts."

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Journey into the Promised Land

Journey into the Promised Land
From Egypt to Israel