Why all writers need to have a crack writing team

This weekend I was part of a friend’s music video shoot at Aardman Studios (of Wallace and Gromit fame). And before I go on, you should definitely check out Native and the Name on iTunes and Spotify. Also see the video above (the one we were filming is still in production).
The shoot was directed by Nick Park and to see the whole process taking shape (from my position in my role of ‘bloke at back of crowd’) was fascinating. But nice as it was to see an Oscar-winning director at work, I kept thinking of my pal Joe, on stage performing while the team around him made it all happen.

From his bandmates (who are also his brother and sister) to the entire Aardman team – camerapeople, lighting folk, the girl with the clapper board, even those of us who were simply there as extras – everyone pulled together to try and make something special.

And yet amidst the collaboration, at the centre of it all, was Joe, the bloke who writes the music. The person who matters most.

You’ll never walk alone

I often describe writing, especially long form fiction, as a solitary process. It’s certainly true that we have to spend a significant amount of time on our own with nothing but a computer screen for company. But creative work is rarely done alone for long. At some point, you need the help of others.

Perhaps the most obvious way us writers rely on other people is when it comes to getting feedback. That’s when we have to let go of our writing, all be it temporarily, and allow someone else into the creative process. Few great works of art are made without a second opinion.

There are many other examples though. In fact, I’d guess that most writers have a crack team of trusted friends, family and fellow scribblers that they rely on.

The A team

Every writer’s support team will be different. People will come and go. You’ll need help with some areas of your writing more than others. There is no one formula for getting a team together to help you write. You simply have to find what works for you.

With that in mind, I thought I’d share with you my own crack team. These are the people who have, at various points over the last few years, helped me get to where I am right now, which is having a completed novel and a literary agent.

My wife, who for periods was better known as girlfriend and then fiancee. She’s the captain of the ship. She reads drafts when there are better things to do, never complains when I stay up until the early hours and always believes in me. She is both feedback provider and emotional supporter.

My parents are not writers and have no writing background (they still don’t understand why I’m not a teacher) but they played a huge role in my early writing career. When I wanted to go to Sheffield Hallam University because its English degree involved creative writing, they supported me. When I decided to stay and take on the Masters, they helped out financially and made it possible.

Non-writing friends can be so valuable. Mine have always shown an interest in my writing and have been more than happy to dish out some gentle ribbing when (to them) the novel seemed to take forever to write. Any writing team should include people who are not writers. They let you breathe and keep you grounded.

Writing tutors have helped shape my writing. I save special mention for Simon Crump, a brilliant writer who once brought an axe in to class. Murder your darlings. You get the idea. Simon was my novel tutor and was the person who made me believe I could be a published author. He gave me confidence, improved my technique and changed my thinking.

Writer friends have come and gone over the years. I had lots when I was studying, of course, and the sense of community was fantastic. Special mention here goes to Trudi Shaw, who read and reread (without ever complaining) my final masters submission. Writers must be kind to each other, in my opinion. This was a perfect example. In fact, I’d say that the one thing missing from my current crack team is a group of fellow writers to share my work and cut the jib with.

Finally, my agent, Sophie. I find the current trend for depicting agents as work-shy and practically surplus to requirements, pretty stupid and at best naive. My experience of having an agent could not be further from this notion.

In short, working with Sophie has made my novel an infinitely better piece of work. Every writing team needs someone who can offer quality feedback that comes from a position of experience. That person doesn’t have to be an agent, of course, but you need people around you who know what they’re doing.

One condition

The real point of this post is to encourage you to think about your own writing process and whether there are any areas where you could use some extra help.

Each member of my crack team had (or has) one thing in common: I trust them. You might find you need help from different people at different stages, but don’t ask the first person you think of. You need to know that you’re going to get what you need from people. You absolutely have to trust them.

This is especially important when it comes to getting feedback. Every writer needs it, but we don’t always ask the right people. Notice when I mentioned my friends were part of my team, I didn’t say that they directly helped me with my writing. Love them though I do, most of them would be useless at giving me useful feedback.

And though trust is the one condition for forming your own writing team, you must accept that it comes in different forms. For example, you may trust your partner to be there when the going gets tough, but not let them near a single sentence. Or you might trust a fellow writer to give you good, honest feedback, but not have much of a relationship with them beyond the writing.

This is all fine. Every team has specialists. It’s about getting the right people in the right roles and then letting them do their thing. Yes, writing really is a solitary pursuit for much of the time, but having a team behind you is essential.

Share your thoughts

Do you tend to go it alone or have you got your own crack writing team? Who does what and how do you decide when to call upon their services? Let me know in the comments.

    1. It’s true, criticism is so important, you just have to make sure that it’s coming from people who you trust. It’s about surrounding yourself with awesome people who want you to do well, but without blowing any unnecessary trumpets.

  1. Great post…My meditation community (and in particular my teacher) is a huge support to my  writing, but even though the help of this community has been incredible, I admit I tend to think of the spiritual community as “taking away from” my writing time & energy…so if I read a book on meditation, it ‘doesn’t count’ as Reading as a Writer.  Need to rethink that!

  2. Hi Iain,
    De-lurking again.  Great post and absolutely spot on.  Enjoyed the links!

    My team: 

    My husband who knows for absolutely certain I will succeed.  He has no doubts, not one.  In the beginning that was pretty scary.  Would I let him down, myself down, my family down. Would I FAIL?  He doesn’t read my work for the simple reason he is a man and does not read romance, bless him.  However he does the search and destroy on everything that’s happening in publishingland, which keeps him pretty busy.  I rarely discuss character development with him.  When I do, he’s learned the hard way, to say ‘Yep, that sounds good.’ 

    My mother, who is not surprised in the least, since she says I’ve been writing stories since I was seven.  She’s read competition entries only.  I do not ask family members to read work.

    My published writer friends who tell me I can do this.  Their opinions matter because they commented on three competitions where the entries were anonymous and every one of them knew it was me.  It appears I’ve found my voice.

    My crit partners, all four of them, who are brilliant and kick me hard when I need it.  And lift me up when I need it too.  Two of them are editors and are ruthless in homing in on self-indulgence.  Especially the ‘good bits’ and when I go over the top.  However, I don’t let them read work until its been revised and polished to a shine.  I don’t expect them to correct mistakes, basic or otherwise.  That is my job – to write as cleanly as I can – and to paint a picture for the reader with word choice.

    I have a group of eight readers who match the demographic I’m targeting.  They’re a disparate bunch and their feedback lets me know if I’ve hit the spot, or not.  I trust them, even when they disagree passionately with each other because that means I’ve engaged their emotions.

    My friends, who want to know if they’re in a book.  Ah, no.  Or who say ‘you’d better not put me in a book.’  Worry not.

    I do not have an agent.  I know they’re getting a bad press, but I believe that is a minority in the USA?  I have only heard good things of the British variety, and that is not a suck-up btw.

    The big thing is to trust your instincts.  You know yourself if something isn’t working because you can’t get past it.  You re-read, re-jig, mess about, have a coffee, etc., etc. That’s when the ‘why’ question comes into play.  Or I step away for a couple of days and let it go.  The eureka moment always arrives, it’s a matter of trusting yourself and that comes with practise.   I call it the logic line – it needs to run through the entire work.

    Talking  of which, back to revisions.

    Christine

      

    1. Great comment Christine – thanks! It certainly seems like you have a more than able team behind you there. Picking up on your final point, I agree with you about trusting your instincts. For me, that means that, ultimately, you have to take responsibility for the work that you produce, both good and bad. It’s why I don’t like the idea of the muse – it removes a sense of responsibility for what you’re doing. Thanks again for the comment, appreciate your time.

  3. Thanks for this. It has caused me to realise that I already have the makings of a great team behind me. Now all I need to do is get on with the business of writing and submitting my work. All! 😉

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