Since this series began in January 2018 there have been over 1100 Posts from Your Archives where bloggers have taken the opportunity to share posts to a new audience… mine.
The topics have ranged from travel, childhood, recipes, history, family and the most recent series was #PotLuck where I shared a random selection of different topics. This series is along the same lines… but is a ‘Lucky Dip’
In this series I will be sharing posts from the first six months of 2021 and on occasion I might dip into months either side to share gems. Submissions are now closed but there will be another series in January 2022.
This is the second post by Pete Springer and is about the dynamics of a writing group and how it can become an important part of the pre-publishing process.
The Power of Collaboration
Photo Credit to Christina Morillo on Pexels
It occurred to me today that the only job where I was somewhat in a management position was when I taught elementary school for thirty-one years. Not only did I manage classrooms of children from grades 2-6, but I had the opportunity to serve as a master teacher to four student teachers. At one time, I thought about going back to school and getting my administrative credential, but I decided against it. I didn’t because I loved teaching and was not ready to give that up, even if it meant making more money as a principal or superintendent.
I worked for many different types of bosses throughout my career, from great leaders who motivated me to want to be my best to others who were controlling and showed little faith in their employees. But for the most part, I was lucky to work for many inspirational people.
In thinking about all of the best bosses I’ve ever worked for, the one common ingredient they possessed was a belief in the power of collaboration. While ultimately, some final decisions have to be made by those in charge, I believe the leaders who foster a collaborative environment will have the most success.
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Those leaders who try to run a company based on fear and intimidation are the ones that have the highest turnover and lack of buy-in from their employees. How can we respect those who don’t value our opinions and expertise?
After I retired from teaching and began to consider writing novels for children, I realized that possessing a collaborative mindset was the best approach for writers. Writing is more than locking oneself in a room for hours at a time until we hit a daily word count. Like any other skill, learning to write takes patience and persistence.
When I look at all of the things I’ve done in taking classes and reading books about writing, the most critical thing that I’ve done in the past two years has been to work with other writers. Finding a critique group and regularly meeting and collaborating with others as invested in writing has made all the difference in my improvement.
Photo Credit to Canva Studio on Pexels
One of the first self-induced roadblocks that many writers create is what I call the self-doubt trap. It’s the notion that our writing is somehow of less value because it doesn’t stand up to someone else’s work. Even experienced authors with many bestselling books can experience self-doubt. It’s a belief that even though they did it before, they might not be able to replicate the same degree of success.
When I joined my critique group two years ago, I had many of these feelings of self-doubt because I foolishly compared myself to others who had been writing a lot longer than me. Of course, I wasn’t going to be as skilled and talented as others who had been writing stories a lot longer than me. It would be arrogant to think otherwise. Writing is a skill—one that can take a lifetime to master. Learning all the elements that go into creating a work of fiction takes skill and experience.
Two things have changed that have given me a different perspective. First, instead of comparing myself to others, I began to look at and appreciate my growth. Things that critique group members had to point out to me a year ago come more naturally now. Second, part of my growth is because I have developed a level of trust within my group. My critique group values my insights and opinions. That spirit of collaboration has made all the difference.
Every group has to develop a procedure that works for them. I’m sure our process is different from others, but it works well for us. We have the advantage of all being retired. That allows us to meet regularly. I’m going to share what we do, understanding that others may have found a formula that works well for them.
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- We try to meet once a week for four hours. There are six people in our writing group, and we get through as many as we can during that period. On average, that usually means 4-5 people. We give those who haven’t shared the option of having their work read for homework.
- After we have a brief check-in and meditation, the first writer shares. We follow a designated order. If someone didn’t share the previous week, they go first the following week.
- Writers can bring up to ten pages of writing. Each person brings a copy for every member of the group.
- After the first person passes out their work, we read their paper silently. As we’re reading, readers write comments directly on the text. Other writers can comment about anything in the piece, including things they like or suggestions they may have to improve the writing.
- After everyone finishes reading, each member in the group comments aloud on that writer’s piece. One of the key elements during this period is the writer must remain quiet and listen to the critiques. That method prevents a writer from responding and getting defensive when they want to debate a point.
- After the members have had a chance to give an oral critique, we move into “open discussion.” That is the point where the original writer can respond and debate any issues they wish to. But, again, knowing that our fellow writers are simply giving their opinions to try and help make a piece stronger is crucial to trust-building.
- As expected, sometimes writers have opposing viewpoints. The beauty of this process is we can accept or reject the points made by our fellow writers. More often than not, I realize they are right.
I have gone over my first middle-grade story with my critique group two times. It was a long process to go over 60,000 words, but I’m convinced that the collaborative process has made my story much better.
The next step was to hire an editor to vet the work thoroughly. My critique group has helped me the most with the phase known as developmental editing. In addition, I was interested in having a professional look at my story for copyediting and proofreading. I’m a fairly educated guy who wrote many papers in college, and I’ve edited a ton of pieces from my students over the years. Still, I knew my story needed a thorough once over, and I’m glad that I took the time to go through this step. I didn’t want to take any shortcuts.
My editor was fabulous. Even though I’ve been through my story numerous times, she found many minor errors and inconsistencies. Because of her, I will start querying agents soon with much more confidence than I would have before. Another benefit to working with others is that I won’t continue to repeat these same mistakes.
Even experienced writers should go through many of these same processes. We can get so close to our work that it’s essential to take a step back. Collaborating with others is one of the most critical steps in the writing process.
©Pete Springer 2021
My thanks to Pete for allowing me to share posts from his archives and I hope you will head over to check out his other posts.
About Pete Springer
My name is Pete Springer. I taught elementary school for thirty-one years (grades 2-6) at Pine Hill School in Eureka, CA. Even though I retired over three years ago, my passion will always lie with supporting education, kids, and teachers.
When I came out of the teaching program many years ago, I realized how unprepared I was for what was in store for me in the classroom. My college education focused mostly on learning theory rather than the practical day-to-day challenges that all teachers face. Thankfully, I had some great mentors to lean on to help support me in the early part of my career.
I have made it my mission to pay it forward to the next generation of teachers. I was a master teacher to four student teachers, and I have several former students who are now teachers, including one who teaches at my former elementary school. That is pretty cool!
While I was teaching, I decided that one day I would write books for children. That ship is now in the harbor. I took some writing workshops, found a writing critique group, joined SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators), and I recently finished writing my first middle-grade novel. I’ve always connected with kids, and this is my new way of teaching.
My debut MG novel, Second Chance Summer, just got professionally edited, and I will be querying in the coming weeks.