Are you a loner or team player writer?

There’s no question that, for most of us, most of writing is going to be done alone. Alone, alone, alone. With our thoughts, the voices, and the quiet time it takes to figure out just the write word.

I’ve been catching up on some housework and having me some Joss Whedon time. (Firefly, specifically.) So many great lines and great ideas in this show. And you think, “How the hell do they keep coming up with this stuff?”

I don’t know much, or anything, about television writing but I kind of assume it’s a team effort. And I envy that sometimes. I find I’m often more awesome when I’m kicking ideas around with others. Which is why you’ll often find me kicking around with Kait, Andrew, Claire and anyone else on Team Susan who gives me the least bit of encouragement.

Didn’t used to be that way. I mean, partly because I didn’t have writer friends to talk to. But also because I used to be a lot more protective of ideas. And I’m not talking so much about someone “stealing” an idea. I mean that I guess I used to be concerned that there would only be so many, so I couldn’t just be giving them away. I had to save all the good stuff, not only for my own work, but also I had to put away the best of those for when I was a better writer so I didn’t waste them on when I wasn’t such a good writer. (The other day I pulled up a character sketch kind of piece I wrote for the Talent Chronicles. It was awesome. It was dated October 2007.)

What I learned, hokey as it sounds, is that not only will there always be more ideas, but there will always be even more ideas when they’re shared. Because that’s what helps my brain work, and making those ideas and then giving them away to make room for more exercises that part of my brain to make it even better at coming up with ideas.

There’s no finite number of ways to describe a kiss. It may seem that way when you’re struggling with it, but a kiss… Are any two kisses the same? Any two people coming together, everything that led to that moment and anything this act is going to change going forward, every nuance of feeling these people are trying to communicate in this amazingly human way–

And suddenly you all realize why HEROES ‘TIL CURFEW took me a year and is twice as long as HUSH MONEY.

But I give you this example because it comes up a lot as Miss Kait occasionally gets pissy over the kissy. Helping her out with that is part of what taught me this lesson. No matter how many kisses I’ve helped her write over the years, I’ve always got more. (I feel obliged to tell you that my student has become a master and the first kiss moment she wrote for RED knocked my socks off with no help from me at all!)

So now I’ve got this very Doritos crunch all you want, we’ll make more feeling about giving words and ideas away. And it’s good because I’m pretty much addicted to brainstorming with others.

How about you? Do you play it close to the vest until you have a finished project to show, or do you prefer to make some parts of your work more of a team effort?


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16 responses to “Are you a loner or team player writer?

  1. Dude, I BLED for that kiss. I always feel like kissy stuff is EASY for you, but for me it’s like…pulling TEETH. With a SPOON. And not a grapefruit spoon that actually has an edge, but a DULL ONE.

    But yeah, absolutely I think working in a team to kick around ideas is so much better because you never know when one of your team members will say something that jars things loose in your head and gets you UNSTUCK. Which is why I hate it when you’re on vacation and internet silent because inevitably, Murphy’s Law dictates that’s when I enter the Suck and need your brilliance πŸ˜€

  2. I am by nature a loner, I find it difficuly to make friends of any sort, and find social interaction hard. Don’t get me started on how hard I am finding promotion for my novel, because talking about myself is just something I cannot do very well. I keep my cards close to my chest when I write but mainly because I have nobody that I can bounce ideas around with. Ultimately the writing process I prefer to be alone for, but certainly having more people to plot and toy around with ideas with would be nice from time to time.

  3. Claire

    When it comes to my own stuff, I am sooo a loner. I hate showing anyone anything (with the exception of Agent Lady, who, Kait shrewdly observed the other day, is basically my CP) until I have something close to a finished product. Something polished, with all the kinks worked out. This might be because I’m still pretty insecure about my writing; I’m not really sure. But whatever the reason, I like working out Plot Knots on my own, coming up with ideas on my own, and I’m more productive when I unplug and can focus on getting down to bidness. Now that isn’t to say I don’t love being social with my writer friends because I ADORE it! Whether it’s on Twitter, blogs, gchat, whatever, I love interacting with my fellow author peeps. And I’ll gladly help them brainstorm if they need it. But when it comes to my own stuff, I totally prefer keeping it close to the vest.

  4. I’m an idea loner for a reason. When I was growing up, around the age that girls organize into cliques, I got into a WRITING CLIQUE. Sounds awesome, right? I was friends with writers! We liked to write! And have sleepovers and stuff!

    Well, it was awesome, but after a while I got really tired of spending so much time and energy on other people’s ideas, and giving my ideas to other people. Kind of an extreme, I know, not what you’re talking about here. And since it was a clique, and we were all roughly 14 to 16, sometimes my ideas got put down. When I started writing a story on my own, without any input, it was kind of scoffed at.

    I guess my point is that in the actual writing process of putting the first words to paper, I want that to be all me. But after I do as much as I can do? I’m totally a team player. I want honest critiques. Fresh ideas. (I WILL integrate them.) I’ve completely reworked stories because of feedback. And I’m willing to give as good as I get, too. Personally, I think all good writers are team players at some step in the process, because there is a limitation to what we can do by ourselves.

  5. I like to keep it close until I’m done. Then I’m willing to share. I used to give one of my beta readers each chapter as I wrote, but she decided that it was easier to read it all at once as a finished product.

    I love writing about kisses! LOL. What I need the most help with is fight scenes. I remember asking Kait’s advice on how to do a good fight scene, and I’ve kept that email. I think what you have to do in a love scene or a fight scene is pretend you’re there and visualize each step. Sometimes easier said than done. :0)

    I agree…Kait nailed the kiss in Red.

  6. Brandi

    You could always talk to Brandi more, Susan. She’s awesome. And can brainstorm. Just sayin’

  7. Joanna Aislinn

    I often discuss story ideas with one friend who is a big reader. She never seems to tire of helping me put together story ideas.

  8. Thanks for the great comments, everyone!

    @Kait- You should bleed more. Just sayin’. I like what you said about getting unstuck because that’s so often what it is. Usually what I end up with is not the idea someone else came up with, but the idea I came to at the end of a path I went down just because of something they said. Because it’s kinda rare that someone else actually comes up with just the right thing for your story. Sometimes it just helps to have someone else throwing things out and going no, that’s not it, no, that’s not it either… Just figuring out what’s NOT it, and thinking about why, get you closer to what IS it.

    @Alex- I am more introverted than I sometimes seem here. Practice makes it easier. I thought that promoting my book was going to be way beyond my social ability. But it turned out to not really be so bad. I could be wrong, but I think some of the very outgoing people we see out there really selling their work probably aren’t having any more success that us quiet types because a lot of people are put off by that. You and your book are probably a lot alike. Just be yourself and do what’s comfortable.

    @Claire- You are the secretive one. You should work for the gov’t. When you’re ready to share something it’s like a gift. I want to unwrap it carefully, but I must pounce. Nom nom nom, Clarieful goodness. Good to know that you don’t mind being a help even if you aren’t looking for it, because you are brilliant.

    @Annalise- It does sound fun. I had two friends when I was that age who went in and our of writing phases. It was fun having a buddy while it lasted. But the way you describe it really sounds like one of those not altogether helpful critique groups–junior version. I like to toss ideas around, talk it through, but I don’t even like anyone to be in the house with me when I’m actually writing the words. And then I want to go back to the team with what I made from what we talked about and get a pat on the head. πŸ™‚

    @LL- Kait and I used to trade scene by scene. We learned stuff that way but ultimately it wasn’t a good way to work, we quit it, and now we’re learning different stuff. So while I’ll occasionally send a snippet or scene I’m really proud of to someone I talked it over with, most of mine doesn’t actually go out until it’s a full manuscript either.

    @Brandi- I remember Brandi. And remember her awesomely. I should really talk to her more. Also, I could update LJ more too.

    @Joanna- It’s nice to get feedback from an avid reader. They see things differently. She sounds great.

  9. Hi Susan. I’m sort of both. I’ve been a dancer for almost 30 years, and in that time, I’ve been in and out of a number of collaborations. I joke that everything I know about writing, I learned from dancing. One of the things I learned about dancing is that people do it for different reasons, and that, regardless of the fact that they often say they have the same goals, they don’t. The result is lots of drama and “troupe politics.”

    I kept to myself for years with writing for two reasons. First, I was chicken. And second, because I knew I would find the same “troupe politics” among writers, who, like dancers, might not even realize that their true goals are not their stated goals. Also, I needed to hear my own voice and work it out, and I was afraid of having the wrong voices advising me in the process. So while I had some discriminating readers, I shied away from other writers.

    When Kristen called me up and invited me to be her guinea pig for her first online Warrior Writers Boot Camp, I hesitated. (Yes, I was that stupid.) She actually had to convince me. Now, I still only turn to a handful of people for input on my work, but they are people who seriously kick ass at both writing and kicking ass (mine).

    • Hey, Piper, I think you bring up a good point, that it’s really important to be choosy about whom you go to for input. Because not only are there people who know what they’re talking about and people who just think they do, but there are also issues that are completely subjective, totally about personal taste in style and genre, that you can really let affect your work if you’re not careful. I know that I started to have this problem when, just by reading reviews of my last book I started to let a lot of extra voices into my brain-space. And it was already pretty crowded up there with rowdy teens.

  10. kerrymeacham

    I find the more the merrier works best for me. I think that is especially true for newbies like myself who have so much to say, but need lots of editing.

  11. To me, the first rule in brainstorming is NO critiquing or negative comments. Just record the ideas whether written or recorded to contemplate once you’re alone.
    I’m lucky to have my sister, also a writer, to brainstorm with. I also discuss ideas with my oldest son to see if they are logical, practical, do-able.
    The writing part is completely alone.
    I enjoy both parts – the social and the solitary.

  12. Normally, I don’t share my idea not because I don’t want other people to steal it. I don’t share it because I lose interest once I do. I notice this when I share ideas to other people. Then, I go back working on it and I just lose interest. I’d like to have a chance to collaborate with people though, so maybe working on a collaboration now and worry about the plot later would work for me.

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