How to Discern What Help You Need in Your Writing & Publishing Journey
Hint: it depends on where you are in the process.
Some thoughts from Sue Reynolds
As I’ve facilitated thousands of writers in their writing—and publishing—journeys over the last 30 years, I’ve come to know a thing or two about what kind of help a writer needs and when.
If you’re currently feeling stuck, resistant or anxious about the writing you want to accomplish, read on to find out whether where you are in the process is calling for a different kind of help.
Here are the four questions I would ask about what stage you’re at with your development as a writer or with a specific project:
- Are You a New Writer? Or are You Experienced, but Facing a New Project?
- Are You Avoiding Working on a Particular Project?
- Do You Need to Get Focused, Productive Work Done on a Large Project over an extended time?
- Do You Need More Focused Single Sessions to Work On A Project Already in Development?
1 Are You a New Writer? Or are You Experienced, but Facing a New Project?
Writing is a creative act. That’s why it’s called creative writing! And the first stages of creativity are play and discovery.
If you are a nervous first-time writer, or a writer who is returning to the page after a long period of separation, you need a space that will help quell that anxiety of “Am I any good? Can I do this? Will anyone care about what I have to write?” If you’re a confident and experienced writer, but you’re back to the beginning with a brand new project and facing that blank page once again, you could also use help with the “where do I go now?” blues.
In this post, I’m going to use the various workshops we offer as examples of what kind of help is useful at different stages of the writing. But of course, you don’t have to take one of our workshops.
James Dewar (who is also a certified AWA facilitator) and I lead our workshops in the AWA method, but if our times don’t work for you, or if our offerings aren’t enticing, by all means work with someone else. However, I strongly encourage you to make sure that facilitator is AWA certified. Please go to the AWA website to find leaders who can hold space in a way that’s supportive of creativity and generativity, and also keeps you safe as you explore, experiment and take chances on the page.
If writers find themselves in that space of knowing that they want to be writing, but not knowing what they want to write, I recommend both my Writers’ Sanctuary 3 hour workshops, and also James’ Write & Learn Poetry sessions.
As a sidebar, I want to note here that, even if you’re not a poet and don’t aspire to publish in that genre, poetry workshops are a great way to develop skills to enhance your prose as well, such as:
- paying attention to word choice
- focusing on voice
- creating vivid imagery
- discovering what it is you are trying to say and making that clearer
just to name a few.
I consider playing with poetry to be a very worthwhile entry point to your writing if you’re not a poet. You can experiment with several poems in a single workshop. The brevity of poetry doesn’t have the weight and heft of writing a novel or a full-length memoir! But it will enhance your writing of those bigger projects.
2 Are You Avoiding Working on a Particular Project?
Many people who come to our workshops say that they are there for accountability. If left to their own devices they will garden or do the laundry or surf the Net—anything that provokes less anxiety than actually writing. (In fact, both James and I sometimes cleverly use this avoidance of writing to get distasteful chores done around the house!)
I have found that writing in community is an effective way to support myself in getting my butt in the chair, even if it’s not a formal workshop and I don’t share what I’ve written. If I make a commitment to others to show up for my writing, I’m far more likely to do it than if I just say to myself, “I intend to work on my novel.”
Pyjama Writing is one of those ways. Every weekday morning—Monday to Friday, 7:30 to 8:30 a.m. Eastern Time—we host an hour of communal dedicated writing time. It’s free, and you don’t have to share your work if you don’t want to! I started these sessions almost three years ago to support a community of writers during the pandemic. Originally I used to work on my novel, but now I use it to do any writing that I have been avoiding. The presence of other writers, all quietly working on their projects, gives me that extra boost of energy—and accountability– to focus on mine. You can read participants testimonials about Pyjama Writing here and you can sign up (a week at a time) here. You don’t have to show up every morning, but you will get an email reminder every day that week. It’s as simple as clicking on the Zoom link. Think of it like a “Yoo-Hoo!” from your Muse to come and write.
Many of the workshops I offer were originally developed as tricks to overcome my own resistance to writing. I discovered that the short exploratory sessions in Sanctuary are wonderful for producing new and surprising work in the early stages of a big project, but not as helpful in the later stages of writing, where my outline is solid, where a significant portion of the book is written, and where I’m completing a second draft.
3 Do You Need to Get Focused, Productive Work Done on a Large Project over an extended time period?
A Novel Approach to First Draft Fiction or Memoir is a 10-month program, beginning in September, where a small cohort of writers meet bi-weekly to develop and write a book-length project. Fiction Writers work with James, Memoirists work with Sue. We’ve been offering a Novel Approach for fifteen years now. You can read all about it at this link.
4 Do You Need More Focused Single Sessions to Work On A Project Already in Development?
For stand-alone sessions to make significant progress, I developed The Headway Project. In these two hour sessions (restricted to just four writers and me) I offer open ended prompts suitable for any kind of project (and as always, they’re optional—you can use them or not). Headway sessions are a great option if you’re having difficulty motivating yourself.
During the first half some participants spend the concentrated hour writing new work for a particular project. Other writers use that time to focus on revising or editing.
During the second hour you will share a chunk of what you just worked on with your colleagues and receive motivating feedback about what’s strong in what you just produced. If you have a specific question or concern about it, you can also ask for targeted feedback. Does this character seem one dimensional or are they more complex? How is the pacing in this section? What do you think this poem is actually about?
Negotiating your relationship with your writing can feel like a game of Snakes and Ladders. But with the right support at the right time, it can instead be a pleasurable game of skill—a game of craft—Writers’ Craft!