I have a confession to make that will probably come back to bite me on the bum in the future: I have always hated teamwork! It’s just not my natural and preferred way of working. I think it partly stems from cringeworthy school projects – I was a highly competent over-achiever (factual statement, not boasting, and not always the case anymore!) and often the other kids I had to work with weren’t. Plus – regardless of ability – there are always people that pull their weight and others who frankly do even less than the bare minimum.
So, I quickly developed a strong preference for working on my own, even if it meant having to do the work of four people. I could do it my way, at my speed and the buck stopped with me.
It wasn’t until I was doing an eCommunications online course a few years ago that this mindset changed significantly. We had forums and group projects, and – naturally – there was a nightmare member of the group who we all wanted to strangle coz she either did nothing or made her contribution at the 11th hour, increasing everyone’s stress unnecessarily. I complained bitterly to my tutor, who wisely and kindly pointed out that there will always people like that in most work/study situations and we have to learn how to deal with them. So rather than just taking my ball and going home, or having a tantrum until this person was removed from our team, I took a deep chillout breath and began to find ways to deal with both her and my reactions to her.
Around the same time I came across this amazing African proverb, which spoke very strongly to me:
It summed up what I knew – people slow you down – but it gave me an insight I hadn’t previously considered: a group can encourage perseverance and provide support, friendship (which increases enjoyment) and new insights/wisdom on the journey. You might have to slow down and compromise, but the benefits could be worth it. Hmmm…..
Today, my team-working ability and appreciation is a million times better than it was. Good job too, because while most people’s perception of writers is that it’s an isolated one-(wo)man task, it really is not! At the very least, if you’re going to be published, you become part of a team with an agent, an editor and a zillion more publishing and bookselling people I have no idea about yet.
But actually, a long way before the possibility of publication, there are huge benefits to be had from being part of writing communities. There’s plenty of choice – from small local groups to large genre focused organisations, expensive professional services or free advice, face-to-face meetings or online conversations.
I feel seriously blessed to be part of two great writing organisations – SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) and the Golden Egg Academy. Both of them are already proving to me that if you want to go far, you should go together.
I only joined SCBWI (pronounced Scooby) at the beginning of the year and have yet to make sure that I’m fully benefitting from their magazine, website, online critique groups and annual conference. However, I did go along to my first SCBWI meeting (NW group) recently and jumped in, putting myself on the line and testing them out too! In the morning there was a lively and interesting member-led workshop, over lunch I made several new friends and then in the afternoon we had critique groups. I haven’t been critiqued in that sort of environment before and I was super nervous, especially when I received the other five critique submissions. These people were all really good writers! And very different to me. Gulp!
For my first critique I’d also done something slightly crazy. Most people would submit their first chapter. Makes sense, obviously. However, when it needed to be submitted my first chapter was already with my Golden Egg editor (more on Golden Egg next time). As I was going to be meeting with Nicki before I met with SCBWI I didn’t want more feedback if she'd already told me to completely rework it (she didn’t, thankfully).
I needed something that could standalone, so I plucked the beginning of a change-of-pace calm-before-the-storm scene right out of chapter 22. Yeap, these poor people were getting something from the middle of the book, without a clue what was going on or a synopsis. Crunch time for me and for them!
Do you know what? They were brilliant (as well as very gracious towards my craziness)! Their feedback was spot-on – too much repetition of “grin” (although understandable as it was a first date), highlighting areas where I needed to be more specific in my descriptions, and even comments like “this seems too easy” and “there needs to be more conflict” proved that I was achieving what I set out to with the scene (given its place in the narrative). I’ve edited that section, taking on board most of their comments, and it’s so much better for their input! It's very exciting to be part of a little SCBWI team who are cheering and critiquing each other on, as well as being involved with SCBWI (an international organisation) full-stop.
While my natural instinct is still to work alone – which is okay because most days that’s exactly what I need to do – the benefits of joining with others on this writing journey are immeasurable. It’s not always easy, but I’m already very glad I’ve learned to appreciate and make the most of teamwork!