Last week brought a couple of milestones for Inkling Creative Strategies. First, on November 13, we turned two years old.
Here’s a rundown of what we’ve achieved together since 2020:
· 46 Virtual Meetups
· Six free tools
· 19 clients
· Seven live events, including six book fairs and one conference presentation, with two more book fairs to follow in November and December.
This past week, though, we also achieved another big win: an Inkling client became the first author in our company’s history to go through the entire writing process with me, from assembling the manuscript to editing to book design and independently publishing the final product.
Marc Lee Shannon’s Sober Chronicles™, a hard-hitting and hopeful account of his ongoing journey of recovery from Substance Use Disorder (SUD) and Mental Health Issues (MHI), is available now in Kindle and paperback formats on at Amazon and his website, www.marcleeshannon.com.
Releasing work as an independent is an exercise in collaboration. As the author, you are the publishing house. You are expected to do all the things and do them with the excellence required of authors who make an impact.
While I worked as the editor and designer of the book’s interior, I also worked with a team that included a cover designer, business manager, and marketers. We put together a book release timeline, set deadlines, and gave feedback on each other’s work.
The same was true for the release of my novel-in-stories, The Goodbye-Love Generation. Like Liam Neeson, I have a very particular set of skills as an indie author—I can edit, design books (including some B+ graphic design skills that produce A+ work on Canva), and market my work through email, social media, and funnels, and this book was 80% completed solely by me.
However, the book was also my master’s thesis when I pursued my Master of Fine Arts in fiction writing. My colleagues provided feedback in our workshops, and three incredible published authors, recognized as experts in their fields, gave extensive critiques as part of my thesis defense.
When I decided to publish The Goodbye-Love Generation years later, I had three trusted fellow artists who critiqued the cover and helped me to choose between two designs I put together, not to mention select a title.
All good books involve collaboration.
I’ve thought about this idea a lot since attending the Fieldmoot conference two weeks ago. As part of the event, the founders of the independent publishing company Bandersnatch Books gave a presentation about how they harnessed their shared passion for books that fall “off the beaten path” of genre conventions and categories and created their own company to elevate these authors. (You can watch the entire presentation here.)
Bandersnatch Books and Inkling Creative Strategies are alike because our companies are inspired by the Inklings, the writing community at Oxford University that included luminaries such as C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien.
The Inklings were unique because they weren’t just concerned about making each other’s work good.
They were concerned about each other’s well-being.
There is no such thing as good writers who create in vacuums. We need each other.
And if you’re feeling alone as a writer, here are a few steps to collaborating with a creative tribe.
Find Your People
They are out there somewhere. Whether it’s a local writing group or an online community, other writers are waiting to connect with you and your writing.
If you want to meet in person, set up an account with Meetup, a free app that will help you find groups of people in your area who share different interests. Years ago, I used it to find a group that connected me with writers I am still friends with and collaborate with today.
There are also great communities online. One of the (few) great things about the pandemic is that online communication made the world much smaller as we learned to collaborate on Zoom to solve problems. Because of COVID, I found my writing community, The Habit, which helps authors of faith connect and find support.
You may feel lonely, but you are not alone. It may take some hunting to land on people to collaborate with, but I assure you, they are there.
(NOTE: A great place to start is a Virtual Meetup with Inkling Creative Strategies! Hop on Zoom for a free 30-minute coaching session where we’ll talk about what you’re currently working on!)
Align Your Values and Goals
It’s easiest to collaborate with other writers with whom you share specific goals and values. This could mean that you all love writing in a particular genre, like fantasy, or creating a type of writing, like poetry.
It could also mean that you share specific values or commonalities. You may want to start a writing group at your place of worship, a group for young adults, or people who share an interest in a social cause. The Inklings weren’t just all writers—they were academics and Christians, giving them a particular similarity to build their love of writing around.
The benefit of creating a group where you share a particular belief system, lifestyle, identity, or passion is that you can work to improve your writing and help each other navigate the challenges you face.
I have some friends who belong to a poetry group for moms. They not only produce great poetry but provide support for each other as they create while raising children. Similarly, I connected last year with a writing center in Cleveland that offers a multitude of special groups for authors from particular backgrounds and life experiences.
It’s important to note that forming a group of writers with a certain commonality doesn’t mean excluding others. There is something to be said for creating groups that include all different types of people.
But I know that engaging with other Christian writers has both helped me grow as a writer and in my faith in Jesus Christ. I am sure that the same can be said for others with very particular life experiences and struggles with the creative process.
Give Good Feedback
Feedback isn’t something you can rush through. I can’t emphasize this enough. Good feedback is not, “Your story was really good” or, “I think it needs more detail.” Good feedback zeroes in on the particulars, giving authors clear examples of where they experiment or modify their work.
Yet, many writers become anxious when giving feedback because they don’t feel qualified to give it or don’t know how.
I wrote a post a while back about the formula I use when giving feedback to Inkling clients, and I think it is a great place to start for people who don’t know how to comment on other people’s writing. To summarize, all aspects of a good critique boil down to two things: what is already working in the piece and where you felt confused or wanted more information.
If you can read someone’s work and give specific answers to these two questions, then you are qualified to provide feedback.
The critique process, though, is also knowing how to take criticism. This is where an element of trust and shared values becomes so crucial for collaboration—if you understand that the person providing feedback truly has your best interests at heart as an individual and not just as a writer, even the most brutally honest criticism can be seen as an act of love.
Encourage Each Other
One of my favorite Bible verses is 1 Thessalonians 5:11: “Therefore, encourage one another and build one another up, just as you have been doing.” The context for this verse, of course, is Paul speaking to the Thessalonian church and exhorting them to continue providing encouragement in light of the return of Christ. But I think it also has powerful implications for creative people.
Your ultimate goal in any collaboration is the edification of your fellow creatives.
We face enough discouragement in the form of rejection, creative block, and family members and friends who don’t understand what we’re doing. A collaborative community should not be the place for this. It should be a safe place to be affirmed and told that our work has meaning.
So, what did I miss in this post? Are there any rules of thumb for collaboration that people should consider? Feel free to drop them in the comments and share!