Writing is often a lonely pursuit, like an endurance race where you’re the only one running, or a round of golf with no beer cart. For many of us, it can be difficult to ask for - or accept - help, even when we really need it. But sometimes it’s just the thing you need to gain momentum, or to get to write The End.
I spent last year re-writing a book that ended up being Not Very Good. It was rough; I still love the story, but in the end I was relieved when my agent told me to shelve that project and move on to something else. But starting over from scratch with nothing to show for the last nine months? That’s a hard pill to swallow. I had an old NaNoWriMo draft I wanted to revise, but at that low point the project felt like Everest.
That’s when my friend Michelle (who has been asking about this NaNoWriMo draft since I wrote it in 2013) made an exceptionally generous offer. She said that, if I wanted to, I could send her the chapters I revised as I went, and she’d read them and send along encouragement.
My immediate thought (after “MICHELLE IS SO NICE I LOVE HER”) was: “No way!” Listen, it’s hard to have people read books that Are Not Finished. And a part of me knew I’d be imposing on Michelle’s time by sending her things nearly every day. And as writers, we have this kind of pioneer resilience sometimes, a true pride in doing things on our own. It’s funny, though, how that can blind us to amazing things like teamwork, collaboration, or just plain friendship. So, teetering as I was on the edge of hopelessness, I did something that (for me, and I think for many writers) was a bit out of my comfort zone: I accepted her help.
It saved the book.
When you’re a slow writer like me, you only get to show your friends something new that you’re proud of maybe once a year. I had forgotten how good it felt to get feedback until I read Michelle’s email responses where she told me what she liked about the characters and what plot points had her eager to keep reading. I started tackling the revisions first thing in the morning, so I would have something to send Michelle as quickly as possible. And some of her notes made me think about the story differently, helping me shape parts of the plot that were undeveloped.
With Michelle’s help and encouragement, I revised the book in a month, something that would have easily taken me six months otherwise. I was always the kid in high school who took over group projects and did everything myself, so you can imagine how hard it was for me recently to realize I needed someone to hold my hand. But I do, sometimes, and swallowing my pride and accepting help made this winter a productive, happy time — a rare gift in the writing life.
So if you’re a stubborn writer like me — but are also lucky enough to have incredible friends — I’d encourage you to think twice the next time someone offers to help. It might feel unusual, or even uncomfortable, but we can’t improve without going outside our comfort zones.
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