“I not only use all the brains I have, but all that I can borrow.”
~ Woodrow Wilson ~
Writing is a solitary pursuit. But few writers actually write alone.
“Huh?” you say.
Yes, there comes a time when an author must sit in front of a keyboard or pull out a notepad and write the story down in some kind of order. Unless you’re fortunate enough to have a secretary to take dictation that part of writing is a solitary pursuit. But look behind even the most successful writers and you’ll discover they’re not completely alone either.
I make it a point to read the dedication at the front of each book I pick up, especially those of my favorite authors. Why? It connects me, however briefly, with writers I admire. It’s a great place to see what kind of special research might have gone into the book and where the information came from but, more than that, it reminds me that we’re all treading the same path. Brand new author or New York Times bestseller, we all need someone we can talk to about writing. Those are the names found in dedications.
We call these people our best friends, readers, critique partners, “sisters” or “brothers” of the craft. They’re always in the wings when we need assistance, support, guidance, or a little kick in the pants…our own personal “brain trusts” we tap into at will.
I’ve identified six primary kinds of “brain trusts” that have influenced my writing over the years.
If you claim yourself as one of my close friends, distant acquaintances, or simply a one-time coffee mate who might someday become one of my brain trusts, please stop reading immediately. Proceed to the north door leading to the soundproof room where you will be served delicious refreshments I slaved over for two days and entertained by your favorite rock/western/metal/indie band of choice flown in especially for your enjoyment. The establishment is not responsible for those who elect to stay and pigeonhole themselves on this list. [Thank you – The Management]
Okay, for those who are directionally challenged or can’t resist peeking behind door number two even if it opens on a room full of dancing chickens, let’s see if you can identify these individuals in your writing lives by their job descriptions.
THE BRAINSTORMER…can be counted on to sit with you for hours throwing around story ideas that may or may not ever see the light of day. Throw a word, a phrase, or a scenario at this person and watch the gears begin to turn! She allows you time to think out loud and then helps smooth the wrinkles in your faulty thought processes. He’s the first person you call when you run into a wall you can’t write around. She opens your mind to possibilities you hadn’t considered and holds your hand as your muse explores the dark woods of your brain to find the rare flower of an idea that is rumored to live just past the first stand of trees.
THE ADVENTURER…keeps your writing fresh. She has one foot firmly planted in the ever-changing world around her. Need to know, first hand, how it feels to jump out of an airplane or drive a formula car around a racetrack? She’s taken classes to learn both. He knows the current colloquialisms, the “happening” nightspots. He knows they’re no longer called “happening” nightspots! She reminds you there’s a fascinating world outside the office window that needs to be incorporated into your writing at risk of it growing as musty as your aging wardrobe.
THE NITPICKER…”keeps house” for you. She line edits your manuscript, erases dangling participles, spots typoes, tipos — ahem, sorry, my Nitpicker’s in the soundproof booth dancing with Bon Jovi…or is that Elvis? — typos, etc. If you’ve used the wrong word, she’ll spot it. Think of her as your own personal Merry Maid of Mechanics. Someone has to do it and, if you’re lucky, the editor will be so impressed by the lack of dust bunnies in your manuscript she’ll see only the sheen on the beautiful story you’ve told.
THE CLUE SEEKER…used to be called the Clueless. But that’s an injustice to what she actually does for the writer. The moment you hear, “Huh? I don’t understand,” the Seeker’s identified a potential weakness in your story. If you’re confusing your reader, you’re losing that reader. This person is a lightning rod to revision. You know what you intend when you use a particular word or phrase or scene but, if it falls flat for her, you need to consider alternatives. That’s not to say you should write for the terminally clueless but, if you want to communicate your story to the greatest number of people, you need to be clear.in word usage, meaning, story goals, direction, etc.
THE COHABITER…thinks and writes most like you. He not only understands what you write, but how you write. He’s the one who keeps you honest to your style, characters, and stories. She knows your work so well she can tell when you’ve taken shortcuts or fallen off the turnip truck into the briar patch. She’s likely to notice a character is no longer true to the story even before you do. A partner in mind and spirit, but once removed, she can see things your way. Only with objectivity.
THE CHEERLEADER…picks you up when you’re down. She dusts you off and then pushes you through another door. Your one-woman or one-man band. He’s the first person on the crime scene when a rejection letter arrives in the mailbox, knowing you can’t open another one without running naked into the street. He’s there to stop you from making a fool of yourself or take pictures so you laugh and shake it off. She throws you a rope and challenges you to write one more word. One more chapter. One more book. Even when you’re certain there’s nothing left inside you. And she yells the loudest when you justify her faith in you and succeed beyond your wildest dreams, without jealousy, with a genuine gladness.
Sometimes these individuals can fulfill more thanfone of these functions but, in a group dynamic, it doesn’t take long to figure out where these people sit around your writing table. Do you recognize any of these “brain trusts” in your lives? Do you recognize yourself?
We may be solitary writers but we don’t write alone, and I’m exceedingly grateful for all of the brains I borrow. Have you hugged your “brain trust” lately? You should!
[Since it is the Thanksgiving holiday, I am reminded to give thanks for all of the good things in my life. So I’m reprinting this article which I wrote back in 2007. It’s as appropriate today as it was the day I wrote it. Thank you, my friends – both readers and writers – for your continuing support, for your belief in my work, and encouragement. Cyber hugging my brain trust!!]