Sunday, September 4, 2011

Final Writing Lesson from "The Help"

The Help movie is still pulling in big numbers at the box office. I know of a few people who have watched it more than once. (A quick glance shows a movie called The Debt also generating a big following this weekend. Let's hear it for movies with strong female characters!) I hope that it continues to do well, and that people come away with plenty to discuss-- not only about race, but about class, parenting, and friendship.

Final Lesson: You Are Not Alone

Before the book with the baby-blue cover could be published, it had to get written. Before that, it had to be researched. In order to do that, a great number of people had to get together. The book Skeeter and Abilene worked so hard on was a collaborative effort, not just between the two of them, but with over a dozen other maids. Abliene's story alone wouldn't have been enough, neither would have Skeeter's, but once they were able to get other people to share, the work was, at times, unstoppable. Milly's insistence on telling the ONE story she never wanted repeated in order to possibly secure their anonymity was also crucial to a successful project (not to mention necessary for the maids to keep their jobs and/or stay out of harm's way). All of the women needed each other.

But it's different with your project, right?

  • "I'm writing fiction, so all of it needs to come out of MY brain..." 

No matter how high your IQ, there's still something you will need to learn from another source. Writing a crime thriller? Hopefully, not too much of that is first-hand knowledge. You may need to dig a bit to make sure your creative way to break into the bank vault is feasible.

"I'm writing memoir, so it REALLY needs to come from my brain..." Memoirs are subjective, no doubt about that, however, you may come across a memory that has faded a bit. You may have to talk to friends and family to help you remember. Memoir is also filled with emotion. You may need to revisit some experiences with with the same people who were around to get an understanding of how certain times impacted your life.
  • Anyway, writing is a solitary pastime.

If writing was strictly solitary, why do writers flock to writer's groups, conferences, book signings? Why are there so many communities online designed for writer's to reach out to each other? Yes, writing does happen in quiet rooms, but the writing is only a small part of the writer's life. Writing is also about observing, learning, teaching. Writing is communication, and communicating is not complete when it only includes pen and paper.

You may think you have the writing thing down--and then you go to share your work at a writer's group and they point out you are shifting POV. You may not know what POV is, or you may not realize that you were jumping in and out of your characters heads, making it confusing for the reader. That's why we share with others. They see things we are too close to focus on.

You may feel totally comfortable with POV, plot lines, conflict-- all of it, but you may not know what to do with your masterpiece. Are you ready to write queries, a synopsis? Do you even know when you need them? You need to learn from people who know the ropes enough to help you decide which rope may be the best for you.
  • You are not alone.

Skeeter could have looked at the world around her and attempted to write a fictional account of the stories. Abilene could have stayed in her depression instead of making a choice to write and possibly change the world that took her son from her. Instead, they decided to help each other to create a work that fulfilled them both, as people and as writers.

Are you suffering in silence about a certain aspect of your writing? Are you wasting time trying to teach yourself code for your website or resending standard queries that are not getting noticed? Wouldn't you be better off asking for help, so you can quit spinning your wheels and get back to your passion, the writing? Find yourself a writer's group, a class on grammar, an editor, a coach. When necessary, spend money on yourself and your dream. It's an investment in your writing future. Whatever it takes. Don't think you have to do it alone.

Get Help.

Happy Writing!

What kind of help do you need the most? Please comment!

As always, if you need help learning about contests and markets, sign up for the Excuse Editor newsletter. If you are interested in getting a coach, someone who can help with the basics of writing (including ways to stay motivated) as well as marketing techniques, sign up for the Coaching Connection, or email specific questions to me: tina (at)

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