by Jaminnia R. States, guest blogger
This post is part of a HippoCamp 2022 recap series, with guest blog posts written by HippoCamp attendees. Learn more about our conference for creative nonfiction writers.
Think of yourself as Col. Nick Fury, the top agent and mastermind behind Marvel’s S.H.I.E.L.D. (If you’re lost here, it’s like if the UN had a badass intelligence agency, headed by Samuel L. Jackson, who did you know they drew him in the comics before ever casting him on film? You’re sought after, baby. And a badass, got it?)
Anyway, as Col. Nick Fury, you pull all the strings, you examine all the angles. This problem—your first draft—has four specific elements (plot, character, language, setting) and its own unique challenge, explains Angie Chatman in her HippoCamp 2022 session “First Drafts Club.”
Which heroes do you call upon to help you polish this first draft into a second, a third, and, finally, something lovely?
- Play to your strengths by knowing your weaknesses. Perhaps language and lyricism are not your strong suit? Then you need to recruit a poet, a master of enchanting word combos. Maybe your narrative structure is all over the place, or worse, doesn’t exist. Start searching for a playwright, they have all the cool plot hacks.
- Location. Location. Location. Go to an open mic or any spoken word event. Is there a performer whose stanzas pique your interest? At your local college’s theater or theater department, put up flyers advertising that you’re building a super team. Leave your name and email on those little tabs. Naturally, libraries are another great place to scout and eventually gather once your super team is assembled. Make friends with your local librarians–better friends and more helpful people you’ll likely never meet (#humblebrag). Ask the librarian to point you to other writers and writing groups where you can scout or fall in. If there is no group, ask them if you can start one.
- Personal relations. Lean into the compliment. It’s about you, AND it’s about them. Snag your best recruits by pitching how you can help each other. Tell them what you admire about their work, and tell them what makes you an awesome draft writing partner. When you field calls from that flier, ask about the person’s work, current projects, and commitment level. Fill out your dossiers and triangulate your notes. Select the best combination of heroes. Consider a trial period. This group of avengers has to work well for everyone.
After you assemble your team, stick to the plan: writing, sharing, and polishing first drafts. Encourage, promote, and, most of all, require honest, useful feedback. Don’t be afraid to come up with a group agreement about what that means. If one of your superfriends is unable (too “nice”) to critique, or if another doesn’t show up for 3 sessions in a row–it’s okay to hand them a pink slip and relieve them of their duties. Even if you’ve become good friends and love chatting over coffee–it’s okay to put them in the friend zone so you and your team can stay in the writing zone.
Remember, Fury, by now, you’ve assembled enough teams to know heroes come and go, but the work continues. Teams assemble as easily and naturally as they disassemble. Keep your team manageable. Remind yourself how lucky we are to be in this together, developing first drafts into masterpieces the likes of which the world has never seen! Godspeed.