Friday, August 3, 2012

Column: Writing Boot Camps by Deb McLeod

With so many writing classes and groups out there, writing doesn’t have to be a lonely journey. Online classes, in-person classes, MFA programs, critique groups, writers book clubs, Meetups, conferences: You can find a group or a class to fit any writing need you might have. You can create your own writing boot camp.

I teach classes, but I also take them. I read craft books, too. These practices keep me thinking about the process and challenge me to try new ways to reach writing goals for myself and my clients.

Over the course of my coaching career, through the classes I’ve taken and the books I’ve read, I’ve developed a Boot Camp Process I use with my clients and in my own work.

The stages aren’t always clearly delineated and they vary in length from project to project or person to person. But all processes can be broken into smaller steps, and writing is a process.

The breakdown I use for myself and my clients to define the process, is this:

1.  Gathering

2.  Shaping

3.  Editing

4.  Publishing

5.  Marketing


In the gathering stage I’m researching and playing with ideas. I’m collecting freewrites and material that may or may not make it into the project. I’m getting to know what it is I want to say. Here is where I’m looking for classes and methods that let me play. Sometimes it helps to take a poetry class when I’m writing a novel. Or to read fiction that isn’t at all like the story I’m working on. Whatever I do, I step away from my editing mind and open myself to any possibility. In this stage I do a lot of freewriting. I avoid any class or group that is going to engage my editor or the writing rules.


The shaping stage for me is the most rewarding and the most challenging. Here is where distance becomes important. I peel the story away from myself so I can see what it is I’m trying to say. Once I begin to see the themes I find it easier to find the proper structure.

It is in this stage that many people will turn to critique groups. I don’t advocate critique groups until the editing stage. (See my blog: Testing Your Voice: Are You Ready for Critique). When you’re in the shaping stage your voice is still vulnerable to groupthink. So, instead of critique groups, I look for classes that approach structure. The three-act structure, the journey structure or specific genre classes will do. Writer’s book clubs are good here, too.

The gathering and shaping stage overlap for most people. While I’m outlining, looking at arcs and moving material around during the shaping stage, I’m still producing and keeping as much playful energy around the project as I can.


My editing stage is divided into two segments: combing and editing. Combing is where I go through the manuscript and smooth out the transitions, check the dialogue, tighten and polish as much as I can. If I were going to attend a critique group, here is where I would feel safe bringing my manuscript to a group. It’s their job to find fault and this is where it’s appropriate.

Instead of using a critique group, I send my work to a small number of writing friends whose work I admire and who are great readers. They read the manuscript individually. I may or may not edit the work based on their suggestions, but once I receive their feedback, I comb through the whole manuscript again.

I have not begun my indie publishing journey yet, but when I do I know I will submit my work to a professional editor at this point. Even though I’m a professional editor myself, when it’s my work, there are continuity issues I might not see. I know my grammar leaves much to be desired. And, everyone makes typos.


Once my manuscript is complete, I move into the publishing stage. In the past, this was where I attended conferences and made pitches. I sent out letters to agents, etc. With indie publishing, here is where I will design my cover and upload my project. I’m starting to see lots of classes that cover this material and all have great suggestions and ideas for this rapidly evolving industry.


Finally, I begin the long cycle of marketing (which will be the subject of another blog).

But at the same time, I’m beginning the gathering stage for a new project.

If you break down your projects into stages, you might avoid that sense of overwhelm that sometimes happens when you’re tackling a large project. You’ll also be more aware of what you need to help you through to the next stage.

For more information on Writing Boot Camps or Coaching, please see www.debmcleod or

About the Writer:  Deb McLeod, is a writer, creative writing coach, co-founder and executive director of The Writing School. She has both an MFA and a BA in creative writing. She has been teaching and coaching for over ten years. Deb has published short fiction in anthologies and journals. She has written articles and creative nonfiction. Deb has been a professional blogger, tech writer, graphic artist and Internet marketing specialist. 

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