Today’s post is written by Nancy Jorgensen, author of Go, Gwen, Go: A Family’s Journey to Olympic Gold.
In my job as a high school choral director, I saw 400 students every day.
With classes as large as 150 students, there were always two directors in the room. One conducted while the other played piano. One monitored students while the other delivered a masterclass. One evaluated tone quality while the other led a Renaissance madrigal. Although we didn’t always agree on literature or musical interpretation, we shared basic values of discipline, high standards and inclusion.
I worked with several teaching partners over the decades. From each one, I learned methods, skills and philosophies. I accepted critiques and offered suggestions. And at the conclusion of each year, we acknowledged neither one could have accomplished alone what we had done together.
Finding a Literary Partner
When I retired and decided to write, I set out to find a literary partner. Just like my choral colleagues noticed a misshapen phrase or out-of-tune chord, I hoped a writing colleague would find faulty structure or erroneous POV.
My daughter Elizabeth, a high school English teacher, had occasionally proofread my work when I produced a concert flyer or musical theater playbill. She suggested new words, alternate phrases or better punctuation. In my new writing endeavor, I called on her to edit my creative nonfiction. As she responded to each piece, I noticed her technique.
She complimented the positive—“I like the emotion here.”
She asked questions—“Do you like this language?”
She made subtle suggestions—“Is this necessary?”
She led me to rethink, to process, to read through a reader’s eyes.
After editing a few of my pieces, she sent a blog post and asked me to return the favor. I modeled her approach, noting strengths, posing conjecture, offering ideas. Working in Google Docs, we shared multiple documents simultaneously. We edited and then dispatched our responses, collaborating on essays and articles. Although we live in the same city, we worked online, rarely meeting in person—just for convenience. We read each other’s work, highlighted phrases or paragraphs and inserted comments. When concepts or details became complicated, we talked on the phone.
Getting a Head Start
I joined a writers’ workshop but asked Elizabeth to edit before I shared my essays and creative nonfiction. The process gave me a head start as I preemptively fixed mistakes. It put me one step ahead so the feedback I received in class could be more advanced.
Results validated our work. Elizabeth received acceptances from the Wisconsin Reading Association Journal, the Wisconsin English Journal and Azalea. My work was published in Prime Number Magazine, Smith Magazine and Cagibi.
Already mother/daughter and writer/editor, I proposed we co-write a piece about Rio de Janeiro where we had recently traveled. We pitched our article, and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel accepted.
Success prompted a more ambitious project. In our latest collaboration, Elizabeth and I wrote a memoir about our family. It centers around my younger daughter (Elizabeth’s sister Gwen) who quit her job as a CPA, trained for triathlon and became the 2016 Olympic champion. We wrote the book in two voices, editing for each other as we had for essays or articles. We sent our manuscript to agents. Everyone rejected it. We pitched it to large and small presses. They rejected it too. We decided to file the project and consider it a learning experience. Then, two years after we finished writing, Meyer & Meyer Sport offered us a contract.
Go, Gwen Go: A Family’s Journey to Olympic Gold will be released in October 2019.
Where to Find Partners
Elizabeth and I established a partnership that benefitted us both—an effective career move for any writer. The essential steps we took were these:
- Search for writers who gave you good advice in the past. Consider writers you’ve met in workshops or at conferences. Find someone you enjoy working with.
- Suggest a partnership in which you edit for each other. Then establish guidelines about frequency and quantity.
- Stay positive. Offer useful critiques.
A few months ago, Elizabeth sent a contest link and message: “You should do this!” It was for poetry, an art I’ve never attempted. It scared me a little and I didn’t know where to start. But Elizabeth is a sijo (Korean poetry) expert who presents at writing conferences around the country.
Maybe she can help me be a poet.