Almost every job I’ve ever had has ended in some sort of leadership role. The role may not be a managerial type, but there is always some sort of leadership responsibility taken on. This happens whether I want it to or not. Most of the time this happens without much discussion. It just happens.
Sometimes these roles require a bit of a ra ra ra mentality, and sometimes a bit of tough love, though I’m not sure it’s love being doled out. Sometimes it requires a kid gloves type of mentality, where you just have to be gentle with someone (like it or not). It’s easy to say, but it’s difficult to do.
Most of the times these leadership roles take on a form of team building, whether it’s actually finding the right people for the team, or building the people up that are already on it. It’s this team building that I want to focus on today.
I have had some great teams, but one in particular makes me proud. There were four members on this team, including myself. Two of them were easy to train and easy to get on board when we came together. The third one was a bit of work. He had come into the team later than the others, but he came in with experience, having done this particular job for eight years somewhere else. Minimal training was needed, or so I was told.
Before we go on, let’s give this team member a name. I will call him Z from here on.
Z didn’t buy into our philosophy of teamwork and stepping up when other team members needed help. He didn’t buy into our communications system. He rarely asked for help.
Still, he was productive and did his job. Minimal training, remember?
The first few months went well. Then things began happening that Z didn’t tell me about. Then I started hearing whispers from our customer base. I investigated into this and found a few things I didn’t like. But before I could say anything about what I had found out, the bosses called me in for a meeting.
‘We have a problem.’
This is not what you want to hear to start a meeting.
Turned out Z had some issues, and a few of them could have cost him his job. I set out to keep that from happening and worked with Z, retraining him on things I thought he already knew and understood. Minimal training? There is no such thing.
Fortunately, Z kept his job and became a very reliable team member who learned to ask questions and ask for help when he didn’t understand something.
Writing is kind of the same.
Yeah, I knew I would get a few crinkled noses and confused expressions on that one. Let me see if I can explain this the way I see it in my head.
Writing is all about world building, character building, plot and resolution. There are so many ingredients that go into telling a good, readable story, that if one ingredient is off, then so is the entire story. It’s kind of like one team member not doing his/her job. Yeah, the whole team suffers.
To be a successful team at anything, you need all of the team members on board with the game plan. If you have four team members and one of them isn’t on the same page as the other three, then it will be harder for the team as a whole to succeed. For example: In football if the quarterback and receiver aren’t on the same page as far as the play they are going to run, then the quarterback could end up throwing the ball to a spot the receiver isn’t at. This could lead to an incompletion (not so bad) or an interception of the pass (very bad). That means they didn’t communicate well enough to be on the same page, to know the same play and get the outcome they wanted.
Good. Now, let me relate this back to writing.
In order to be a good writer, you have to know, first of all, how to put a sentence together. Let’s call that Sentence Structure. Then you need to also have a sense of Grammar. You need to know a lot of words. We’ll call this Vocabulary. These are three key team members to the act of writing. If you don’t know these three things, writing a story that is readable is pretty much impossible. These three team members have to work together to tell the story. If one of them is off, then so is the story.
But, wait. Vocabulary has its own team of members. Synonyms, Pronouns, Nouns, Verbs, Adverbs, Adjectives, Antonyms, Conjunctions and so many others. They are all members of the Vocabulary Team, and they don’t always get along. Especially when choosing what type of word to use, such as Passive as opposed to Active words. The use of the wrong team member when putting together a sentence will make the entire sentence (or team) weaker.
There’s other members you need on your team:
Point of View
And a bunch of others.
You don’t need just any of these members. You need the right ones for the right stories. If you don’t have the right ones, then the story will suffer. You see? The wrong words at the wrong time is like running the wrong play and having the quarterback throw an interception.
This is where the writer has to do a little training.
I used to suck at dialogue. I didn’t quite grasp the concept that dialogue needed to further a story along, not just be there. Dialogue that is just ‘there’ is like a loiterer just standing around. Neither one of them do much at all, and they are both kind of a hindrance. Bad dialogue is the couch potato of writing. It just sits there and eats up precious words and space while ruining the story it appears in.
One day someone told something quite profound, and I have held tight to it ever since. I was told that dialogue is the oxygen of a story. Without oxygen, you will die. Bad dialogue is like carbon monoxide–it’s a killer. However, good dialogue breathes life into the lungs of a story, allowing it to live and to have a purpose; to further along the story.
After hearing this I stopped writing stories for a while. Instead, I wrote scenes using only dialogue. I wanted to see if someone could tell what was going on by reading dialogue alone. At first, I couldn’t even tell what was going on in the scenes I wrote. Then, slowly, I began to see an improvement. I began understanding that if a piece of dialogue doesn’t make sense to me, the writer, then it’s not going to make sense to you, the reader.
I taught myself how to write better dialogue by listening to people talk. I essentially trained my Dialogue to be good. I trained that particular team member to do his job, and do it well. It was a lot of work, but it paid off. Now, I write dialogue well. Do I do it great every single time? No. Nobody does. But when I go back and read what I’ve written, I can spot the bad Dialogue and fix it.
There are areas of writing I still struggle with. Some words still throw me off and I have to stop and think about which word I really want to use. Sometimes I struggle with a description or being too wordy or not wordy enough (yes, it is possible). But when that happens, I stop and create a ‘lesson’ for myself. I will write something in several different ways to see how each one sounds. Sometimes that requires rewriting entire passages just to change one sentence. It is often not easy, but when a breakthrough happens and I realize what I am doing wrong, it is always worth the extra time spent.
Writing is not always easy. Many times it can kick your butt. However, if you are writing and learning, then you are going to get better. If you struggle with an area of writing, then don’t just brush it off. It will affect every other area of writing that you may or may not be good at. It’s like a slack team mate. Address it, work on it, learn from it, and then move on to the next issue.
I’m currently working on an area of my writing that I have loathed ever since trying to make a name for myself in this business: marketing. Yes, marketing is an area of writing that we must deal with. It may not have anything to do with the actual writing, but it has everything to do with people buying the work. I hate doing it, and I am not good at it. But I’m working on it. I have been for the last year. I’ve developed a little bit of a following, but I have a long way to go. I’m still trying to get people interested in my writing. This, probably more so than anything else, will probably take me the longest to learn and to incorporate into my team. Right now Marketing is not such a good team mate, and it isn’t doing its job all that well. But hopefully, I can train it (and myself) to do better, to think of all the other team mates who put in the time and energy to do their parts right, and it will hop on the bandwagon.
I know this blog is a little odd, but I hope you see the similarities I tried to make for you (and me).
Until we meet again, my friends, be kind to one another…