Better Together: Writers at Work (and Play!) by Sophie Littlefield
A surprising number of my favorite photos are out of focus or cropped in weird places. They capture me and my friends not at our most photogenic, or our most camera-ready, but at our most unguarded. You might say – at our most real.
Take this one, for instance. This was from a recent Plot Lunch, a tradition that was begun as a professional exercise and evolved – devolved? – into a celebration of friendship as much as a strategy session.
If you’ve ever attended a book signing, you know that the number one question asked of authors is “Where do you get your ideas?” The answer is generally a variation of “I wish I had time to write a fraction of the ideas that come into my head.” But it is also true, for many of us, that ideas are honed and developed not in a vacuum but under the grow light of collegial brainstorming.
A little over a year ago, I arrived at Plot Lunch with a magazine in my purse. I was about to pull it out to show my friends when one of them took the same magazine from her own bag and opened it to the same article that I had earmarked. “You have to write this,” she said, pointing to the picture of the weary, grizzled oil rig worker in the doorway of the man camp in North Dakota.
I had already come to the same conclusion (after all: what is more potent story fodder than a tale of ill-got fortune set against loneliness, deprivation, exhaustion, and bleak conditions?), but I had also noticed that no one else had set a novel there. And that made me second-guess myself. Was I biting off more than I could chew? Taking a wrong turn that would lead, not to commercial success, but to disappointing sales and reviews – or, worse, never be published at all?
It was my friends’ encouragement that made the difference. I’m not at all sure I would have gone on to write the proposal for the book that would eventually become The Missing Place if I hadn’t had their vote of confidence. This book would be a departure from the things I’d written before, a departure from the safe path, a commitment I wasn’t sure I was ready to make. Especially since I was now divorced, with tuition bills and rent due every month. It was scary…but with my friends’ “Go for it!” ringing in my ears, I took the plunge.
Good thing, too, because the book was purchased by a major US publisher after an exciting auction, and within weeks had sold in several foreign markets.
On my best days, I am buoyed by the confidence of my friends, and I believe I can do anything. Every good sentence I write is authored not by me alone, but by all of us: not just the writers I am close to, but the stranger on the bus, the neighbor down the hall, the girl at the coffee shop, the homeless guy at the halfway house up the street. It’s all collaborative – even for those who believe that they write in a vacuum.
The day this photo was taken, my friends and I talked shop for a while, and then we gossiped and told dirty jokes and teased our waitress before over-tipping her. It was such a good day – and I’m lucky enough to count on many more in the future. If you are writing a novel – whether it’s your first or your fiftieth – you’ll write a better one if you engage with others. And if you are a reader, know that when you turn the pages you are reading the work not of a sole author but of her entire community.
We’re better together. This one’s for you, Rachael and Juliet!
Sophie Littlefield grew up in rural Missouri, the middle child of a professor and an artist. She has been writing stories since childhood. After taking a hiatus to raise a pair of unruly children, she sold her first book in 2008, and has since authored over a dozen novels in several genres. Sophie makes her home in northern California. Her most recent novel is House of Glass, out now from Mira.
Learn more and order your copy of House of Glass here:
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