“You’re a writer if you can tell a story.”
—Jamie Aughenbaugh, RE:Written LLC
Welcome to Shelf Life’s inaugural 3Q4—that is, “Three Questions For.” This feature will appear from time to time in the newsletter and introduce you to a person working in some aspect of the word business whose products, services, or knowledge I think will be valuable to you and who I think you’ll enjoy getting to know. I don’t want to keep you over time but I want to get you the best knowledge and information that these people have to offer—so I’m limiting myself to three solid, laser-focused questions about their specific expertise. I hope you’ll enjoy it!
Today I’d like you to meet Jamie Aughenbaugh, owner and founder of RE:Written LLC. Through her company, Jamie offers a range of services to writers at all levels of experience—including those who would like to begin writing.
I first met Jamie as an editor. She’s been editing as long as I have but our paths only crossed within the last five years. I know a lot of editors, tons of editors, all kinds of editors. I know acquiring editors and development editors and copyeditors. I know film editors and managing editors and content editors and line editors and even a handful of editors-in-chief. On the whole wide editorial spectrum, it turned out that Jamie is the same kind of editor as me: a friendly neighborhood production editor.
The production editor manages your project through all the stages that take place after the editorial department has said, “Yes. We will publish this.” We’re on top of your copyediting, typesetting, proofreading, cover design, and PPB (paper, plate, and binding). A production editor doesn’t do all of those tasks themself, but works with a team of editorial and manufacturing service providers. That said, if you do it for a while, you learn how to do most of the tasks you oversee.
I know you think of us as red-pencil editing-type people. You might be shocked to hear how much we have to say on the subject of, for instance, comb binding or paper stocks or cover tipping. I’m partial to the 50# Glatfelter natural myself.
As I got to know Jamie, I learned she had a broad range of experience on the other side of the publishing house transom as well. In addition to her editing background, she also had writing experience. Like me, she had a whole unpublished novel under her belt and I learned she was working on another. With a Master’s in English, she’s even taught writing at the college level. About a year ago, she decided to get back into that side of the industry by opening RE:Written to help people tell their stories.
My first experience working with Jamie at RE:Written was a group workshop on “Kindling Your Creative Fire.” At the time, I was in a writing slump. I hadn’t written anything for years, but I had the background and experience and my colleague was offering this workshop so I decided to give it a try and see what it was all about.
All of the participants were in about the same place: We had ideas we wanted to write about but some of us had no motivation to get started (me) and some had no idea where or how to start writing. I found this session incredibly helpful for getting me on the right track to actually start drafting again. Jamie got me thinking outside the box of plot and character to consider wider issues like themes and audience. I came away from the workshop with a renewed motivation to buckle down and start writing.
My second experience with Jamie’s writing coaching was a one-on-one session. We both brought some writing to the table, exchanged drafts, and shared feedback. I was working on the first chapter of my novel, and Jamie offered a tremendous amount of useful, specific, and actionable feedback to help me begin transforming my vomit pass into something readable.
Look, here’s your TL;DR. I’m giving it to you early today. Shelf Life will never recommend a product or service that I haven’t personally tried. I tried this one, and I’m telling you that many or even most writers can benefit from the feedback that Jamie has to offer.
Question One: One of your roles at RE:Written is partnering creatively with your clients. What should a new writer be looking for in a creative partner? That is, what makes a great, mutually beneficial creative relationship? What are the qualities that a really great creative partner brings to the table?
You need someone to listen to you. That’s one of the most important qualities. Someone who will motivate you—not just someone who will inspire you to do your best, but also challenge you. If you’re one of those people, for instance, who says, “Oh I don’t have time to write”—I’m going to ask you things like: “How much time do you spend on social media? How much TV are you watching every day?” Those kinds of things. You can find some amount of time to do it every day.
So, someone who will inspire you and challenge you. You also need someone who is going to be your cheerleader. Someone who is just as excited about your work as you are.
So what do you look for in a client?
Someone has to be open to receiving feedback, even if it’s something they don’t like. You can be sensitive to comments and criticism—obviously, it’s your work and your baby, you’re going to care about it—but you have to be open to getting an opinion. Otherwise—why are you working with someone?
You also have to know yourself. Yes, you need to be open-minded and willing to receive feedback and the potential criticism that comes with all of the praise you might get, but you also have to be able to say—“No, I’m not going to do that.” You have to be able to strike a balance, which is where respect comes into play. The coach you’re working with might suggest a change and you say, “No, I just don’t want to do that.” Your coach has to be able to say “Okay, you’re the author, that’s your decision.”
Does it matter to a writing coach what type of writing a client does?
Some coaches will only work with fiction, some only work with research writing. I have experience with lots of types of writing and I’m not averse to any. My preference is to work with creative writers, but I have so much experience with research writing in my editing, publishing, and teaching background that I’m happy working with that as well.
Question Two: In your blog post, Every Day I Write the Book, you talk about some common obstacles to writing like lack of time and lack of motivation. I know you have built a daily writing habit, so: What are some strategies that a person who is struggling with a lack of motivation can employ to get themself writing every day?
Not having time is one of the biggest obstacles, and for the most part it’s an excuse. When people say that, what they really mean is they’re intimidated by the act of sitting down and thinking about writing. They get stressed out about the act itself. I think it comes back to fear and anxiety—“I’ve got to come up with something, I have nothing good!” Well, it doesn’t have to be good. You’re just writing. Don’t put that pressure on yourself.
That’s why I encourage people to do things like journaling or blogging, which people tend to dismiss as “not real writing.” Well, it’s real. It counts. That can be a lot less intimidating. Maybe people can find ten minutes to sit down and write in their journal. If you do that often enough it becomes a habit, and then maybe those ten minutes can be expanded to twenty or thirty.
I also tell people to find other ways of writing—if you’ve got your phone with you, it’s got a notepad app that you can use to put ideas in. If you like to take physical notes, carry a notebook and pen. You can do speech-to-text. Turn on your speech-to-text and talk it out. Get it out somehow, and then you can come back to those things, they won’t float off into the ether and be lost.
What matters most is thinking about why you’re not doing it. What’s stopping you? What are the obstacles? Make a list of those things, examine them. Getting to the heart of that why is the most important part. If it’s a flimsy excuse, throw it out—you’re not allowed to use that one anymore. If you just have too much to do—you work full time, you’re a parent, you have two jobs—then, okay, that’s real, so put in the time when and where you can. But I think people make the act of writing into a big thing that it’s not. There’s a lot of pressure people put on themselves to be wonderful and perfect when really you have to write a lot of junk and random stuff and then maybe there’s something in there that’s good.
The other obstacle that people have is thinking they have no ideas or nothing to write about. They want to write, but don’t know what to write. You can find inspiration anywhere, from anything. That’s why I encourage clients to be observant, take notes of things that strike you—write it down somewhere, think about it, come back to it. I would want to talk with that person and find out why they think they have nothing to write. No one has zero ideas in their head.
Some people feel like their idea won’t be any good, or that they won’t be good at writing it. That’s coming back to fear again and the defeatist attitude—“I’m not really a writer!”—well, you’re a writer if you can tell a story. You might need some help to do that. Maybe you don’t have to do it all by yourself. If you have a story, and it’s a good one, we can figure out a way for you to tell it.
Most importantly, don’t forget that writing is a process. You don’t write one pass at something and that’s it, it’s either perfect or it’s crap. There might be good bits, bad bits, but that’s the beauty of revision. You can revise as much as you want to get to where you’re happy with it, and someone’s going to publish it, and some people will read it. A lot of people spend so much time working on something and when they hear that it needs work that can be very upsetting. But that’s what it’s all about.
Question Three: Writers all have distinct voices. As a writing coach, how would you advise writers and authors to tone down their voice in the situations that call for it, or even disguise their voice to write dialogue? Give us some tips.
No matter what you write, your voice is going to be there, and be a part of it; your voice as an author will never disappear and shouldn’t be suppressed. But you’re talking specifically about when someone is writing from a different point of view, as a character, or when writing dialogue. You don’t want all your characters to sound like you, for instance—they’re not you.
To avoid that, you have to know your characters so well that you step inside of their mind, put on their clothes, their identity, and think about how they would speak and act. It’s really important to have an interview with your character—or some way of getting in sync with them so you know as you’re writing—“my character wouldn’t say it that way,” or “my character wouldn’t use those words.”
This is really important if you have characters who have different backgrounds than you. If they’re from a different culture or even a different world, they won’t use the same words or language. That’s probably the most extreme version. Pretend, play make believe, use your imagination—not just to visualize what this person looks like but how they say things.
One of the things I love most about The Color Purple is that Alice Walker wrote Celie’s dialogue the way she said it—exactly the way she said it. For a lot of people it was hard for them to read that, but I love it because it’s a phonetic way of speaking. If dialogue is stilted, like if characters aren’t using contractions to speak to each other, I can have a hard time buying that. It doesn’t feel real. I like to see dialogue written the way people speak. If someone says “kinda” instead of “kind of”—write that.
Be observant to people around you. Really listen to the way that people talk. The way they say things, their expressions. That can help you with dialogue.
I recommend reading out loud—not just dialogue, but in general reading out loud—because you can hear how it sounds and that can help you realize that you need to revise or use a different word. Listening to television, movies, or plays—just listening without watching—focusing on pronunciation, word choices, those kinds of things.
Have someone else read what you’ve written out loud too, read it back to you. Then you can hear if something doesn’t sound the way you wanted. If they’re tripping up on certain words or saying it differently than you intended, that can help you figure out if you need to make changes.
I’d love to do a dialogue workshop. It’s one of my favorite things to write.
It’s in the works!
As you’ve gathered from this article, Jamie and RE:Written can help you with all kinds of writing, revising, and editing projects. She offers a completely free initial consultation in which she will talk with you about your project, what stage you’re at, what type of coaching or help you might need at this stage, and what she can do for you. I encourage you to contact her today to schedule your free consultation, get access to her Writers Forum, and let her know what kind of workshops you’d like to participate in.
Make sure you stick around for Thursday’s article on ideas. Jamie and I talked about the idea of ideas briefly in the interview today, and I happen to have a lot of thoughts prepared for you to delve deeper into that subject. I’ve seen a lot of people get the wrong idea about ideas. Shelf Life can help set you straight, so stay tuned!
PS—Ever wanted to try something like NaNoWriMo but felt your project wasn’t a good fit? Wishing you could participate in a writing community challenge in November but not up for the pressure of NaNoWriMo Official? The Shelf Life Discord is hosting a NaNo Club for anyone who wants to participate in any capacity, for any type of writing project. Want to write poems? Songs? Blog posts? Short stories? A non-novel long-form book? Choose your project and then set your own goals, mile markers, and schedule. We would love to have you.
If you have questions that you'd like to see answered in Shelf Life, ideas for topics that you'd like to explore, or feedback on the newsletter, please feel free to contact me. I would love to hear from you.
For more information about who I am, what I do, and, most important, what my dog looks like, please visit my website.
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