Week 5 Activity – The Exchange

Here is another activity that for some will feel absolutely routine but for others will feel like a huge leap out of a comfort zone. (If it does feel routine, there are some suggestions below for making it feel more exciting.)

This week the invitation (or challenge, if you prefer) has two parts.

The first part is to enter into an exchange with a trusted writing friend in which both of you share a piece of writing with each other. What you share with them can be from your main writing project, ideally, and can be as little as (a) a poem (b) a story (c) a synopsis (d) a chapter (e) a page.

It is best to work with someone you can absolutely trust – someone who has your interests at heart and who will also be able to commit to sharing a piece of writing of their own in return. Put out a tentative enquiry and don’t force it – the other person should be wholehearted about getting involved, and equally keen to share their own writing. This exchange aims to involve mutual benefit between peers.

The principle behind this week’s activity is that developing a mutual support network is crucial to thriving in this writing life. We all need a “believing mirror” (Julia Cameron). It also helps deepen our connection to our craft.

Choose carefully the piece of writing you’ll share. You can choose something that feels relatively safe to share (if this week’s activity makes you feel very nervous); or if this week’s activity feels routine, you can choose a piece of writing that would nudge you out of your comfort zone in sharing it. You can also give this activity a bit more pep by working with someone you don’t usually work with (but whom you know you can still absolutely trust).

The second part of the invitation/challenge is the precise format through which you do the exchange, which is as follows (NB this part is negotiable – but worth trying):

(1) when you send your piece of writing to your partner, ask 3-5 questions that you would like them to answer about it. The questions might be technical, writerly ones like: Does the metaphor in the first sentence feel suitably apt yet striking? Is the vocabulary well-chosen? Does the overall form feel right? Is the ending working? etc etc. Or they might be more general/reader-oriented questions like: When the character did [x], how did you react? How did this poem leave you feeling? Did this story feel authentic? etc etc.

(2) Your partner then responds by

(a) responding directly to the 3-5 questions that you, as author, have asked.

(b) in addition, identifying 3-5 key things that are already working well in this piece of writing. (This element must be done sincerely and with a benign willingness to meet the writing on its own terms. The respondent must enter into the worldview of the writer/the writing to understand what the piece is trying to achieve and what it is trying to focus on.)

(c) the respondent is also allowed to pose the author at least one question.

Allow each other enough time to respond, and be mindful of not overloading each other with large amounts of required reading during what is a challenging time for many. Hence the suggestion just to share one poem or one story or a synopsis or one chapter or one page.

When you are thinking about your partner’s writing, ask yourself also: “What can I learn from this other person’s piece of writing? Having read it, how can I implement strategies and techniques that lift my own writing?”

It is suggested that you do produce your feedback in writing, because doing so will force you to think hard about the writing. However, once written up, you can pass this feedback to each other verbally if you prefer.

And that’s it! No criticism, no negativity. Just support and a spirit of curiosity.

If it helps, you can share this webpage with your partner, by way of explanation of the process.

Have fun!