Laura Callender: CW Publishing House/Collaborative Writing Challenge
Most writers consider collaborating with others to expand their knowledge and experience in the writing field. Few complete the prospective project, but even fewer prefer collaborative writing. Laura Callender, the founder of the Collaborative Writing Challenge, and CW Publishing House, is one of these few, and her passion to help other writers grow is an astounding inspiration that kickstarted this incredible journey.
Laura has agreed to a virtual interview with me, as she eagerly expresses her interest in future writers for CWC. Right now, CWC is on Project 5, which encompasses the mystery/suspense/romance genres. Every project features a new genre, and each genre offers something unique for writers to tackle.
Thank you, Laura, for agreeing to an interview.
When did you have the idea for the Collaborative Writing Challenge?
It was actually over ten years ago. I searched furiously for a project like this to participate in, but I just couldn’t find anything. I wrote up an initial plan for it, but it just didn’t feel right. To be honest I didn’t even know where to start; an ingredient was missing so I pushed it to the back of my mind. It was only after I gave birth to my first daughter and I was on maternity leave that it suddenly made sense. It came flooding back to me, almost as if someone was talking in my ear, finally giving me the wisdom I needed to approach such a mammoth task. I sat up all night writing notes and prep emails for every aspect of it, then searched for writers the next day. When the pilot started just a couple of weeks later, I was so clear and focused, and the process has hardly changed at all since then. The system works and I couldn’t be happier.
How did you start it? What inspired you to pursue it?
We started the pilot project in September 2014. I was staying at my parents’ house in France, and the morning after I wrote up my idea, I pitched it to my non-writing parents, but they just didn’t get it. They couldn’t see why anyone would find my idea enjoyable, and I must admit, I questioned myself. I thought that maybe it was something only I would enjoy, which is why no one else was doing it.
I had always found it easy to write a great chapter, but struggled to progress past chapters 3 or 4 with my own projects. I wanted to see one of my ideas completed and I wanted to be part of a published novel. I also wanted to see if the structured approach was a good way of completing a full-length novel. It was always so easy to find stories to collaborate on, but the problem for me was the lack of structure. Often, these stories had no beginning, middle or end, and had very little—if any, guidance. They are just open-ended stories that I rarely actually finished. My two objectives for CWC was a schedule and an end product that everyone could read.
What has been your favorite part of the journey?
Without a doubt my favorite part has been meeting so many wonderful writers. I have completely opened up my network of friends through CWC and it’s the first time in my life I have friends who like the same things I do. I’ve personally started writing again, and my friends often challenge me with new ideas and concepts, which I love. Getting “The Concierge” in my hands was pretty awesome too. I’m very proud of that book and everyone involved.
Any bumps in the road to getting there?
Project two was a good learning curve. I asked someone to be the story coordinator as I was still coordinating Project 1, and whilst the coordinator did a wonderful job, her own work commitments made it hard for her to write the summaries and notes each week. It definitely made me more selective about who would make a good coordinator.
We always get weeks where writers fall off the grid, so we might get only one, two, or sometimes zero submissions. That’s definitely challenging, and frustrating, but we have to accept that the process takes eight months, and sometimes people’s personal circumstances and commitments change in that space of time. Again, it is another learning curve, so we have allocated five writers per chapter for Project 5. If all five people submit, it’s a lot of work, but getting a great chapter is so important for the story.
Do you write for yourself on the side?
I do, I love writing. I have published a children’s book and have two more written. In coming months I will have had four short stories published in various anthologies, and a few poems. I think my writing has improved greatly since I’ve been critiquing so much work. I see what works and what doesn’t, and that gives me an incredible insight into the art of writing. I also now have a new passion for writing fantasy, something I was never particularly interested in before. Whilst I like to consider myself a writer, I sometimes say I’m the Simon Cowell of the writing world. I believe he can’t sing, but he does recognize talent when he sees it. I think I have very good judgment on what works and what doesn’t and a good eye for a consistent plot, even if the writers are far more accomplished than myself.
What other projects do you have other than CWC?
I have recently started CW Publishing House. This is the official publishing company for all CWC books, but also an opportunity for me to expand into collaborative publishing in the near future. I have also arranged a number of anthologies through CW Publishing House, and it has been so much fun. Bringing writers together is very rewarding for me. Through single-handedly publishing the CWC books, I have learned how to format a novel interior and have become pretty good at cover design. I even have people approaching me about making covers for them, which is something I really enjoy doing.
Aside from writing, my newest project is “Kefir.” I’m not going to go into it and bore you all with nutritional facts, but Milk Kefir is incredible stuff, and from making it, I have been making a ton of other things from its byproducts. From lacto-fermented soda, to cultured bread, pancakes, cheese—the list goes on. It has been good fun spending more time in the kitchen and making sure my family gets good nutrition. I find cooking very therapeutic.
What are your thoughts for Project 5?
I can’t say much about Project 5 until a chapter is selected. All five options are a lot of fun and we have a lot to work with. In general, I’m delighted to see so many new faces sign up, and our new story coordinator, Crystal M M Burton, is a very talented writer with a keen eye. She is a natural editor and loves helping other writers develop their work. She is one of those generous souls that is hard to find, so having her on board is just wonderful!
We constantly try to learn from previous projects, and this time, I would like to see the writers focus on character development. I think we will be giving some fresh guidance on how best to approach the task, and as always, just go with the flow and have fun.
Do you have a favorite project?
Probably “The Concierge.” I really like a fast-moving story that keeps you on your toes and The Concierge certainly did that. When Ambition was selected, I had no idea the story would cover the present, past, and a memory. That added a really complicated dimension to the story, so I’m very proud of how that came together.
What’s your biggest goal with CWC?
To make it a successful non-profit. CWC focuses on making the experience enjoyable and challenges writers of different skill levels, making it beneficial for everyone. We hope to organize more collaborations in the future and be able to pay writers who have chapters selected. This is really important to me. As a writer myself, I understand the balance between being paid for my work and participating in something that benefits my career. CWC wants to be an organization that can thank the writers for their hard work if they get chapters selected. Our mission is also to give 100% of profits from all books to charity. I have a long way to go to make sure these things happen, and as any business owner knows, things change as the organization grows. I am working with a number of business advisors to get the most out of CWC so it can benefit as many people as possible!
What’s the most incredible thing you’ve discovered about these writers who take part?
My immediate answer is how gracious our writers are. They champion each other’s success and always take our feedback very well, despite being disappointed their chapter wasn’t chosen. I regularly get emails from writers who get a real buzz out of participating and that’s just the most rewarding thing for me. Our writers are so diverse and have such varying depths of knowledge about writing, but nine times out of 10, all the chapters we receive are viable. That speaks volumes to all the unknown writers out there who could one day write a bestseller themselves.
How can people get involved?
CWC invites anyone with a passion for writing to take part. No experience is necessary. If you want to join in, you can. We will keep you as a backup writer once the schedule is full. We have writers from age 14-70, from all different walks of life. Some of our best chapters were written by newcomers to writing. I think everyone deserves a chance to try something like this. Even if your chapter doesn’t get chosen, the experience itself is rewarding. It forces you to think with the ultimate prompt of a whole chapter to take off from. It’s actually great for accomplished writers who feel a bit stuck in the mud with their writing. Perfect formatting and grammar is ideal. It makes our job easier, but the key thing to getting a chapter selected is creative content and a consistent voice.
For anyone who would like to participate in the challenge, please visit our website, read the “How it Works” section, and then fill out our contact form. It’s that easy!
What’s the most important thing about CWC?
It may sound strange, but the book we publish at the end of the collaboration is the least important part of the process. I truly believe the CWC experience is a fantastic writing exercise that can benefit so many different people such as new writers, jaded writers, people wanting to try a new genre, people who like deadlines and research. People who want to make writing their career need to get used to submitting work and meeting deadlines, so projects like this are just another tool writers can use to expand their writing skills. Like many writing communities, it may not appeal to everyone, but for those for whom it does, they gain so much from participating.
Other than that, it’s the community. I have always stressed the importance of being kind and courteous to our participants as I feel there are a lot of closed doors and rules within the writing community—we can sometimes be perceived as a frosty bunch of people who are totally selfish. When you surround yourself with like-minded people who are hell-bent on helping each other out and supporting each other’s goals, then you feel uplifted, and gain confidence and momentum. Despite CWC being an individual writing challenge to form a collaborative novel, it really does bring people together. Especially those who join our closed Facebook group and reach out to other CWC writers to talk to.
Is there anything else you’d like to share about CWC?
My focus is to put together an appealing job position, and ask for interested applicants to submit a resume and details about how they think they can benefit CWC. I’m looking for someone who has time, finds that kind of thing effortless, and could go on to be a salaried position as we grow and get funding. I need to put it on the CWC website still, and will advertise far and wide!
I’m hoping for someone with effective marketing strategies to increase the visibility of CWC and the books we produce, as well as knowledge of marketing events such as investor conferences. In the beginning, I need a passionate volunteer.
BONUS QUESTION: If any of your projects could become movies, which would it be?
Wow that’s really impossible to answer. Each project has so much potential. As we all know, books and movies are at different ends of the same spectrum. I would love to see “The Concierge” made into a romantic comedy. I think the characters would suit that humorous drama. However, I do think “Ambition” would be spectacular, a real gripping movie with someone like Judi Drench playing Madame Du Pre. CWC has opened my eyes to the sci-fi and fantasy genres so both “ARK” with glowing worms and “Wytch Born” set in the wild, wild west with a huge injection of magic would make incredible visual pieces. I think I’m bias though as each has a little bit of my heart!
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