Writing is a very personal experience. Sure, you might talk over story ideas with a friend or have a few people offer critiques, but when you sit down at the computer (or typewriter, or pen, whatever your fancy), it’s just you and the words, you and your thoughts. Like most forms of art, writing is a very vulnerable process. You’re taking all the things that make you ‘you’ and trusting that they are enough to create something others can truly enjoy, maybe even benefit from.
Yes, writing can be a very personal experience. Except, that is…when it’s not. There may be a time when you don’t approach the words by yourself, and running ideas by your friends becomes building those ideas together. And it could be so severe that when you imagine your book in a glorious hardback form (as we all do), that–gasp!–the spine holds two names rather than one. If this is suddenly the case for you, don’t be alarmed. You’re collaborating.
My 7 Random Points About Collaboration
based on experience and observations
- Collaboration can happen in a multitude of ways. The word collaboration extends to the editing floor, the feedback you get from friends, and even the publisher. At each level you’re opening up your work and inviting others to share parts of their imagination. But it doesn’t just happen there. Two (or more…but that might just get hectic) authors can decide to do everything together from beginning to end. They could write every word only in the other’s presence, or maybe they work better sending pieces back and forth to each other. Each could be responsible for certain elements–characters, for instance. It would be interesting to know the collaborative process behind one of my favorite books, The Talisman, by Stephen King and Peter Straub. Was one in charge of the Earth-story and the other of the Territories? Did they retreat to a cabin for months and not emerge until a first draft was done? Snail mail? Telepathy? Cool to wonder.
- Collaboration can help you keep focus. Dropping the ball on deadlines you’ve set for yourself is one thing, but holding back someone else who has their shit together is just wrong. It is instinctual to care about how we come off to people, so we might sacrifice sleep to get those last couple of pages in to appease someone else when we wouldn’t ourselves.
- Collaboration can very well kill your focus. Some of us work better on our own. If I may even go as far to say: a great majority of us work better on our own, hence our preferred profession. Ideas need time to grow, develop, and blossom both in a writer’s head and on the paper. We all know the type who spend their lives talking about their great ideas rather than doing. Collaborating can sometimes be like that. It can take so long to agree on certain elements on a story that eventually you’ve spent more time collaborating than actually writing. Believe me, I know.
- Collaboration can cure writer’s block. With two brains devoted to the project there will be less chances of bumping into that great wall that’s been assholically blocking writing for years. Fresh perspectives go a long way for fighting your way out of a writing rut, especially when that perspective isn’t the one that got you there.
- Look out for ‘voice’! When reading different authors, it is sometimes easy to distinguish the difference in writing styles, and other times these nuances go unnoticed. With the former, we can imagine how disastrous a story might be if it were simply a merging of two different texts. With the latter, the subtle differences can grow to annoying ones that might not kill the story but will certainly leave the reader with a bad taste. When collaborating, it is crucial that both authors be cognizant about if their portions of the story are noticeably different. This is fine if, for example, the book is written from completely different perspectives which jump back and forth, but otherwise it will just be distracting to the audience.
- Sign a contract. Sure, it sounds impersonal, unfriendly, and you may end up offending someone, but it’s better to have a key understanding of the partnership before it sets sail. On the brink of success isn’t the time to discuss who came up with the idea, who did the most writing, and who should benefit most. Work it out in the beginning.
- Have fun! Don’t collaborate with someone you don’t like, or on a story that doesn’t mean anything to you. Just because it’s collaboration doesn’t mean it’s not writing. All of the other rules apply, just remember that you’re not the only one following them and you should be fine.