Write a book they said. It will be fun they said…and do it with three women. Three women from different backgrounds, geographical locations and lifestyles. What we had in common was a love of good stories, good food and a willingness to take the leap.
What’s not to love about this plan?
The Good (Pros)
- We are never flying solo. When we reach that point where it’s scary (and we should because that’s when we know we’ve taken the big leap), when we stand facing the unknown and wonder if we’ll fall, there is a person(s) who will say “…what if you fly?”
- Creativity breeds creativity. With three partners our well is deep and eclectic.
- Accountability. When we are all on our game and demand as much from ourselves and each other deadlines are met, chapters edited, scenes rewritten and blogs posted.
- Feedback. When all the plot spaghetti hits the wall, there are two other voices of reason to say “none of that sticks, try again”. Or give us more in this scene. Or as we discovered during our last retreat – Chapter Three info dump has got to go!
- Insight gained into human nature and relationships. I think this is true for any prolonged collaborative work, and as a writer it’s an opportunity to raise self-awareness and feed that creative well with REALNESS that can be poured into characters and make that connection with our audience.
- Deeply fulfilling friendships, only possible for those willing to accept, acknowledge and manage the Bad and the Ugly.
The Bad (Cons)
- Geography. Texas to Virginia to Boston Bermuda Triangle. The internet made the world smaller and in the same breath illuminated the vast distances between us. It is a logistical and financial challenge to meet face-to-face, but a necessity. Some things simply cannot be managed in the digital world.
- Lifestyles. The same gifts we bring to our creative well are also some of the things we struggle to relate to with each other. Our ages, professions, family relationships, religious practices, life experiences – often seem alien to one another. Fortunately one common gift is a sense of humor and that cures many ills.
- Writing styles. Compromise is the name of the game. Oxford comma anyone?? “Why use 50 words when five will do?” “Why only use five when you have 50 beautiful words?”
- Motivations. While there is a common goal, we certainly are not all motivated by the same forces and I must confess I’m not sure I could tell you with certainty what motivates Constance or Sheri. I know mine change and that is a huge challenge to productivity.
- LIFE. It may seem odd to put this in the Cons list. But Cons are challenges, and since we began Life has shaken us like a snow globe. Sometimes they were good shakes. Two kids graduating from high school and moving off to college. WAY off. Life altering surgeries and broken bones. Deep personal loss. And when you are collaborating what affects one affects the whole and the project.
If Good & Bad are two sides of the sword, Ugly is the poison on the tip and if partners are aware, Ugly doesn’t have to kill the project.
- Vision. Many times we have all been rowing away only to discover we are rowing in three different directions, the boat ain’t moving and we’re taking on water. They key here is COMMUNICATION and do it before you write “once upon a time”. An outline is good and I STRONGLY recommend it for collaborative writing, but it’s not the same as the overall vision. Make sure every one is looking at the same shore. Don’t assume because one “gets it” everyone else does.
- Ego. Pride. Vanity. They will pull your work under if not kept in check.
- Perfection. It is a myth. Let it go and write characters and places that are real.
There are precious few things in life that are intended to be solo adventures. We are communal creatures. Writers are a unique sub-species, in that the work may be solitary but ultimately success lies in the collaboration between author and reader.
I’m sure my co-writers have different lists. What Good, Bad and Ugly have you faced on collaborative projects?
Next Friday I will give my one piece of advice for anyone contemplating a collaborative novel.