Monday, November 23, 2009


by Gina Sestak

Writing can be a solitary pursuit. We sit alone in a room, pounding away at a keyboard, or take long lonely walks to work out plot points. We live inside our own heads, interacting with the fantasies who live there.

But there is another way, an intersctive way. Collaborators bounce ideas off one another. They may exchange text to edit or agree to each write certain sections of a work.

Collaboration is nothing new in the mystery field. Ellery Queen was famously the pseudonym of two men who wrote the fictional detective together.

Product DetailsI've even collaborated myself before, but only on non-fiction. My only published hardcover,  Informed Consent:  A Study of Decision-Making in Psychiatry, was a collaborative effort, written by a six-person team.   It was a full time job for me and two of my co-authors.  The other three held faculty and administrative positions as well.  We worked on it for three years of weekly meetings, first conducting the underlying study, then drafting the manuscript.  We each took responsibility for various chapters, which were then edited together to form a coherent whole.  It was very structured.  I also collaborated with one of my co-authors on a journal article, Legislating Human Rights: The Pennsylvania Mental Health Procedures Act.  That was a little more free-form, but still structured very academically.

This past summer I began working on a film script with another person.  It's based on his idea.  I admit that.  I came on board primarily to help out with dialogue.  And it isn't to a point that I can publicly reveal the story details to a bunch of strangers on the internet.   The process is interesting, though.  We brain-storm about the story line and characters, which really gets ideas flowing.   We exchange written material as email attachments, some of which refuse to open.   We're working on it.

I've found it's easy to maintain enthusiasm when there's someone else invested in the writing process.  And that ideas come fast and furious during those brain-storming sessions.

What about you?  Have you ever co-written anything?  Why or why not?  What was your experience?


PatRemick said...

I co-authored 2 professional development books with my husband and it pretty much worked OK -- each of us took a certain number of standalone chapters. The editor could not distinguish between the 2and thought one person did the final version (I guess that says something about how long I've been married to my co-author.)

Then I heard the sisters of PJ Parrish speak and I thought, hey, maybe we could write a mystery together -- DISASTER. I couldn't seem to follow his story directions, nor he mine. I thought by the end of the project we'd be in divorce court. So we put the project aside and we're still married. I don't think it was the fact that he was my husband, but another writer, that caused the problems. Maybe I just don't write well with others...

Annette said...

I've never tried it and don't think it would work for me. I'm too much of a control freak.

Wilfred Bereswill said...

Almost every written work product I do at my day job is a work of collaboration. Usually it starts with me and then goes to legal for review and comments. Most times I also get feedback from other that are affected.

If you think running a document through a legal department isn't collaboration, you have no idea. Inevitably they will change things around, thus changing meaning and intent and you have to work with them to get your original thoughts out in a way that is leagally acceptable.

I'd love to try to collaborate on a work of fiction. I would especially like working with somebody of a completely different mindset. I just think it could bring out the best in both. I really think I'd love to work with a romance novelist.

Jenna said...

I wrote the libretto for a children's musical with my husband, and as they say here in the South, we like to have killed each other. Of course, we do that even when we're not collaborating on a project.

Not sure I could collaborate that way on a book. You read my stuff and correct it; I read yours... That is, I'd be happy to read and correct yours, but a lot less happy about you correcting mine. Yes, I'm a control-freak. I admit it.

A very interesting, different sort of collaboration is what authors Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermere did for "Sorcery and Cecilia" and the other books in that series. (YA fantasy.) It's based on something called the letter-game, where two people write letters to each other, in characters, building a story. The result, at least in the first book, is outstanding. It started out as a fun exercise and not as an attempt to write a book, though; maybe that made it easier. But if you haven't read the book, check it out, it's great. Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer do some fun collaborations, as well, writing from two different points of view. If I had to do it, that's the way I'd like to, I think.

Fun post!

Gina said...

Will -
I've been on the other side of the legal department collaboration. Keep this in mind: any legal document is a mine field, and the lawyers are the ones who have the clues to where the mines are buried. Changes that seem to make no sense in the rational real world can be major butt-savers in the esoteric field of law.

Joyce Tremel said...

I've never collaborated on anything. I'm not sure it would work for me--especially for fiction. I think it would be hard for two people to have the same voice. And I wouldn't want anyone changing mine!

Wilfred Bereswill said...

I know several author teams, Charles and Caroline Todd, (Mother and Son) and Jo Hiestand and Paul Hornung. Caroline moderated the first Bouchercon Panel I did. I'm not exactly sure the process they use.

Jo and Paul write two different characters in a series they do.

Trust me Gina, I've been working with Legal Departments for many years. Most of my career has been spent interpreting environmental regulations, so I consider myself more of a lawyer than an engineer. I know the value they bring, which is why I call it a collaboration to convey the correct meaning and avoid the landmines all in one document.

Gina said...

I'm glad you understand, Will. When I was in-house, I got so tired of people who treated Legal as an impediment rather than an asset.

Unknown said...

Hi I would like to suggest you also look at where we have a collaborative writing community and tools which enable writers to jointly write and edit documents as well as to reach out and seek the feedback of their peer group. For folk like yourselves who have already engaged in this sort of work, I think it could be a great resource and I would be keen to receive your feedback. David