Togetherness, writer style

I’m posting a day early because I’m traveling tomorrow and may not have a chance.

On November 7, 2012, Kate Phillips wrote, I love writing, and I have a couple of friends who I email some stories so they can give me feedback. Sometimes my friend will say that something doesn’t make sense or is weird, when I disagree. I can’t tell if this is because it really is weird, or if it’s just their opinion.

Sometimes my friends also want something to be going in a totally different direction. My friend really wants the book to say it’s by her too, but I’m not sure about that.

How can you tell when you are co-writing and when they are just giving you ideas? I feel like if we really are co-writing, and if she is really doing half the writing, that it should say it is written by her as well.

Have you ever co-written a story?

When you are just in the beginning of a story who do you consult? I know I should have a professional editor edit it before I try to get it published, but I’m not sure who I should talk to before than.

Do you have any tips about co-writing?

And Michelle Dyck wrote along the same lines, ...I second Kate Phillips’s request for tips on co-writing. My brother and I are going to coauthor a book someday soon, so any advice on that would be good.

Let’s start with co-writing, which I have never done, but which sounds appealing for the pure fun of it. Writing can feel lonely, and having a friend to share the burden is mighty attractive.

Paula Danziger and Ann M. Martin’s two co-written books, P.S. Longer Letter Later and Snail Mail, No More, are epistolary novels in which one character writes to the other, so there are two POV’s. Paula Danziger wrote one, and Ann Martin wrote the other. I’d guess that the two discussed the direction of each novel before they started and as they went along, but then the actual writing was separate.

Other writing pairs I’ve spoken to also have a clear division of labor. The one who’s better at plotting writes an outline and the other fills in with deathless prose. Back to the outliner for edits and back to the writer for the polish. It’s a collaboration, but the two still write at separate desks, possibly many miles apart, and each contributes according to his or her strengths. There may be circumstances where two writers sit together and hash out every sentence, but I don’t know of them. I hope blog readers will chime in with your own co-writing experiences.

If you’re going to try co-writing, I’d suggest thinking about which tasks each of you is best at: ideas, outlining, writing great sentences, dialogue, revision. Then divide the labor. And if your relationship with your co-writer is important, I’d devise some rules for when things get heated, like time apart, like no name calling, and you may not punch your co-writer in the nose! You might decide in advance that friendship is more important than story, and you’ll abandon the story if you seem on the way to becoming enemies. There are plenty of stories out there and not an unlimited supply of friends or brothers.

As for what qualifies someone to be a co-writer, I’d say equality, meaning that you’ve both put in, relatively, the same level of effort. If your friends are just commenting from the sidelines and you’re doing all the heavy lifting, the story belongs to you, and your pals may get an acknowledgment, or, if you’re feeling kind, a dedication.

At the moment I have only one writing buddy, but my preference is for two. If they agree about an aspect of my story, I have to take that seriously. But if they disagree I need to consider both points of view and then take my pick. As I keep writing, the truth may make itself known to me anyway. The proposed direction either bears fruit or it doesn’t.

If your friends are urging you to take your story down an entirely different path than the one you had in mind, maybe they should be writing their own stories. And I don’t like it that they’re making you feel bad and lost. Writing is hard enough without hecklers. We need voices in our heads that are approving, that appreciate us, and love what we write. We also want to be able to take criticism and to be usefully self-critical, but that criticism needs to be specific and constructive.

I do consider all criticism that comes in about whatever I’m working on. No one is a perfect writer, no matter how long she’s been at it. The lot of a writer is perpetual learning, which is one of the best things about our calling: eternal growth. If a criticism surprises me and helps me see in a new way, hooray!

When I’m just starting a story, I may mention what I’m up to and some of my ideas to my editor. I may drop a word or two to friends. Then again I may not say anything to anybody. I may simply start. It’s just me and my computer at that point. It’s too early to get anyone else involved substantively. You certainly don’t need a professional editor at the beginning. Fundamentally, when we write, we have to please ourselves.

Some writers, when they’ve finished a draft and taken it as far as they can in revision, do hire a freelance editor to help make the book as good as it can be. But others rely on critique groups, which is a sort of barter system. I go over your story and you go over mine. No money changes hands. And critique groups can help all the way through a manuscript, not just at the end. I went the critique group route during the nine years it took me to get published. Plus classes and reading books about writing.

Here are three prompts:

• Sleeping Beauty is beautiful because a fairy made her so. She sings prettily, is witty, etc., because of fairy gifts. She’s defined by what the fairies gave her. They come to her christening, but she doesn’t even get a name. She doesn’t want to sleep for a hundred years and awaken to the kiss of a future prince. In your story, send her on a quest to reclaim herself, the self the fairies didn’t allow to flower, the self she never got a chance to know. In the process, she hopes to escape the long sleep.

• Sam is spending the summer with his aunt and uncle and their daughter Tulip, who is his age. Sam is there so he can go to mural camp. This year’s project is to create a mural about a local civilization that faded out a thousand years earlier. Sam’s section of mural features a native girl who helped her family make pottery. He begins having vivid and menacing dreams about this girl and his own cousin Tulip. Take it from there.

• James, Tara, and Penny form a critique group. Tara is writing away, but James is blocked, and Penny keeps revising the same chapter again and again. Write one of their meetings.

Have fun, and save what you write!