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Sep
6
2016

Collaboration can motivate -- by Mike Casto

Back in 2013, I had a friend, Sean, who decided to write a novel. He had it all plotted out in his head, had put together the outline, fleshed out all the characters, etc. One day, while discussing writing in general, we decided to work together. We didn't collaborate on the writing itself, but we helped each other edit.

Over the next year and change, I wrote about ten short stories and a novella. With all the prep work Sean had done, the novel essentially sat in his head, fully developed, it took him a couple of months to type it up.

We edited his novel one chapter at a time, kicking it back and forth, cinching up holes in the plot, tightening the story line, sacrificing darlings, and correcting grammar and typos. While doing this, we also kicked my short stories back and forth. We took my novella one chapter at a time, as we did his novel.

At the end of the year and some, five of my short stories and the novella had been published. Sean, a working physicist with a Master's degree, decided to go back to school to get his Doctorate, and his life took a decidedly hectic turn. His novel languishes on the dreaded "back burner" while he buries his head in academic texts and limits his writing to what he has to do for school.

When Sean left the process, I realized I had gotten used to the interaction and mutual accountability we shared. I fell out of the habit of writing every day. I still wrote, but I missed the constant feedback.

Recently, I started on a new collaboration. Another friend, Grant, and I are writing a YA novel. Grant has, thus far, had a fantasy novel published. We have very different worldviews, but they complement each other. It is good to work with another person again in the creative process, though the collaborative writing is very different from the collaborative editing, I enjoy it.

I think collaboration at any stage of the process can be useful. It brings a certain level of accountability to the activity, and that's useful. I think, though, the more important aspect is the constant feedback and dialog between peers. I know my writing improved a lot while working with Sean, and I suspect it will do so again while working with Grant. I think we'll both be better writers from the experience.

I don't know if situations like mine can work for everyone, but if you haven't tried it, I recommend it. I have found it fruitful beyond anything I might have imagined before doing it.

Posted by Mike Casto 6 Sep 2016 at 02:50
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Responses to this blog

Bethanne80 6 Sep 2016 at 07:53  
I agree wholeheartedly. Writing can be a very isolated activity, and it's so important to surround yourself with other people. I wouldn't be where I am today if it weren't for the people on CC, blog-writers, friends who double as Beta Readers, and family members who tell me that my writing doesn't suck.

Writing is really hard. Don't do it alone.
Pak1987 7 Sep 2016 at 14:55  
Yesterday I was writing on motivation in my own blog. Just before I hit publish, I realized that I'd left out the collaborative aspect behind staying motivated. In the end I decided to leave it out just because it was late and the blog was already long enough. I'm glad you've covered this topic! I'll see if I can link to your post.
Rellrod 7 Sep 2016 at 18:15  
A collaboration can certainly have good results. Niven & Pournelle did a highly successful series of books together that drew on each of their unique strengths, just as you describe. Also Niven & Barnes, Niven & Cooper, Niven & Lerner . . . he seems to be good at this. Williamson & Pohl's Starchild books, Flint and Weber and their numerous collaborators . . .

There are some appalling crashes-and-burns too, but that mostly seems to be where it isn't really a collaboration — the senior member of the pair merely lends his cachet to a dud by a lesser light. Most of Clarke's late joint productions fall into that category, IMHO.

But finding a good compatible writing partner is a wonderful thing . . . like a musician and lyricist, maybe.

Rick
Nautpsycho 8 Sep 2016 at 02:43  
A lack of collaboration as been my biggest set-back in terms of getting the actual work done. I know from personal experience that I need people to kick me in the butt from time to time. There are so few people in my circle of friends as creatively inclined as I am. That's why I'm thankful that places like this exist so writers can connect and hold each other accountable. Writers get each other and we know what we are looking for when asking for criticism.

Writing is an almost sacred art and during the creative process I know that I need a writer's opinion over a readers opinion. Both offer incredible insight but I know from personal experience that I need other writer's at the early stages of a project. I look to a reader for help once I'm getting closer to the end of one.
Rookie 8 Sep 2016 at 05:23  
Hmm, I've never considered collaboration much before, but I do feel I often lack motivation to finish my stories. I'll start with a great idea and then it will slowly lose momentum.
Margotg 8 Sep 2016 at 06:09  
This is so true. I met my partner at a writer's conference. We have very different world views. She is incredibly creative and I am annoyingly pragmatic. Occasionally, one of us will go through a writing dry spell. You know, that period when there isn't an interesting thought in your head and you think you'll never write anything again. Then one of us sends a link to an article or blog post that sparks a new idea. And we're off again. We've been writing together for a while now. I like to think both of us have improved. I know we've produced more and better stuff simply because someone else is expecting it. Discussing your material in detail with someone you trust is sometimes infuriating. But it's also invaluable.
Scareme 8 Sep 2016 at 08:53  
I've been "trying" to write for decades. I've managed to get out a short story here, a development chapter there, a poem or too on occasion.

Three weeks ago, me and a buddy of mine committed to a two-week writing challenge. We would spend two weeks writing something - anything - and then exchange our pages two weeks later. I tell you, that collaboration and accountability was magic. For the first time, I wrote a short story in a single sitting. I did it with a week to spare and struggled NOT to write anything else until the two week mark. The anticipation was excruciating. When the time came, the thrill of having my work read and appreciated was everything I'd hoped for.

We immediately agreed to another two week challenge and one week in, I have already developed a concept and written two chapters of what I think...hope...pray is actually going to be a novel of literary science fiction. In addition to that, my newfound fervor for writing - again, sparked ONLY by the two week challenge - brought me here, where I have learned that I have a bit of a talent for writing critique!

It is all, to me, an excellent time and I have no doubt that had it not been for my and my buddy's writing challenge, I would still be regretting all the writing I had not done.
Caspiancey 12 Sep 2016 at 11:17  
Scareme, congratulations! Quick question though: why did you not write anything else after you completed the short story? Wouldn't the whole point be to just continue writing for two weeks no matter what? Or was the point simply to complete something in two weeks?
Chancelet 12 Jan at 13:16  
Though of course I know collaborating occurs a lot, it's still a foreign concept to me. Writing is so personal and internal! To write with someone else, it's hard to see how it would be my writing. But maybe that's the point—writing something outside of what you'd normally do. Collaborating with editing and plot assistance, I've done in writers groups. But not writing with someone else on a story or book. I'll have to think on that, and see if there's anyone I can collaborate with and about what.

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