The writer is a mythological creature. He exists in the public mind as an anomaly, some mad genius hunched over a keyboard, fueled by coffee and whiskey, desperately churning out words of breathtaking brilliance. And when his labours are done he sends his work off to the publishers and they print it.
And he’s not real.
I’m not sure what it is about that view of the writer that is so enticing, but the truth is it just doesn’t work that way.
Most preposterous to me is this notion that the writer is an island, that he works alone to build his worlds of fancy, staking out new frontiers without regard for anyone or anything else. For a long time I bought into that notion myself. Sure, maybe I needed help with the editing and rewrite process, but the initial draft? That was all me, baby.
Only I found an anomaly, a sticking point that made me wonder about the whole magical notion of writing. See, a while back I was watching the special features on one of the Pixar films and there was a segment about how they developed their stories. I clicked on it, half expecting to see some boring shots of some guy at his typewriter pounding out the script.
What I found instead was something of a revelation. The guys at Pixar had the entire movie planned out on little note cards with each card depicting a different element of a scene. There were maybe five or six of them in this one room talking and asking questions and arguing about the best way to move the story forward.
And I thought to myself, “Why don’t people write books like this?”
Of course the obvious answer is that books are written and movies are visual, that visual mediums require more planning, more focus, more detail than written mediums. And while there is an element of truth to that argument, I think it misses the bigger picture entirely.
No one makes a movie by taking a camera out onto the street and looking for something to point it at. Well maybe someone does. But he’s probably French or something so he doesn’t count.
Point being that there’s very little room for the “magic” of writing in the movie world. There are a thousand little pieces that have to fit together, and the writing has to recognize that. In the making of a movie, the importance of the writer is set aside, and the importance of the story is elevated.
And I’m here to suggest that maybe we should take a crack at working with the same mindset on our books, and even, dare I say it? collaborating with other writers from the very beginning.
All of this has really been my long and drawn out way of announcing that I’ve started work on a new story with Ellie Soderstrom. We’ve been on the phone for hours in the last few days hammering out details of character and story, and despite my natural phobia of outlining the very nature of this project has forced me to sit down with a notebook and start sketching out plot details.
What I’ve found thus far is that collaboration is a powerful tool indeed. The way ideas can resonate in two minds, bounding back and forth building up power beyond what either could have imbued them with independently is nothing short of wondrous.
Of course there’s nothing wrong with writing alone. I’ve done almost all of my writing solo up until now. But if you can find a partner who you trust and respect I would challenge you to let go of a little of your independence and see if they can’t help you make your story that much better. I think the results may surprise you.