Collaboration Station

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.

10 responses to “Collaboration Station

  1. Oo, your new project sounds like fun! I kind of use my sister this way sometimes. If I’m stuck or can’t figure out how to make something work or have to figure out a character, I tell her all about it and she comes up with amazing ideas for me, or says something that sparks a solution.

  2. Collaboration with you had made creating a story much greater. It make every story decision about story, instead of about me and what I want to write. It’s also incredibly helpful to always be thinking, “Hm, how can I describe this part to Al.” Is cool working on something not just inside your head.
    It’s cool how you got this crazy idea in the first place. Hope we can create good quality like Pixar! I think our story’s awesome so far.
    And the French director comment made me laugh.

  3. That sounds so exciting! I’m sure what you two come up with will be worth reading, as much as I already enjoy both of your blogs.

    “But he’s probably French or something so he doesn’t count.”


  4. You make some great points here – I’ve never tried a true collaborative writing project (outside of class-related things years ago), but this makes me want to give it a go!

    • It’s important to find a write that you can trust and who meshes well with your way of thinking. But if you can find the right person…the possibilities are endless.

  5. Great post! One of my favourite books of all time, Good Omens, was written by two of my favourite writers, Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. So, to you and Ellie I shout, “GO TEAM!”

  6. This is a great idea! Sounds like an exciting project.

    I agree that you definitely have to do something like this with someone you trust. The biggest part of a project is to FINISH. If you don’t trust your collaborator, you’ll be stuck in the water and never ship the finished project.

    I look forward to seeing how this turns out. Ellie is a great writer.

  7. This is something that has always excited me. Writing is such a solo experience usually, but many writers (and I am one of them) find the story (be it character driven or plot driven) to be the really important thing. Books are often a medium of storytelling. And people have been telling stories to each other and then together to others since the dawn of time. So why can’t writers do this as well?

    Then, though, I think about that immediate repulsion I have when I see a fantasy book written by two people – because it often means that neither is real, and that the book was written by minimum wage factory-writers who aren’t actually into what they’re writing about. But there shouldn’t BE this stigma attached to the idea of two names on the same book!

    The point of this ramble is to say that I’m excited for you in this current project and I wish you the best of luck. Full steam ahead!

  8. In fanfiction, there is such a thing as WC (Writer’s Challenge). It’s when we get together and write for an hour. Once the hour is up, we post teasers if we choose to. We give our opinions about the teaser once they’re done posting. Normally, we say what’s positive about their teasers. It’s a great way to motivate people into writing, since you have a friend working on her project while you work on yours. Ironically, it’s widespread in fanfiction but I haven’t seen professional writers form a group like this.

  9. Nice. I’ll be excited to see what you two whip up!

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