The Art of Collaboration

William: Writing can be a challenge when you’re doing it on your own. When you’re doing it as a partnership, it presents a whole different set of challenges. Norma and I have been working as a team on our novel Same Time Tomorrow, under our aliases Scarlett Martin and James Morgan. We thought we’d talk today about the sort of things that go into collaboration, and the ways a book can change and adapt when you have two or more creative minds involved in the writing.
Norma:Collaborations can destroy friendships. I had two friends, both published authors, who were so close, the phrase “joined at the hip” was often used to describe them. They always traveled together, shared hotel rooms, had get-togethers with their husbands in tow–most of us thought they’d end up with the same agent. Surprisingly, they didn’t.  But they did enter into a collaboration agreement.
William: I think creative ventures are things we feel so close to, and when we’re sharing them with another writer, it can be all the more difficult when a disagreement comes up. Maybe this is what happened between them?
Norma: It surprised me because I’d thought they both had checked their egos at the door. But yes, writing is a very personal thing. No matter what you’re writing, it’s a part of you. I recall years ago, seeing an interview with Harrison Ford in which he mentioned that a close friend of his was a novelist. He said he had never read any of her works because he felt it was too personal, that it would reveal things he didn’t feel comfortable knowing.
I suspect that’s why your brother says he’d never read a sex scene written by you. Way too much information for a brother!
William: No kidding!
We set out on the path for the novel with the notion of writing a book from both the male and female point of view of a relationship. What started out as erotica evolved into something different- the characters hijacked the book on us, you see. Still, the core principle stayed the same. We have blurred that line, on occasion, adapting bits and pieces of each other’s writing, and in writing passages involving some of our supporting characters. And all this time, we haven’t had any major disagreements about where the book was going.
Norma: We’ve been extremely fortunate in that even on those rare occasions in which we disagree, we still respect the other’s position and work through it. Usually takes all of five minutes to resolve an issue. But we’re the exception rather than the rule. We have more fights with our characters than we have with each other. Now they can be difficult!
I think it helps that we did opt to each write our own characters and secondary characters.
William: Taking turns writing a chapter, on the other hand, might not have turned out nearly as well. And along the line, writing the book this way has taken longer, but it’s allowed each of us to get in the head of the other character so that even as we’re writing them, though we’re not inside their point of view, we know them so well that their dialogue and actions come across as natural.
Norma: I had always wanted to collaborate, but I knew I’d have to find the right partner. The kind of collaboration I have with Collin is very different–with me doing the writing and him handling all the research and technical details, much like the collaboration of Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins on the Left Behind series. LaHaye developed the idea and provided the Biblical background, while Jenkins did the actual writing. With William, we share the writing. And writing the interaction between our characters has been fun!
William: It certainly has! And one of the fun things has been how the characters have moved in directions we weren’t expecting. No respect for their creators, none whatsoever! I was thinking that where we saw the book going originally has been changed fundamentally as we’ve gone along, so that the ending of the book won’t be at all what we originally thought it would be. I wonder if that’s something that collaboration plays a part in. Is stepping away from the outline an easier prospect when there’s more then one creative mind at work?
Norma: Yes. There’s safety in numbers. I’d hate to have to face this bunch alone!
Seriously…we started this story as a round robin in the Romance and Erotica Group at the Writers Digest community site. The other contributors went so far afield with their passages, it wasn’t even a coherent story–but William and I felt our two passages were the start of an erotic novel about two people who met online and carried on a strictly online cybersex affair. In the beginning, we’d decided they would never meet, but get together at the same time every night–hence the title Same Time, Tomorrow. But our characters, Gabriel and Chloe, simply were not the casual sex types. They wanted to meet. They wanted more than sex. They wanted love…and they found it. From that point on, William and I were just along for the ride!
William: To give you an idea of how much the novel changed, months ago, I wrote a short passage with Gabriel meeting Chloe’s mother for the first time, late in the book, late in her life. It didn’t take very long before Chloe and Gabriel pretty much deleted that passage from existing all on their own.
I think a collaboration works best when there’s mutual respect and a good rapport between the collaborators. We’ve been able to make the book work because of that, and I think it’s brought out some of the best in our writing.
Norma: We pace each other. If either of us takes too long to write our next scene (that’s usually me), the other will give us a nudge to get going. I wish I had somebody to nudge me along with my other projects!
And we do have an exceptionally good rapport. Most times, we’ll come up with the same idea at the same time.
William: Yes! That’s spooky!
Collaboration does mean that while you don’t have full creative control of a project, you do have a partnership. And when it works as well as ours does, the end result is a book to take pride in… the first of a series, at that!
Norma: Yes…we didn’t even have to wait until the first book is finished to make sure both of us survived before deciding to do it again. We’ve had more fun with this than we imagined when we started.
We’ve decided to bring Gabriel and Chloe back, and in subsequent books, we’ll focus on some of our secondary characters. Like Dana, the city girl who hasn’t adjusted very well to being in the country. So far, she’s mistaken the sounds of a screech owl for a murder in progress and lost a shoe and part of her smartphone when frightened by some mischievous coyotes.
William: City girls!
We’ll conclude this with these questions: do you think you could ever collaborate on a novel? Or are you the sort of person who likes having sole control over the work you do as a writer?
Norma: Even if you’re a control freak like me, with the right collaborator, you can have a great time!

30 thoughts on “The Art of Collaboration

  1. I think, given the right partner, I could. It would have to be someone that you are extremely close with, someone you don’t mind sounding off to once in a while. I’ve never been given the opportunity to do something like this, although it would probably be a fun adventure, to say the least.

    I can’t wait to see this book finished…!
    But, you two already know that….

  2. Wow! Really great post by you both! So much sense about the callboration of authors writing a book, together. This post was wonderful. I like the pics used for and in this post. 🙂 Also, I hav seen and heard the good callboration and interaction between you both when in our writers’ meetings, and I can say with certainty, that you both do seem to work very well, together. It is awesome to see. Als, this story of that you both of working is very wonderful and is a sweet love story. I really like this story.

    Ah, yes,.. I understand about the characters taking over when writing a story. Mind have on mine, as well. Lol. It ca be cool when that happens cus the story takes off more so when that happens, even if in an unexpected and unintended direction. Lol. Your characters are wonderful, by the way. I’ve found them very likeable and found that they can be very easy to relate to, plus they have a good sense of humour. 🙂

    To answer your questions, yes, I think I could collaborate on a novel. It could be a great idea, actually. 🙂

  3. So what can we expect from the book, now that it’s not strictly erotica (count us in with Will’s brother on that one)? And, more importantly, when and how – what format/s will it take?

  4. It must be a great way to get a nudge to finish each chapter! I don’t know if I could do it. I am quite the control freak at times.
    Well, I know we are all looking forward to reading it when you guys are done with it!

  5. Christina: There’s no bigger control freak on the planet than me. Ask any of my past editors.

    Shelly: I’ve seen your characters. I’m not surprised.

    April: You could benefit greatly by working with a collaborator, as long as you choose someone less selfish than past choices.

    The Lisas: I’m shocked! I would not have pegged you two for prudes!

    • Norma,
      I agree, completely. So, I will choose someone who isn’t so selfish. (Says to Collin, “Hey, Collin? Would you be interested in helping me write my novel?”)

      If you aren’t interested in collaborating with me to write my novel, what will then be, of course, our novel, if we do collaborate on it? If you cannot do so or don’t want to do so, I can and will also respect. 🙂 And if you don’t want to do so, do you know anyone else who might want to do so who you’d recommend? 🙂

  6. I could never collaborate, even if I could find someone foolish enough to agree. And there’s always the chance that the other person might be better than me. If that were the case I could imagine the argument as to whose name was first on the cover. No, it’s not for me.

  7. I guess being part of an anthology is a little bit like collaborating. Especially since my story started out a whole book and set a theme. It was quite an honor–I almost wish I would have written the last one too. You two make beautiful music together….

  8. I want to know more about Dana!
    I don’t think I’d work well as a collaborator. I tend to be a loner in my writing, and have my own little unique twists in the way I do things; those few times when I’ve brainstormed with other people on writing ideas haven’t really sat well for me. Still, I’m always open to possibilities.

  9. I look forward to reading “Same Time, Tomorrow”. It sounds interesting, and your characters seem to be the right level of mischievous to capture my attention!

    Thanks for this enlightening post! I have considered colloborating on a novel with a good friend of mine; and this is the only person I probably trust to colloborate with because we have a level of openness trust and respect for each other that I think we can pull the project off well. Though, like you guys, we might choose alias. Most of the time, I do prefer to write alone, as it is just one of those processes where I can get my own ideas out in my way and style that is most comfortable to me.

    William and Norma, indeed it appears you work well together and I hope to see more projects from you both in the future. You both chose the best way, I think, by each pursuing a character; that probably does work better than dividing up chapters. You can really know your characters well and give them the right direction.

    Good luck and take care!

    • Norma,
      That makes sense as to why it works out well for you and William in collaboration. 🙂 Mutual respect definitely seems as though it does play a part in good collaboration.

  10. I think it would be fun to collaborate if I could find the right partner. How does it work technically. Do you email each other with new pages, then the other person adds on to that?

  11. Deb, we work through Dropbox, which is a very handy writing tool. The chapters get saved in there as attachments, and we add on in turn. We also talk about ideas of where we’re headed through email.

    • Mike, we knew each other long before we went to the WD online community. I knew when I read some of his posts on another message board community that he was a writer. It was that obvious.

  12. Norma and William,

    Can you describe for us a little more in detail how you both flushed out the characters? I know each one of you took a character, but did you help the other one on his/her character in any way like in the way of suggestions, adjustments, etc. I just want to understand more about the colloboration process. As you have said, it is not easy, and I really believe the two of you have a very rare quality about you that makes it easy for you to write together. I really appreciate any advice you can give if I want to partner with someone, which I’ve been toying with the idea for sometime. Thanks!

  13. Pingback: Missing the Point? | Windchaser's Journey

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