Monday, January 20, 2014

Collaboration: Heaven or Hell?

Most of what I've published is non-fiction, the meat and potatoes of my writing career.

 I regard fiction as my guilty pleasure-- doesn't usually pay the bills like nonfiction does, but it's as yummy and costly as any dessert.

One of the skills I've learned in non-fiction is the art of working with another writer. Or a non-writer, as the case may be. Today's roundtable is an examination of the pros and cons of using your writing skills in conjunction with someone else's ideas--or collaborating in any form.

I've published four books now in which I was the writer and someone else(s) were the source of the ideas. I regard this kind of writing as much harder than working alone. One reason is that almost always the person to whose ideas I'm giving shape is someone who won't ever write a book. In most cases, it was the other person's life story or life's work. And for that reason, I am much more self-accusing when I try to handle someone else's "baby," so to speak.  It truly is nerve-wracking for me.

Latayne, the only way I would collaborate with someone is if I came into the project before one word was written. I have a journalism background, so ideally I would want to interview the person, study the notes, organize the material, and interview some more before I even started writing. There, of course, would be tons more interaction between drafts.

That's not really collaborating, but taking other people's work and sorting, editing, shifting, and mutilating another--and I think you're dead on about the collaborator being a non-writer--person's writing sounds more like hell to me.

The challenge of writing a truly engaging story from a true story must hold many pitfalls. Most real-life stories don't follow a strong story arc, so there would have to be some heavy editing (cuts) of the parts that don't move the story along. I'm only speaking from minor experience with this, but people with a story aren't too happy about dropping bits to satisfy the reader. They want to writer their story. It would help if I had a more assertive personality, perhaps.

Now, if you're out there with a story about your trip to heaven, hell, or Fresno, give me a call.

Fresno, huh? Happens to be where I was born.

The idea of collaboration makes me nervous, and I often wonder how writers make it work. I think of Jenkins and LaHaye with the Left Behind series, and more currently, Ted Dekker and Tosca Lee. I'd love to interview  a pair of collaborators to see how it works for them. Perhaps we can line up Ted and Tosca for one of our author interviews this year? It's worth looking into. There are certainly authors I'd be honored to collaborate with, but I think it would be my biggest writing challenge yet.

Latayne's experience and wisdom about the writing process amazes me. I have never collaborated with another writer - or a non-writer - and never wanted to. But Latayne speaks about the process with such equanimity that even if she says it is harder than working alone, it sounds at least doable. I have read works by the other ladies on this blog and offered suggestions, and I've worked especially closely with Sharon. Our first published novels were practically birthed as twins, with Sharon and me passing manuscripts back and forth as they were written. All lovely, positive experiences.

Which leads me to conclude I might not mind collaborating, so long as I had a good chemistry with my collaborator, and loved their story as though it were my own.

Sharon, Ted Dekker also collaborated once with Frank Peretti - once - and I believe it was not a good experience for them, simply because their styles were so different.

Writers are unwieldy folk. Part of what makes a writer stand out is unique voice, ability to skew perspective, and original feeling story (I say feeling because story is never 100% original). Part of what gets a writer paid these days is collaboration. A young writer working with a bestseller views this as his/her "big break" and a sure ride to the bestseller list, not to mention a paycheque. Sounds good to me! But the marriage between the utterly original writer and collaboration with another writer is rife with drama. I imagine there is an even split for collaborations that go well--mostly marked by partnerships like LeHaye/Jenkins where the idea came from LeHaye and Jenkins wrote the books. The Dekker/Lee books are different. Tosca did the writing for the first draft of each chapter, but Dekker was very involved at every step. Somehow, they both have made it work and they continue to produce books people love together. (Also, I was late adding my thoughts to this roundtable. Wonder what that says about my desire to collaborate??)

Would I wish to collaborate a fiction title? Would it be difficult? I'm happy to remain open to the idea. It's writing. I love writing. Difficulties can be overcome in the name of a novel people love.


Latayne C Scott said...

And yet this works all the time for others. We've mentioned Ted Dekker and Tosca Lee, Jenkins and LaHaye, and our own Sharon and Katy's interchanges.

And of course not only did people co-write with Tom Clancy when he was alive, there's news that somebody will be co-writing with him now that he's not. I'm not sure how that works.

Susie Finkbeiner said...

I collaborate on the writing of a monthly kids' program at my church. That's a lot of fun for me. However, I don't think I could do it in my fiction writing. The idea of that scares me to death! But, in silly skits for elementary kids, it works.

Hats off to anyone who can manage it and succeed. I just have no clue how it works.

Megan Sayer said...

I've not thought twice about reading non-fiction books with collaborative authors, but when it comes to fiction I've somehow seen "collaboration" as "compromised". Possibly to do with the fact that the books I love to read are borne out of the deepest parts of the writer's soul, and it's hard to share credit on work like that. I'm sure there may be books written that could convince me otherwise, but I'm yet to become a believer.

Henrietta Frankensee said...

On the Speculative Faith website there was a collaborative blog. A story idea was put forward and the general geeky/fantasy public was solicited for ideas. Then the blog writer worked the details in. I enjoyed the fun while it lasted. Now I want to set up my own project. The ideas were wild and wacky, challenging to the writer. Of course he didn't try to include EVERY little thing and there was plenty of stimulating discussion as to what would best drive the plot.

Latayne C Scott said...

Hmm. That sounds interesting!

Cherry Odelberg said...

Nope. Don't think I would like to collaborate. Like to do it my way, meself.

That said, I guess I did collaborate on a musical once with good result.