This was my first ever collaboration, and I thought it’d be useful to talk about how the process worked out for us.
Last fall, Tehani Wessely, editor of the anthology, contacted Jo and me with the idea of collaborating on a short story for One Small Step. We (metaphorically) looked at each other, looked at Tehani, and said, “Sure!” After all we’ve been friends for almost a decade now (has it really been this long, Jo?) and have a lot of experience with each other’s work. Even though our styles are different, we have enough common overlap that we could (probably) handle writing a short story together.
It was also the perfect project for collaboration. Neither of us was playing in the other’s sandbox (“hey, want to write a story in my world?” “Er… no.”) nor was our canvas unlimited (“So what shall we write together?” “Uh, I dunno”). We had a theme (discoveries), a form (short story), and a deadline.
So, we got to it.
Almost immediately, we ran into some uh… differences in our processes.
Me, I come up with an idea, then run with it. I churn out several pages to see where it’ll go. Sometimes the idea works, sometimes it doesn’t. I have lots of unfinished short stories on my hard drive. I consider them regrettable but expected casualties of my writing process.
Not so with Jo. She isn’t willing to latch on to the first shiny idea that floats by. She wanted to wait for something special, the idea that set her story senses a-tingle.
So we waited for the lightning strike (some of us more patiently than others). A week or so later, Jo emailed me a photo of an old woman huddled in a doorway with an ornate doll next to her. “I think there’s a story in this picture,” she wrote me.
By golly, she was right.
We were both fascinated by this picture and traded speculations back and forth for days. Both of us agreed that dolls were creepy (I kept having flashbacks to Child’s Play). Then I remembered Hinamatsuri, or Dolls’ Day in Japan. We put the two together and I–yes, well I did what’s natural to my style–forged ahead and wrote a bunch of snippets exploring character, plot, and setting.
I think Jo knew I was chomping at the bit, so she let me. We talked over the snippets a lot (and I learned something about Jo: she doesn’t like to write about royalty). Both of us were very excited and creeped out about what we were getting. And I really appreciated Jo’s insistence on digging deep into the idea and taking it from good to great. “Good enough” doesn’t exist in her vocabulary, and it’s a lesson I’m applying to my own writing from now on.
I’m going to pause here to mention one very important thing: do not look at a collaboration as something that will save you time. More likely, it won’t. Jo and I could’ve probably written two stories each in the time it took us to write Sand and Seawater.
Think about it this way. When you’re writing your own story, you only have to satisfy two people: You and Your Muse. When you’re writing with someone else, there are two Yous and two Muses, and they all need to be on board. It’s bad enough keeping one pairing happy, but two…!
(Oh, and apparently, our Muses have some telepathic connection that doesn’t go through us. Now that is also creepy.)
The Actual Writing!
All right, so once we were happy with our ideas, we started writing! Luckily for us, there were two POVs, so Jo took the doll and I took the old woman. We alternated scenes, and I noticed a style difference right away. My scenes sprawl, while Jo writes tighter. Once we hammered out the plot and nailed the climax, we each went through to cut out redundant material and tighten everything up. (I may be a first-draft sprawler but I’m ruthless when wielding a red pen).
A fitting concluding scene took us a bit of back-and-forth, but I think, again, we nailed it.
Checklist For Success
I would call this a very successful collaboration. Not only did we sell the story, but:
- We are both very proud and pleased with it.
- This is a story that neither of us would’ve come up with on our own.
- And–most importantly–we’re still friends. And we both see this experience as a net positive, not something to be quietly shoved into a closet and never ever done again. We’re both too much of loners to do a lot of collaboration, but who knows? In the future you might be seeing more work with both our names on it. *is deliberately vague and mysterious*
Jo has her own thoughts about our collaborative experience here (link might not work until later in the day, since she’s already gone to bed). Update: Link works!
Have you collaborated? Share your experiences!