Monday, February 4, 2013

The Pros and Cons of Collaboration

Do I collaborate? Good heavens, yes. I love it.

Why? Well, because sometimes it’s nice to share the sandbox, that’s why. Listen, as writers there are certain givens. One is that writing is (usually) a solitary thing. You can’t very well share it under most circumstances, at least not until it’s done. And I’m okay with that. I like telling stories my way and I am always delighted when someone reads one of my stories and (hopefully) likes it.

But a couple of weeks ago we were all merrily chatting away about how writers look at books and whether or not they can even enjoy them in the standard fashion anymore. Well, for me, collaborating is rather like having a chance to read something new again. Only in this case, I get paid for it, too. (You will likely note that I tend to go on and on about that getting paid thing. It’s because I like having a roof over my head and this is my career. Also, it’s because I’m sort of a wee bit militant on the whole getting paid for what I do thing. Hey, the name of this blog is “Word-Whores” not Word-Writers-With-Loose-Morals.)

Listen, at almost any job, you can get into a rut. Don’t misunderstand me, I sincerely doubt that I could ever go to writing with someone else exclusively, but I genuinely enjoy the co-writing process as long as the rules are established ahead of time.

Wait. Rules?

Damn straight. Rules. Same as there are for any other situation, there has to be a certain code of conduct. Where Jeffe seems to be running into problems is with the assumption that those rules are somebody else’s. Not so, at least not for me. The rules of engagement are agreed upon ahead of time, and exactly whom I will be playing with is also established up front. I’ve had several people ask me if we could collaborate on a project and politely declined, because, frankly, I had a powerful suspicion it wouldn’t work out well. Mind you, I’ve also said no a few times simply because I did not have the time. It all has to do with the rules of engagement for me. If you can work that out in advance, and if you can work with a foundation of mutual respect, the rest, as they say, is easy.

Obviously I can’t speak for everyone. I can only go by my personal experiences. As it stands the very first novel I had published (not written, there’s a difference) was a collaborative effort. After that I did collaborations with several other writers and as a rule I had a good time with them.

What are the benefits? For me there are several. Again, I get to play in a shared sandbox. That means I get to bounce ideas off of someone I admire, and we get to work together to make something that is simply more fun than we would have running solo on it. I did a novella called “Bloodstained Oz” with Christopher Golden. It was easily one of the most over the top bloodbaths you can imagine and half of the fun for me at least was trying to top exactly how twisted my friend and co-author could be (One phrase: Baby Tug-of-War. That’s all I’m saying.). We enjoyed the process so much that we’re in the process of doing two additional books in the series (Bloodstained Wonderland and Bloodstained Neverland, respectively). Now the simply fact of the matter is that neither of us would genuinely have the time to work on these books as a solo effort. Additionally, going back to the notion of seeing another writer’s work as a car engine, we each got a chance to play with the motor and really understand how the whole thing came together. Chris and I have rather different voices as most writers do, and it was a blast learning to understand his voice better in the process of the collaboration. It was, in short, a chance to learn something new in a different way.

Additionally, the old creative juices just work differently on collaborations. Partially, I suspect, because of a competitive spirit. The best example of that I can offer are the two novels I’ve done with co-author Charles R. Rutledge. I have said before that I’m a fast writer. Charles is one of the few writers I’ve met who can keep up with me. I’ve likened writing with him to juggling knives. He threw a blade to me and I threw it back just as fast. We didn’t actually beat my top speed as a solo writer, but we got closer than normally happens. Our first novel together took eight weeks to write in the first draft. Our second took six weeks. Neither book is less than 85,000 words. Both of us have full-time jobs besides and I didn’t give up any of my own projects in the process of writing with Charles. For me this was a chance to have fun in what amounts to a verbal sparring match. Considering that Charles used to be my martial arts instructor it was an interesting exercise. It was also one we both enjoyed enough that we plan on doing several additional projects together. But, again, there’s the learning consideration here. Charles is very well read but he and I approached our mutual projects with vastly different backgrounds in what we’ve read and you better believe that changes the sensibilities that are brought to the writing desk.

What are the pitfalls? The biggest one is ego. There have been a couple of occasions where dealing with a co-author meant putting up with strong differences of opinion. That didn’t mean anyone going home with hurt feelings, it mean going back to the established rules we’d agreed on and working the problems out from there. No harm, no foul.

I should also point out that collaboration doesn’t always mean on the writing front not from my perspective. It’s also meant working with a couple of other authors while serving as one of the judges for the Australian Horror Writers Association and while working as one of a panel of judges for the International Thriller Writers. It also meant working with Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon as co-editors for the anthology THE BRITISH INVASION. We all read the stories, we all chose the stories we all agreed to proper rules for including any stories in the anthology and we even split up the invitations into the anthology, the rejection letters and the acceptance letters. And I’ll stick to what I said previously: The process was a lot more fun that working through the entire thing alone. I also think the end result was a far-better balanced anthology when all was said and done.

So, for me at least, I’m a very strong proponent of collaborative efforts. Just try to remember that they’re supposed to be a partnership and fun. And those egos, keep them in check. They just tend to get in the way if you leave them fluttering around your desk anyway.

James A. Moore.

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