Ten writers for children. All with something to say.

1/22/10

Collaboration in the Truest Sense of the Word

This ongoing discussion of collaboration with its many nuances has been very interesting to me. I think I may be the only one of our “potatoes” who has collaborated in the truest sense of the word by co-authoring two historical novels for children back in the 1990s.

The question my co-author Jacqueline Shields and I have been asked most frequently is “How do you manage to write together?” The answer is not simple. Writing together can be both easy and difficult.

It was easier in that…
1. During the entire process, we constantly edited our writing. We edited and revised so much that when we finally had a publisher, we were not asked to do any revisions on the first book and very few on the second. (On looking back now, I see many passages I think we should have revised. But what author doesn’t do that, even years later?)
2. We traveled together to do our research and to visit all the locations in both our books. We had two imaginative minds coming up with ideas. Working together was not so lonely!
3. We had each other for encouragement and to keep us at the grindstone. When one would get discouraged, the other would get us back on track.

It was more difficult in that…
4. Collaborating is almost like a marriage. Sharing a book is like sharing a child.
5. We had to learn to be completely honest with each other and that took time. When we first started BROKEN DRUM, I think we had different visions of what we wanted the book to be, and neither of us wanted to hurt the other’s feelings. After a month or so, I said to Jackie, “You finish the book on your own. I don’t think I can do this.” But several months later she called me up, not having gone any further on her own, and said, “Let’s try it again.” I agreed, but only if we were honest. Obviously there were some disagreements, but we became experts at compromise, we spurred each other on, we grew thicker skins, we learned to laugh at ourselves, and we are still friends.
6. We couldn’t write whenever the mood hit us—first thing in the morning, the middle of the night, or during those extra 15 minutes on a lunch hour. We had to arrange times to meet around our busy schedules, mostly on Saturday mornings. It took us 5 years to write BROKEN DRUM.
7. We have to split the income!

Our process took time to work out...

We learned to recognize each other’s weaknesses and to take advantage of each other’s strengths. Most importantly we got to know our characters thoroughly. We started with an outline so that we both knew the direction we wanted to go—what historical dates, events, and battles to include—which areas we needed to round out with fictional characters and events. When we wrote, we actually sat down together and each wrote in longhand, a paragraph or two at a time. Then we read both passages aloud, used what we liked from each, and meshed it together. It’s amazing how often we wrote almost the same thing. At the end, the manuscript was such a good blend that neither of us could say, “I wrote this” or “she wrote that.” I know some collaborating authors can manage to alternate chapters, especially when writing nonfiction, and then email the work back and forth for editing. But for us in our need to find a single voice for our character, literally working together in old-fashioned longhand worked best.

At the end of each writing session, I typed the blended work into the computer and printed out two copies. At our next meeting, we started with what we had written the last time—reading it aloud, listening to the flow, making changes, getting back into the right frame of mind, and moving on.

Collaboration proved to be a good way for us to break into the publishing world, and it’s something that some new writers might like to attempt—but only if you find the right collaborator. After our second book, it became important to me to move on with writing on my own. I had to be able to prove to myself that I had the ability and perseverance to write my own novel by myself. I will continue writing on my own, but I do still collaborate in many of those nuances already mentioned—with my critiquing friends, with my fellow writers, with my students, and with my editor.

Before I end this post, here’s some exciting news about Jackie’s and my coauthored books, BROKEN DRUM and REBEL HART: We have signed film options for both books and are hopeful that BROKEN DRUM will be produced either as a mini-series or feature film within the timeframe of the 150th anniversary (2011 – 2015) of the Civil War!

7 comments:

Stephanie said...

Very cool news Edie!!

Christy said...

Thanks for sharing all the pros and cons. What an incredible learning experience! It would be challenging to collaborate when your roles are so similar. I know at least three husband-wife illustrator teams, but for the life of me, can't figure out how they do it.

Mark said...

Edie, your post definitely provides food for thought for those considering the co-author route. Thanks for your insights, and congratulations on the movie options!!

Lauren said...

Congratulations on the film contracts for your books! Very exciting!
Your post reminded me that I had tried to collaborate with a friend several years ago. It was before I had written and illustrated Winter is the Warmest Season. Neither of us had authored a picture book and we both wanted to. I had an idea and wrote a first go-- she loved it, so she had a second go and added to it. I was not enamored of what she added, but I thought I should remain open... we talked. I added more, she added more, then me again... and what I found was it was losing the meaning for me. (It was fiction- perhaps non-fiction is different as you have to adhere to some facts.) I finally told her I couldn't do it anymore and that I was taking my original story back. I am still in the midst of re-writing this manuscript-- at least 8 years old! Now the story feels so much my own, that I had forgotten that initial try at collaboration! I am glad yours was so much more successful.

Edie said...

Thank you all for your comments! Yes, the film options are very exciting! It's been a while since we actually signed them, but weren't supposed to say anything until a few more things were worked out.

The experience of collaboration was rather difficult, and even though these two books were based on actual people, they were fictionalized. Sometimes we each had different ideas of what directions we should go. That's why we agreed to work on them only when we were together. It's also difficult to make everything equal when you don't always put in equal time on the writing, researching, and revising.

john said...

Edie, this is a fascinating post that points our all the different ways to collaborate. Thank you for sharing the story of these stories. And congratulations on the options. That's a sign of the strength your collaboration.

Diane Adams said...

Edie,
Congratulations on the movie opportunities. What a thrill. Your description of collaboration really covered the ups and downs. Thank you for putting the time into writing it all out!