Guest blogger - Paula Stiles on writers and collaboration
Writers and Collaboration
By Paula R. Stiles
On Sunday, Silvia Moreno-Garcia and I opened submissions for a new online Lovecraft/Mythos 'zine and faux newspaper called Innsmouth Free Press . Despite our having prepared ahead of time, there was still some scrambling on the day as the slush came rolling in and we answered questions and got some more last-minute promotion out. Fortunately, we're similar personalities and have long since learned to coordinate. We have similar priorities in that respect and neither of us gets too excited about stuff. Which is good, because we're also both pretty busy.
Collaboration between writers doesn't seem to get much press, save as some astonishing exception to the assumed rule that two or more writers working on the same project always tear into each other like Siamese Fighting Fish. Maybe it's not sexy. Maybe it doesn't fit that Hemingwayesque image of the writer sitting all alone in front of her/his typewriter in shirtsleeves, sweating under a ceiling fan and banging out stories while glum green lizards crawl along the walls. Just you and your muse. And never mind that Hemingway is noted as much for the writing community he was a part of as for his writing, that he sent stuff to friends for commentary and critique. When we think about him writing, he always writes alone.
Writers act and are presented as solitary workers, even when we're clearly working with others (as in a 'zine). This is a fairly mysterious attitude to me. It's not as though we have no examples of collaboration out there. Editors/publishers and writers are seen as separate species even though editors are often writers and vice versa. Even though the various genre communities are really quite small when it comes to active members, and you see the same names over and over again being published, on blogs and on the social networking sites, most of us act as if we're living in some kind of vacuum when we're actually writing.
But the Internet is only a form of communication, a bit like the "hundred million bottles washed up on the shore" in The Police song "Message in a Bottle". Many of us have also met in real life, putting faces to the names. I've certainly met Silvia (we have a mutual taste for cheesy horror flicks). I visited Judith Doloughan, my friend and cowriter of a novel Fraterfamilias, every day of the last ten months of her life save one (a snowstorm stopped all the busses on my birthday). We writers are joiners--we hook up on Facebook, MySpace or Twitter. We trade comments on critique groups. We blog together. We write books together. We set up 'zines together. We're not alone.
One of the best pieces of writing advice I've ever gleaned from a really famous writer came from Stephen King's On Writing. In fact, I'd recommend that and his general study of horror, Danse Macabre, if you are even remotely serious about becoming a professional writer.
On Writing is partly a brutally honest autobiography and partly a book on writing. Not grammar and sentence structure, but the more neglected parts of the craft--writing habits, goals, good and bad characters, how theme crops up in your writing when you're not looking, and building your writing peer group. King doesn't mean a critique group or an organization like SFWA (though they can be at least part of your writing group). Instead, he talks about how he hooked up with various other writers who were at about the same level as he was, how they supported each other through the hard times and celebrated the good times. Most of the writers he lists have gone on to become bestsellers themselves, though ones who write very differently and in different genres than King.
What's the advantage of collaboration? Part of it is pooling one's resources, of course. But I think the biggest one, for me, is having someone to bounce ideas off for your project who cares every bit as much as you do about it. Two heads really are better than one and you do come up with things that you wouldn't have, otherwise. Your fictional universe feels larger as a result. H.P. Lovecraft's Mythos universe was the larger for his inviting other writers to play in it.
But also, it's about friendship. When you collaborate, you're going to end up getting to know your collaborator pretty well. So, you'd better pick someone you like and get along with, that you want as a friend. If you don't, it's going to show in whatever project you do. If you can compromise, you can produce great things.
Remember, we're not alone. Not really.
Paula R. Stiles