How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Other Writers
Margaret: It seems membership is increasing at Inked-In. I'm sure many people join just to see what it's all about, as I did back in July. I never dreamed it would turn into a collaboration with a fellow writer on the other side of the Atlantic. I'm always up for a challenge, so when Richard said, "Hey, we should write something together," I immediately agreed. We had hit it off socially and admired each other's writing. He was a "long-winded" screenwriter who thought he might be better at novels. I was a "woman of few words" novelist who thought screenwriting might be a better match. (When it comes to talking, it's actually the reverse.) In the end, we decided on a novel, hoping our styles would meet somewhere in the middle.
Richard: Truth be told, I’ve never been much of a collaborator. When I was at Art College and I found myself having to do a group project, I would invariably come to blows with everyone else and then lose interest because they weren’t doing things the way I thought they should be done. I wanted total autonomy over all my projects or I simply lost enthusiasm for them. I’ve always been something of a loner, most especially when it comes to creative endeavours. So no one was more surprised than I when I suggested to Margaret that we collaborate on a novel together. We’d met on Inked-In a few months earlier and quickly discovered that we had a lot in common, both personally and creatively. So as far as whims go, it seemed like a fairly logical one. Which is more than can be said for most of my whims.
Margaret: Of course, I had reservations. As similar as we were in some ways, we couldn't be more different in how we approached the writing process. There were also difficulties (putting it very mildly) with misunderstandings due to American versus British English, not to mention the trouble you can get in with inflectionless forms of communication like online chat. What we did have in common, though, was the ability to duke it out and get on with the work. Well, eventually get on with the work, that is.
Richard: We came up with our idea in short order and quickly realised that we had something that was pretty original in its approach and execution. That gave us the initial buzz to get started and five months on we are still hammering away at it. Well, sort of. Maybe hammering isn’t the right word. Light tapping might be better.
Margaret: There were a few months when I was immersed in edits for my soon-to-be-released novel. But the real reason it took so long to get in the flow was the difference in our approach to writing. Richard is a spontaneous, "without a plan" kind of writer and I like to have a loose outline of where I'm heading (otherwise my finished project ends up looking like little Jimmy going from Point A to Point B in the Family Circus cartoons).
Richard: Okay, so there have been lapses in motivation along the way. On both sides. There have been times when Margaret has accelerated past me and times when I have accelerated past her. There have been many times when other projects have dragged us away (Margaret’s soon to be published novel is the prime example) and certainly times when we have become frustrated with ourselves and, from time to time, each other. However, I have not once lost interest in it and I have never really found myself wanting to reach across the Atlantic and strangle Margaret. Not in relation to this book anyway.
Margaret: In time, Richard began to see that his approach wouldn't work in a collaboration. After all, we couldn't read each other's minds and the type of novel we're writing demands consistency. We compromised by discussing individual chapters as we went along. Then we finished chapter four and got stuck again. Finally, Richard suggested that we plot the whole thing out so we knew where we were going. Wow, what a great idea. Wish I had thought of that. ;-)
Richard: I’ve been surprised how easily we have worked together. We complement each other creatively and I’ve even enjoyed Margaret’s little brainstorming sessions, a concept which I have usually found extremely tedious in the past. In fact, we spent God knows how many hours brainstorming almost the whole thing over the last few days. It was exhausting but surprisingly satisfying.
Margaret: So, the last two days have been a whirlwind of activity. We spent hours on the phone plotting out the novel (me on my lounge chair sitting out in the sun on a mild New York spring day; Richard on his sofa under an English night sky). It was exhilarating and grueling at the same time. But in the end, we had something amazing that we both really liked. We'll see where it goes.
Richard: I guess the secret of this collaboration’s success is the way in which we complement each other. Sometimes I need to be told to write less and sometimes Margaret needs to be told to write more. Together we find a common ground where I think something very special will be produced.
Note: Inked-In is an online social network for writers, artists, and musicians.