I’m on the verge of publishing my second creative collaboration with K.S. Brooks. Two years ago, if someone had asked me if I would be interested in any kind of collaborative writing project, I would have responded with a vehement NO.
I saw little benefit in such joint endeavors, but could easily see multiple perils. To clarify, I am not speaking here of anthologies, but about a collaborative creative process.
In late 2011, K.S. Brooks approached me about participating in a team writing project with her and two other authors, David Antrobus and JD Mader.
The initial idea stemmed from an observation Brooks had made about some of the really awful books out there that have done quite well in terms of sales. She thought it would be a fun and easy-to-do project – low pressure and low expectations.
I believe my initial response to her was something along the lines of, “I can’t tell you how honored I am that my name sprang to mind when you were looking for someone to write a bad book.”
I knew that wasn’t it. Brooks had not read any of my writing when she asked me to join her Devil’s posse. She made the offer based on the chemistry she, Mader, Antrobus, and I exhibited in our banter back and forth in Book Junkies. Ah, the good old days.
I liked Brooks, Mader, and Antrobus, but I resisted the idea of working on a writing partnership with them. I told her if she couldn’t find anyone else, I’d consider it. Part of the reason I resisted was because I wanted to keep liking Brooks, Mader, and Antrobus. I was afraid that if four creative minds with four different visions collided, the body count could get out of hand. Feelings could get hurt and digital friendships ruined.
The other problem I wrestled with is that I saw such team writing endeavors as contrary to the greatest benefit of being an independent author: being able to render your vision whole without the influence of others.
Brooks persisted in that gentle, ruthless way she has, and I did join the project. Antrobus either changed his mind or forgot to show up, so it was Brooks, Mader, and me working on a project we called Bad Book.
The way this thing worked was that each of us would just jump in and write a few lines as time allowed between our other obligations. There were no assignments, no outline, no deadline, no set ideas of where we wanted to go with the story.
We used a file sharing program called Dropbox, so we could all work within the same document. By the time I came on, somebody had written the first few lines of what looked to be a vampire apocalypse novel. I don’t know if I can say that I have a strong suit, but if I do, I am sure vampire apocalypse isn’t it. I pitched an idea: make the book a multi-genre satire, with each chapter representing an incursion into a new scenario.
So, we spoofed vampire apocalypse, legal dramas, westerns, CSI, soaps, Hitchcock, Dumas, Jules Verne, Jaws – anything and everything we could think of. There was no set schedule. Whoever wrote the beginning passages of a chapter set the tone. The others followed suit. We were each at times writing either a beginning, middle, or end of a chapter. When we finished, we knocked off the rough edges and sent it off to be edited.
The result was a future cult classic. That’s what we keep saying, anyway. I think readers can sense the chemistry and momentum that carries them along the incredibly warped spoof. At this point, I figured Brooks would go into hiding since her reputation as a classically-trained writer would be effectively ruined by Bad Book. But no, shortly thereafter, she approached me with an idea for another book.
This latest collaboration is our chick-lit comedy, Triple Dog Dare. This worked quite differently than the collaboration on Bad Book. Again, we didn’t have a concrete idea of what we wanted to do in terms of the specifics, but we did spend a good deal of time brainstorming the general story idea.
This time, Brooks turned me loose to drive the story line and to craft the twists and turns. She came along in the wake of my destruction and provided shape and form to the text, settings, and dialogue. I would write a chapter at a time, then she would take the story and flesh it out into something readable. In essence, we capitalized on my storycraft and her wordcraft.
I think it worked. We are both pretty pleased with the end product and have received very positive feedback from the beta readers and the ARC reviewers. This weekend, we will hit the publish button and you can judge for yourself.
I have learned a lot from all this. There is more than one way to collaborate. If the creative chemistry is right, you develop synergy and maybe even end up with a better product than either writer would produce alone. It is important to share trust and mutual respect. For us, it is important to be consultative. When all that works, I think it shows in the product.
Creative collaboration isn’t for everyone. Those risks I mentioned in the beginning of the post are very real. There can be problems in team writing if one partner feels the workload and responsibilities are not equitably divided. If one partner’s suggestions keep getting vetoed, it can be a demoralizing experience.
Have you participated in a creative collaboration? Was your experience positive? Would you do it again? What did you learn from it?