A Few Thoughts on Collaboration

Writing tends to be a solitary endeavor. Most stories and books are written by a single person during which they conceive, develop, plot, write, and edit in a near vacuum. While many writers may open their work to others for comment and discussion at various stages, they maintain full control over the process and decide what to do with any feedback they might receive.

I’ve written this way for my entire career, and it has produced result of which I am quite proud.

But last summer I had a conversation with a longtime friend of mine in which he revealed a wacky story idea he’d been developing during his daily jogs. Not being a writer, he wondered what I thought of it.

After musing over it for a time, I loved it, and thought he had premise that could be developed into a fun and engaging story, likely appropriate for a young adult audience. I sent him back my thoughts and an offer to write it as a collaborative project.

To my immense pleasure, he accepted, and off we forged into unexplored territory.

Since that day, I’ve thought often about the collaborative process and how it differs so much from the solo one. These differences have necessitated a change in how I think and conduct my writing because the process and the product are no longer mine, but ours. This means several things:

First, I need to have the confidence to respect other ideas, even when they may run counter to my own. This interchange of ideas can be exciting, and by being open to my co-author ideas, I have found that our story has gone in some unexpected, yet good, directions. The interplay of our creativity has benefited the story.

Second, I need to trust my co-author. This is critical because the writing process can become very personal and can reveal things that I ordinarily might not share with most other people. My writing process is messy, and I’ve always felt it is like making sausage: the end product is great, but getting there is something that is best left unwitnessed. I need to trust that my co-author won’t hold anything against me, so to speak.

Third, I need to be open to criticism. Sure every writer needs to have a thick skin, but this is more than just someone saying they thought your finished story was trash. Criticism is hard to take, but if I trust my co-author then I should know that any criticisms they raise are intended to improve our story and process, and not to tear me down. I must remember that we are both working toward a common goal

Finally, I think it is critical to be open and clear up front about the nature and goals of the partnership. One of the first things my co-author and I did was agree to the boundaries our collaboration. We agreed on what fell under this partnership, what did not, and how we intended to split everything from workload to potential profits. We also agreed on our end goal, including how we hoped to pursue publication. This might sound like a prenuptial agreement or a business contract, and in some ways, it is, but I think it necessary to establish clear expectations to avoid any misunderstanding or hard feelings later. Most importantly, we agreed to walk away from the project if it ever threatened our friendship.

I hope that following being mindful of these consideration will make for a positive collaborative experience and result it a book that is publishable, profitable, and most importantly, enjoyable to readers.

I’ve likely missed some other consideration, so please drop them in a comment if you have anything to add.

About D. Thomas Minton

Writer of speculative fiction
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2 Responses to A Few Thoughts on Collaboration

  1. dokktordave says:

    I have always found that having a partner is great for the flow of ideas. We tend to be a little more creative when we have an audience (even when that audience is only 1 person). I tend to put a little extra effort in even rough ideas for the sake of getting that immediate feedback.
    Sometimes it emboldens me to go further with passing thoughts that might otherwise be incidental, not develop into more. And of course, it helps a lot with the ideas that work great in my head, but that an audience may need a lot of help to enjoy. Then there is the gain in terms of characters – having a different personality keep you honest with some characters so that they don’t all become repetitive or flat. Always a good experience once you have made that initial check to see if your styles are compatible.

    • I hear you on that “ideas that sound good in my head…” thing. I sometimes think those are exactly why I shouldn’t collaborate with people –LOL. But seriously, your points are spot on, but I wonder if what you describe comes up short of “collaboration.” Feedback and collaboration are certainly on the same spectrum, but collaboration seems to be a deeper investment than feedback. I think with “feedback,” you still maintain control of the story/ideas, but in “collaboration,” the story/ideas are shared by the co-authors.

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