Writing in Two-Part Harmony by Evelyn David
Want to live dangerously?
Here’s what “everyone” will tell you. Book collaborations are a recipe for disaster. Put two writers together and you end up with a mishmash of a story, weak characters, and probably a lawsuit about cover credits.
But sometimes you just have to buck conventional wisdom. Instead here’s our suggestion: Find a co-author on the Internet and write 14 books and countless short stories together without ever meeting in person.
What? That sounds crazy.
We know. And we still recommend it because that’s exactly what we did and it’s worked perfectly. Here’s our backstory.
We met on an Internet forum where we each were posting our own stories. On a lark we tried writing a short story together. Not only was it fun, the story, if we say so ourselves, was good, better than the ones we were writing individually. So we tried writing a few more short stories – and then why not, we thought: Let’s write a full-length mystery novel. We know. Sounds crazy. But the truth is, at the time, we didn’t know any better. We didn’t know we couldn’t or shouldn’t do it; so instead, we just did.
Over time, we’ve figured out why our collaboration works. Maybe it can for you too. Here are the pitfalls of collaboration – and how we’ve avoided them.
1. The creative process is by definition a solitary one and writing together only leads to a jumble of ideas.
We’re not sure where the concept of the lonely artist stuck in an unheated garret pursuing her talent first was proposed as fact, but it’s only half true. Yes, each of us brings to the table her own concepts and ideas. But that’s a plus, not a drawback. It means we’ve each got someone to bounce off ideas; someone to say “you’ve hit a homerun” or alternatively, “no offense, but that makes no sense at all.” You’re less likely to go off on a tangent if someone else is there to either remind you where you were supposed to be headed – or to listen if you truly believe that the new idea will only strengthen the storyline. Since it’s a collaboration, where neither party has veto rights, you’ve got to be able to defend your choices, which can only make you plan and write more clearly.
2. You don’t want to mix plaids and stripes together, or in other words, how can you combine two distinct writing styles?
That’s a little tougher, but practice makes perfect. It works because of the first rule of any writing project, whether it’s a third grade book report or a New York Times bestseller: Revise, Revise, Revise.
As each scene goes back and forth between us, it gets smoothed out. We both write all characters so it’s less likely that the hero sounds like someone from Oklahoma (where Rhonda lives), while the heroine sounds like a New Yorker (where Marian lives). We work hard to make our characters distinct, but the overall voice of each book is Evelyn David, neither Rhonda or Marian.
3. The work load will never be equally distributed between the two collaborators.
Probably true at different points in the writing process. But like any good partnership, you each go in with honest intentions, work hard, and figure it all evens out in the end. Rhonda is the tech genius of this collaboration so she handles all design issues. Marian tends to handle the business side of being an author (agent contact, bookstore relationships, publisher issues, and planning). We both do the writing, editing, and promotion. Over time we’ve learned each other’s strengths and preferences – we shift tasks accordingly. Rhonda is the keeper of lists and files. Marian is the final word on punctuation and grammar. Rhonda likes working with photos and covers. Marian is wonderful at interviews. Neither of us is good at mingling at receptions and making small talk, but we do it anyway and commiserate with each other later. The bottom line is that we work together to achieve a common goal.
Important rule of collaboration, and it applies to any relationship: If you’re keeping close track of the hours you spend or the tasks you handle versus what your co-author does, then you probably haven’t found a partner who you trust enough to write with. Move on.
We’ve given a lot of thought to why we think our collaboration works and believe there are three important ingredients.
1. Neither of us has a big ego, so there are never any diva moments.
2. We share a similar work ethic. Do what needs to be done and don’t worry about the credit.
3. And probably most important of all – we share a similar (maybe warped) sense of humor. When life is dark and gloomy, when we are sure we could never compose a shopping list, let alone a book, we tend to crack a joke and laugh. Writing is a tough profession, full of frequent disappointments and frustrations. Laughter is essential.
Collaboration may not be for everyone, but for Evelyn David, it’s been remarkably easy and fun. Try it. You might like it.
Marian lives in New York and is the author of 11 nonfiction books on a wide variety of topics ranging from veterans benefits to playgroups for toddlers! For more information on Marian’s books, please visit her website.
Rhonda lives in Muskogee, Oklahoma, is the director of the coal program for the state, and in her spare time enjoys imagining and writing funny, scary mysteries. Marian and Rhonda write their mystery series via the Internet. While many fans who attend mystery conventions have now chatted with both halves of Evelyn David, Marian and Rhonda have yet to meet in person.
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