January 5, 2012

Divide the Work; Multiply the Joy!

by Betsy Duffey and Laurie Myers

Have you ever thought it might be nice to just write half of a book? Have you ever had occasion to celebrate a writing success and wanted to share the joy?  Collaboration might be for you. As sisters and collaborators we have completed five books together and continue working as a team.

Our first collaboration included our mother and the two of us.  We were used to writing individually and wondered how to make it work.  Our different voices would make a traditional novel disjointed, and a round robin novel seemed problematic. (We each like to have the last word, and it would never end!)  Finally an idea surfaced that was perfect for collaboration, MY DOG, MY HERO.  Each chapter would be told from a different point of view.  This meant our different voices would be an advantage rather than a problem.
We worked individually on our chapters and then met together, sitting around Mom’s kitchen table where we wrote the first and last chapters to tie the book together.  This worked well for us and we did three more books the same way. When our mother stopped writing we continued collaborating as sisters and have enjoyed the benefits of sharing the work.

Have you ever been “stuck” with no clue how to proceed with a story? One of the best parts of collaborating is that you have someone else to help work out those gnarly problems. We often say to each other, “Would you work on Chapter Six, I’ve done all I can do for now?” or “Chapter One needs to be stronger, will you take a look?” It is a relief to share the challenges with someone else.
Brainstorming with your collaborator is fun.We meet one day a week at a coffee shop in a town halfway between us. There is nothing quite so stimulating as sitting with our coffee and scones talking about stories and possibilities. There is always excitement and laughter.
The downside of collaboration comes from unclear expectations and boundaries.This can be avoided by being intentional about defining the relationship. Ask the questions up front. How will royalties be split? Who will correspond with agents and editors? How will we deal with disagreements? In the beginning we both decided we would not proceed on the writing or publishing until both of us were in total agreement. This decision has served us well in the writing and in decisions about submissions.

Collaboration only works when we come to each other with respect and trust. There is no room in the relationship for being territorial, defensive or resistant to change. We both wrote for fifteen years before we ever collaborated and this has helped. We were accustomed to change and revision from having editors and critique groups give input to our work.

The pitfalls of collaboration can be avoided with good planning and open communication. Then the benefits can be realized: sharing the load and experiencing the joy together.

Writing Sisters, Laurie Myers and Betsy Duffey, have been writing for children for over twenty years, publishing with Viking, Clarion, Simon & Schuster, Henry Holt and Harper Collins.  They have published over thirty-five chapter books for children and have had books on master lists in over twenty states.  Laurie and Betsy are now focused on writing Bible stories in fresh ways for the chapter book audience.

Visit them on Facebook, Twitter, their website or  their blog. 

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