Collaboration (as defined by the Encarta Dictionary that comes with MS Word) is "the act of working together with one or more people in order to achieve something."
Some writers enjoy collaborating. They will seek out other authors who write with similar styles and the two (or more) will work together on anything as short as a poem and as long as a series of novels.
It's not a requirement that the two writers have similar styles. After all, no two voices are exactly alike. But when the two styles differ by too much of a chasm, then the passages written by one writer will be painfully obviously different from the passages written by the partner.
The good side: Collaboration as Salvation
Remember last week, when I talked about how hard it is to say no? Well sometimes we don't want to say no to a great opportunity, and then we end up with too many projects and not enough time to complete them all.
Collaboration to the rescue! Your partner could be finishing the rough draft on project X while you're doing the edits on project Y. With this assistance you are more likely to meet the two deadlines.
I'm not a spring chicken. And I've had a pretty rough year with respect to health issues, from pneumonia in June, to some significant arthritis pain right now that's making it painful to sit at the keyboard. (Plus some test results I'm awaiting that are adding massive stress to my plate.)
If the two of you have been churning through a project, then each of you can pick up the other's slack when health is an issue. The only real problem occurs if you're both knocked on your back at the same time. (But that's pretty rare in my experience.)
The Second Opinion
Last weekend, I enlisted the assistance of my partner to navigate a few copy edit roadblocks. Without his help, I honestly believe that I would be no closer whatsoever to submitting the edits to the publisher.
The two of us literally spent hours grinding through the three toughest stories. On a couple of items, I believe we argued for over an hour about one word. I'm not exaggerating. ONE. WORD.
He kept me on track. He forced me to push through. He made suggestions to sections that I was too close to, no longer able to see the forest for the trees. And even though the going was tough, at the end, we both felt energized by the experience.
The bad side: Collaboration as Torture
You Don't Play Well with Others
Remember back in grade school, when part of your report card explained how well you interacted with your classmates? Well, if you were the sort of kid who always received a "needs improvement" rating, then perhaps collaborating isn't right for you.
If the thought of someone else messing with your baby, writing passages you hate, editing out parts you loved, and generally making you feel as though they're ruining everything, then RUN, don't walk, away from collaboration.
Compromising Can be Difficult
Writing is full of decision making. And in many instances, you might have to compromise over what you originally thought you wouldn't budge over. These compromises can turn a healthy working relationship into a teeming stink pile of resentment.
I remember Sean Williams speaking on collaborations. He said one of the most important decisions is choosing the person who has the final say. Because in some instances, you may never come to a consensus, so someone will have to make the final chose over an issue.
The final say extends to incorporate the final edit. Before you begin the collaboration (don't wait until the last minute), you must clearly decide (preferably in writing) which one of you will have the authority to do the final edit of the manuscript. Otherwise, your "final read" might turn into a hundred "final reads" and no one wants that!
Essentially, you must pre-decide who will be forced to compromise over a tough call.
You Haven't Yet Found the Right Writer
Collaborating on a project as huge as a novel is almost as difficult a commitment as moving in with your boyfriend/girlfriend. Sure, things have been churning along nicely, but then all of a sudden, he's leaving his dirty socks on your favourite chair or she's leaving the cap off the toothpaste, and to your utter frustration, you get home after a tough day at work and they've eaten the last slice of leftover pizza!
"OUT!" you shout. "I can't take one more minute of your blah blah blah!"
If you're considering collaborating on a large project, do a test run on something shorter, just to see how well the two of you can work through the rough patches. You might learn a valuable lesson that could save you hours of anguish. Better to put the quick effort in first, than to ruin a friendship later.
Like most things in live, collaborations have advantages and disadvantages. Be sure that you know yourself, and you have a good idea about the other person, before you commit to a collaboration project.
Do it now
Look over your hard drive in search of a story that stalled you. One with promise, but that you never had the heart, desire, or any idea how to finish.
Consider whether you would like to email this work-in-progress to a fellow writer who might enjoy the challenge of bringing the story to life.