5 Benefits of Collaborative Writing

Franz Kafka, the famous author of “The Metamorphosis,” once wrote that writing is utter solitude, the descent into the cold abyss of oneself.

Although Mr. Kafka sounds a bit creepy, I get it.

As a mother to four kids, I relish hours alone with clicking fingers and thoughts. It’s just me and my laptop, or a pen and a piece of paper, and I’m hurled into a different time, place, or life. “How do I know what I think until I see what I say?” said the great E. M. Forster.

I concur.

Solitude is a treasured gift in my writing life.

But as I’ve delved into my career, the importance and benefits of collaborative writing have become undeniable. I’ve realized, with time, that my writing can get blurry. My business plan can be smudged. Enter collaborative writing.

When I say collaborative writing, I mean sharing my work with others, helping fellow writers along the way, and receiving criticism and suggestions regarding my work. I need people. I need editors, and proofreaders, and cheerleaders. I need instruction, shared experience, correction.

Col·lab·o·ra·tion: The action of working with someone to produce or create something.

Letting people into my solitary writing life has been a great experience. I create more. I create better. How? In what ways?

I’m glad you asked.

Here are 5 benefits of collaborative writing:

1. Collaboration strengthens writing skills

After I committed to writing my personal story about having a child with Down syndrome in the former Soviet Union, I looked into taking a writing class. God hooked me up with a great group. We read and discuss memoir, submit pages, and critique each other’s work. This sort of collaboration with other writers has strengthened my writing muscles and encouraged me greatly. Plus, I made writer friends!

2. Collaboration helps keep the green monster at bay

Let’s face it. All writers struggle with jealousy. I surely do.

When I collaborate with others, whether I’m reading or editing someone’s work, promoting Facebook fan pages, or having a friend guest post on my blog, it’s more difficult to for me to be jealous. Instead of racing for the win, I become a fellow sojourner along the path. If you find yourself repeatedly jealous over another writer’s success, I suggest you attempt to collaborate with him/her. It will change your attitude.

3. Collaboration builds platform

Nine times out of ten, when I’ve helped another writer, he or she ended up helping me too. Like someone’s post, share a fan page, host a blog parade. People will notice your generosity. And maybe next time, they will promote you.

4. Collaboration pushes deadlines

Whether you are submitting new pages to a group, or working with an editor on a freelance project, or in the final stages of line editing with your publishing house, deadlines push you. In order to write more, often, and better, collaborate with others. You will be forced to meet deadlines, which, in turn, will force you to write more.

5. Collaboration makes me an upstanding literary citizen

I’m convinced that as writers, we need to contribute to the literary society to which we belong. Read. Buy books. Share articles. Subscribe to magazines. And I would add collaborate with other authors.

Collaboration is a win for all involved.

George Orwell said that good writing is like a windowpane. I’m convinced that in order to write well, I need others around me holding the Windex bottle, spraying, and wiping my purpose, productivity, and prose clean with wadded up old newspaper.

What about you? How have you/do you collaborate with other writers?

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The Craft of Writing

The dictionary defines ‘craft’ by making references to skill, dexterity, cunning, and even deceit. Of course, it is normally associated with a deft manual skill to produce a thing of value or beauty. Trying to decide exactly what is the good and acceptable product of a skilled craftsman we then descend rapidly into the shadowy realms of subjectivity.  One man’s meat is another man’s poison and all that.

I have just been reading George Orwell’s little manifesto entitled ‘Why I Write,’ which he published in 1946, the year I was born. Orwell was undoubtedly a craftsman, knew his craft well, and was literate and articulate enough to write succinctly about it. In the early part of the book, he lists what he believes to be the four main reasons, or motives, why a person would want to seriously write.

  1. Egoism
  2. Aesthetic
  3. Historical
  4. Political

The first motive is probably the strongest driver, if we are honest enough to admit to it. It is the desire to be seen to be clever, to be talked about, to be on the New York Times Best Seller List and even to be remembered after our death, though we won’t be around to bask in the glory.

Becoming a writer is an odd desire in many ways. What I mean is, if you want to be a painter, a carpenter, an engineer, a dentist or a doctor, it is assumed you will have to be trained and fully learn your craft before you can produce or do anything really good.

To become a writer is somehow different from all the other professions, in that you can go to university to study English literature and attend creative writing courses run by eminent successful writers. In the UK, I imagine hundreds do just this, and I guess in the USA it probably numbers in the thousands. But somehow it doesn’t quite work out in the same way as for the people who study diligently to become craftsmen in other disciplines. In my doctor’s office, I see on the wall his credentials proudly displayed–the Medical Certificate, which says he can practice as a GP. I look at that and trust him implicitly.

If writers had consulting rooms, like doctors, and I saw on the wall the University degrees in literature, philosophy, history and the like, would I assume that the holder of these prestigious awards was a great writer? We all know the answer to this question. It’s a simple, unvarnished ‘no’.

The craft of writing can be taught. The craft of learning to become a writer can be learnt, but it doesn’t guarantee that the student will be a great or even a good writer. But why doesn’t it?

Returning to George Orwell and his little essay ‘Why I write,’ he says this about considering what makes a good writer: “…it has to do with the writer’s early development; his subject matter will be determined by the age he lives in, by his acquired emotional attitudes, his temperament, his maturity and not forgetting the all-important motives, listed above.”

From the point of view given in the paragraphs above it is clear that learning the craft of writing is not enough. We can partition this activity as the objective study of writing. All the rest is established in the subjective department of the writer. This latter realm cannot be taught. It is indeterminate, unique, special, incalculable, complex, mystical, beautiful, tangible yet ephemeral, and at some precious moment even eternal.

It is the human psyche which holds the secret. What pours out onto the ‘tabular rasa’ is a miracle at times. Where does it come from? It comes from the life within. It can be good, bad and ugly, but when it is truly creative and inspired, it shows. And more importantly readers know it too. It becomes a shared experience par excellence. It binds us together in unity. It applauds the human race. It raises us out of the mire and places us firmly on the mountain top. Hallelujah!

PS – For some other writers’ views see :

  1. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, by Stephen King
  2. Ernest Hemingway on Writing, by Larry W. Phillips
  3. On Writing: Rethinking Conventional Wisdom about the Craft, by David Jauss

From Stone Tablet to E-book

     

“There’s always room at the top,” said Daniel Webster. But who exactly he was addressing in his famous quote is up for discussion, seeing that he was a thorough-going elitist and excelled at being at the top.

However, it is true that there is always room at the top for those who set their sights on lofty peaks even if they come from lowly beginnings. For example, just look at the history of the Presidents of the USA including the present incumbent in the White House.

And there’s always a demand for talented, gifted writers, with relevant things to say.

These are challenging times for publishers, even perhaps the hardest times ever for traditional publishers. Remarkably it is only one generation ago that books and publishing had not really undergone significant change since the time of Caxton.

We, however, are already living in future-shock!

Nowadays it is fair to ask who or what is a publisher.

In times gone by, the publishing world was dominated by the big boys. The likes of Oxford University Press, Doubleday, Hodder Stoughton, Penguin Books, Faber and Faber, and Thomas Nelson to name but a few.

Now it is more likely to be ‘johndoepublishing.com’.

In the 19th century a whole new era in publishing began. A series of technical developments, in the book trade as in other industries, dramatically raised output and lowered costs. Stereotyping, the iron press, the application of steam power, mechanical typecasting and typesetting, new methods of reproducing illustrations—these inventions, developed through the century and often resisted by the printer, amounted to a revolution in book production.

Today a brave new world technological revolution has transformed the industry. We are on the verge of such dramatic and irreversible change that could effectively mean the demise of the printed, hold-in-your-hand, paper book.

Ray Bradbury’s book, Fahrenheit 451, depicted a society where books were systematically burned. In our society we simply don’t need them (printed books that is) anymore. We may see the end of the printed book in our own lifetime. Like Winston Smith in George Orwell’s 1984 we may need to search furtively in the backstreets and alleys of proletariat towns to find copies of old decaying books.

Publishing is about to take a leap into the future. The word out on the streets is change or die. Those who are always looking into the past are often blind to the present.

We can now read books on our laptops, iPads, and cell phones. It is so convenient. I can sit on train and carry a thousand books on my Kindle and access, read, interrogate, highlight, or listen to any of them within seconds.

Public libraries will one day no longer have books on shelves; instead, there will be terminals where we can ‘plug’ in and download any and every book ever written into our own personal private mini-chip. No matter what your point of view is, such a prospect is mind-blowingly amazing.

But where does all that leave publishing?

We have gone from the stone tablet to wax impressions, from papyrus to parchment, from paper to the e-book. It is difficult to predict the future of the printed book, but publishing and publishers will remain. They will, I am sure, change to meet the demands and the fashions of the times we live in. The ability to adapt is, after all, the difference between commercial success and bankruptcy.

To end my blog here’s an excerpt from Wikipedia:

“Although electronic books, or e-books, had limited success in the early years, and readers were resistant at the outset, the demand for books in this format has grown dramatically, primarily because of the popularity of e-reader devices and as the number of available titles in this format has increased. Another important factor in the increasing popularity of the e-reader is its continuous diversification. Many e-readers now support basic operating systems, which facilitate email and other simple functions. The  i-pad is the most obvious example of this trend, but even mobile phones can host e-reading software now.” 

I love the touch, the smell, the sound of turning a page in the candlelight when I am reading a real book in bed, but the future is at hand.

In the not too distant future, our children’s children may well ask, “Grandma what was a book?”

But writers will always be needed…

Won’t they?

And of course there will always be room at the e-Top.

What is your view of the changing publishing industry?