Sometimes Two Heads Are Better

Writing with someone else always struck me as an odd thing to do. Like sharing a boiled sweet – not quite as delicious once someone else has had a suck.

Turns out I was wrong. Again.

Right now I am collaborating with another writer on a story that started out as a fun little exercise and has since turned into a full-blown project. We’ve been writing for months, tens of thousands of words. Creating characters and plot-lines and letting each other play with them like so many dolls on a toy-room floor.

I thought I might be possessive of the characters I created, resent someone else putting words in their mouths and directing their actions, shaping their destinies. But, as William Faulkner said of his own characters, ‘once he stands up on his feet and begins to move, all I can do is trot along behind him with a paper and pencil trying to keep up long enough to put down what he says and does’.

My characters frequently take off on their own frolics with scarcely a thought for my rough-hewn expectations, leaving me shaking my head at the choices they make. So why not let someone else share chronicling duties?

This joint exercise has been a revelation. My characters have taken to my writing partner with disturbing alacrity, revealing startling eloquence, depth and daring in his presence. His characters in turn have drawn me into their souls, both disturbing and delighting me with their language and antics.

We haven’t shared our thoughts on plot development and have only recently touched on character beyond what emerges from our alternating instalments. Yet each thread sits comfortably with the next and our characters mingle freely and with purpose.

Most surprising for me is that we have settled into a clear joint ‘voice’ – surprising because of the sharp contrast between our writing styles as individuals. Perhaps it’s due to my writing partner’s experience with collaboration and his skill with varied ‘voices’. Or maybe we’ve lucked into a genre and characters that draw from our sliver of stylistic commonality. Whatever it is, I’m astounded and delighted with what we’ve conjured and I can’t wait to find out what happens next.

What’s your experience of collaborative writing?

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One Response to Sometimes Two Heads Are Better

  1. alphabetagemma says:

    what a fascinating article! are you going to post any excerpts from your story on waxings? sadly i have no experience with collaborative creative writing… but your article makes me want to try it out, and soon. now to find a suitable collaborator…

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