Collaborate and Listen
Welcome back to Firsts in Fiction, loyal listeners! Please forgive this week’s title (a shameless reference to the hit 90’s single, Ice Ice Baby!) This week, Steve and Aaron are joined by Alton Gansky and Cindy Sproles to talk collaborative writing. The video of our live cast on Google Hangouts is available on YouTube here. If you prefer, you can watch below the show notes. As always, you can listen above or download the episode here. Find Steve and Heather and Aaron on Facebook, Twitter, iTunes, and Stitcher. You can find Al on Facebook or on his blog here. You can find Cindy on Facebook or at her website here. Remember, tell your friends using the #firstsinfiction and/or @firstsinfiction to help us get a good social media buzz. Appreciate your listenership!
Rather than going through the entire broadcast and transcribing, I thought I’d boil down the highlights for you and encourage you to either listen or view the cast in its entirety, as there are several gems that will encourage you and guide you as you consider embarking on a collaborative effort (or inspire you to keep working on any current collaborative projects).
As a writer, I’ve had the privilege of working with some pretty outstanding people (I’m looking at you, Diane Sherlock and Cindy Sproles). These collaborations have resulted in two pretty incredible books (Write to Be Heard with Diane, and Holding Rain with Cindy), but not everyone is so lucky.
In college, I picked up a post-modern epistolary romance novel. Not really my genre, but I’d just finished the first draft of Holding Rain with Cindy, and wanted to see how the authors of this book, which had a similar concept, handled the process of co-writing. I made a point to contact each author, and both were kind enough to respond to my questions. What I discovered shocked me. They hated co-writing. Cindy and I (and years later, Diane and I) enjoyed the process. For the purposes of comparison, I’ll list their complaints, and the advantages I found from co-writing. I’ll also suggest some steps to take if you’re considering co-writing.
Why they hated it: Both authors called the other “stubborn.” Each wanted to take the story in their direction, but weren’t flexible enough to allow the story to take a different path. Their communication quickly turned hostile. They only finished the book because they were under contract from the publisher. However, neither was happy with the final project, and both swore to never work together again.
Why Cindy and I loved it: From start to finish on a polished first draft, Cindy and I finished Holding Rain in a matter of weeks as opposed to months, as did Diane and I on Write to be Heard. Both projects moved swiftly. Also, in both cases, the culmination of our differing styles resulted in a rich, complex voice, one none of us could achieve alone. Lastly, we learned a lot in the process. Diane and Cindy are strong in areas I’m not. Specifically, Diane had a lot of great advice to offer about writing fiction that I normally don’t pay much attention to. Cindy and I worked together on a romance—something very far out of my comfort zone and realm of expertise. She kept me honest and pointed out places where I’d violated traditional romance-readers’ expectations.
How to co-write without killing each other: Here are a few tips for successful co-writing, specifically, how to finish the project without wishing death each upon the other.
1. Project Trumps Pride: Alton Gansky said it this way, and I love it. Bottom line–make sure you have a unified vision of what the end project will look like. Once you agree on that, you’ll have to set your pride aside at times to ensure the project develops the way it should. This will mean killing some of your darlings. It’s never easy, but it’s a necessary evil to produce the end product you’ve agreed on.
2. Be flexible: This is not your story. It must exist somewhere in the middle. Do the dance, the give and take. If you love your ideas to the detriment of your co-writers, there’s no reason to have them along in the first place.
3. Lead where you’re strong: Ideally, you and your co-writers have different strengths, different voices. Play to that. Find ways to highlight what you do well in writing.
4. Follow where you’re weak: We all have areas where we struggle. Be aware of these, and defer to your co-writer in them. In Radio Radio, I asked Cindy for advice whenever I sent her a “romantic” scene so she could give me pointers. In moments of conflict, she’d ask me if she’d done it right.
5. Learn something: No journey is worthwhile unless you learn something through the process. Cindy’s taught me things about romance I never would have known otherwise. Diane’s taught me several things about voice and how to achieve the proper tone of a scene. I’d like to think they learned a little something from me about the importance of tight writing and well-crafted dialog.
6. Communicate: Make sure you keep in constant contact about the direction the book is going, where you want it to go, and how it’s going to get there.
7. Define rolls: If you don’t know what your partner expects, you’ll never satisfy them. Know what you do well and why you were brought in on the project. Conversely, know what you struggle with, and bring someone in who can compliment that area of weakness.
8. Have fun: If you’re not, there’s no point in collaborating.
In addition to being my father, Dr. Alton Gansky is a full time writer, director of Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers’ Conference, and founder of Gansky.Communications. He is the award winning author of over 40 books. In addition to his own writing, he consults with publishers and writers. Through Gansky Communications he aids publishers, agents, and authors in producing the best in written communications. He has also written scores of videos, radio and television ads and other business productions. Prior to turning to full time writing, he was the senior pastor of a Southern Baptist church. In addition to his writing, he speaks to writers groups and church organizations. – See more here:
In addition to collaborating with Aaron on a novel, Cindy Sproles is the co-founder and executive editor of Christian Devotions Ministries and www.christiandevotions.us. She is a popular speaker at women’s retreats and conferences and teaches at writers conferences across the nation. Cindy is the co-writer of the successful He Said, She Said devotions and is the co-host of the nationally syndicated BlogTalk Radio show, Christian Devotions Speak UP! She is a contributor to CBN.com and is the director of Writers ADVANCE! Boot Camp Writers Conference. Cindy is the author of two devotional/inspirational books, one with her co-writer Eddie Jones and the most recent, a solo book, New Sheets: Thirty Days to Refine You into the Woman You Can Be. You may visit Cindy at www.cindysproles.com or contact her for speaking engagements at firstname.lastname@example.org.