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Collaboration

It seems my fate in life to collaborate with linear writers, when I myself write in a nonlinear fashion.

As Bob Greenberger has noted in his latest blog post, The Floor Is Now Open, he and I have begun work on the "Things That Aren't" sequel. And, as he also noted, I've sent him some chunks of the first draft, which show him just how differently I write from him.

As I think I've mentioned before, I tend to be a nonlinear writer. From a practical standpoint, that means that when I sit down to write another, say, 500 words of a story, I don't start at the beginning and go to the end. I bounce around the document, writing bits and pieces of dialogue, description, and other stuff beginning with d. My drafts-in-progress are sprinkled with asterisks to mark places where I need to add more words, and notes to myself like "FIX THIS" and "CHARACTER NAME NEEDED." (As an aside, I learned to do this from studying one of John Kessel's manuscripts-in-progress at Clarion, so thanks, John, for helping me free my creativity like that. And I'd also like to thank the inventor of the word processor. This method of writing would be almost impossible on a typewriter.) I work this way until I've filled my word quota, and then I stop and switch to another project.

While Bob didn't state this explicitly in his post, he's more of a linear writer, so looking at what I've written is an interesting experience for him. The chunks I sent him are all in one document, so it's not like I've made it clear which scene is which. And yet, he still can see where the connections will be made. Eventually.

I'm reminded of the other significant collaboration I did, with Shane Tourtellotte, on a novella called "Bug Out!" (Analog, July/August 2001). Shane is most definitely a linear writer; he starts from the beginning of a story and keeps writing until he reaches the end. We had to figure out how we would put the story together, and in the end we came up with a workable method. We started with an outline, which we tossed back and forth until we had a plot document that described every scene. Then we divided the outline up. I took the odd-numbered scenes, and he took the even-numbered scenes (or maybe it was the other way around; it doesn't matter). And then we wrote. This way, he could start from his first scene and write all the way to the end of his last scene, and I could bounce around among the scenes as I wished. When we were done, we swapped the scenes. He rewrote mine, I rewrote his, and we did this once or twice more until the story was done.

Oddly enough, this worked out even better than we expected. For example, in one scene I was writing, I realized that I needed something to exist in the story which had to be set up in one of Shane's scenes. I wrote it in and figured I would add it when I got Shane's scenes to rewrite. Much to my surprise and delight, Shane had also figured that we needed this thing to exist, and he had set it up exactly where we needed it.

Bob and I are handling the sequel to "Things That Aren't" a little differently. We're essentially using the same method that we used for the original. I'm writing a first draft of the story, in my usual nonlinear way, and when it's finished I'll pass it to Bob. Bob, in turn, will rewrite the draft, adding all those things that I will probably leave out. (Like character, conflict, and plot. You know, minor things like that.) Then I'll take it back and probably yell and scream at him for all his changes to my deathless prose. No, but seriously, I'll make other changes, we'll make compromises on those things we disagree on, and then we'll send the new story to Analog, where it'll get the cover and be nominated for a few awards. (Or not, but writers like to dream.)

So, if you'll excuse me, I need to get back to work.

Comments

Nice post. I've always been curious about how writers work on collaborations.
You ... you're a non-linear writer? Dude! Everyone else I've spoken to acts as if I'm entirely insane for working on scenes I'm in the mood for rather than strictly start-to-finish! ::happiness::
I should show you one of my work-in-progress files.

I actually know of one novelist who writes the scenes that day that he feels like writing. I imagine a lot of people write that way. But I literally skip from scene to scene, writing one line or two for each as I flit through the electronic document.
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