Friday, March 18, 2016

Still Collaborating After All These Years.

2016 marks a couple of personal milestones for me. First, the big one: I celebrated my 25th wedding anniversary on March 16th. It certainly doesn’t feel like that many years have passed, but you know what they say about time flying when you’re having fun. Well, we’re still cruising full-throttle at Ward Manor. If my wife asks any of you, then of course it’s the most important date of observation for the entire year. You’ve got my back on this, right?

I also have a writing milestone worthy of recognition: February marked the 15th anniversary of my first published fiction collaboration with my best friend and frequent co-writer, Kevin Dilmore. Fifteen years, twenty novels and novellas, a handful of short stories, and a basket of magazine articles later and neither of us has yet attempted to murder the other in our sleep. We’re even still friends. How’d that happen? How’s it work? Do we fight? Is there blood loss?

I wrote about our collaborative process way, waaaaay back when, as a guest post here at Novel Spaces. Well, it’s :: mumble mumble :: years later, and we’re still here.

Is it easy? Oh, hell no.

It helps that Kevin and I were friends before we were writing partners. Because of that, when we decided to try our hands at collaboration, we established a single ground rule: Equal work. Equal credit. Equal blame. It’s simple and blunt, and has served us well over the years.

Collaboration can be a challenge when facing any task, particularly a creative endeavor and most assuredly when we’re talking about writing. After all, writing often includes long periods of solitude spent staring at a blank piece of paper or a computer monitor with that cursor just blinking and judging you while it waits for you to type something. How do you take such an activity and essentially split it in half so that you can work with another writer?

There are the usual sorts of foibles and drama that are often present when dealing with writers: rampant insecurity, delusions of success and grandeur, and the occasional bout with insufferable egomania. A lot of that is mitigated by the fact that we tend to have similar opinions about what we think makes for a good story. We also just get a kick out of our sometimes extended brainstorming sessions, which have gone on as long as nine hours during a drive between Kansas City and Denver.

No two projects are ever really the same, so the division of labor from story to story tends to take on many forms. However, years of practice and a long history of writing for the same sets of characters makes this process pretty painless. We each have our favorite characters, for example, so dividing plots and subplots based on “who’s doing what” becomes a simple matter. Therefore, integrating our pieces of a particular story puzzle as it all comes together has always been a fairly straightforward task.

There’s definitely a degree of adaptability when it comes to collaborating with another writer. One of you may spend hours contemplating the precise placement of every word on a single page, while your partner is like one of those old-school pulp writers churning out scenes and chapters while taking scotch intravenously and smoking like a chimney. Maybe you’re creating sheer poetry with every page, whereas your collaborator seems to have lost the ability to process anything beyond a caveman’s string of grunts and belches. Those can definitely be some trying times, and I’ve seen more than one partnership engulfed in flames because of one or both contributors being unable or unwilling to adapt when things get rocky.

Sure, Kevin and I have had some rough patches, but we always find our way back to the “true path.” I’m certain our friendship is responsible for that, along with our trust of one another and our joint desire to always do what’s best for the project—and, ultimately, our readers. If only every writer seeking a collaborator could team up with someone as awesome as either of us. Can I get an, "Amen?"

So, here’s to me and Kevin, and our 15th “manniversary” as writers joined at the brain. Been fun, dude. Hopefully we can continue to cause trouble in the years to come.

Just to end things on a funny note, here’s a link to a story about collaboration and what happens when the colleagues aren’t on the same page. Enjoy!

This Is What Happens When A Teacher’s Homework Assignment Gets Out of Hand....

Anyone else have any anecdotes about collaborating? Uplifting stories or tales of horror? Come on. Let’s see what you’ve got.


Charles Gramlich said...

Time has a way of getting away from one. or two. :)

KeVin K. said...

Dayton, collaboration is the one aspect of your career that I have not been able to emulate. I followed you into Strange New Worlds with some success, I followed you into Starfleet Corps of Engineers with similar results, but when I tried to follow you into into teaming up with some random dude to produce deathless prose things didn't go well at all. In two years I hammered the outlines of two different novels into shape with two different writers and had both pitches rejected (couldn't find a second editor, so the same guy rejected both novels).

Reading this I'm thinking that where I went wrong was in the "random dude" phase. I always thought you guys started working together when one of you saw the other one's index card asking for a collaborator pinned to the bulletin board at a laundromat. Live and learn, I guess.

Liane Spicer said...

Happy manniversary, Kevin & Dayton! That's quite an achievement you've got going there. Wishing you many collaborative years ahead.

Stephanie Faris said...

That's awesome! Seems collaborating would be tough. I'm doing a novel with six other people and someone else is coordinating it all, so I mostly do my part and help with critiquing other people's chapters. It still seems easier to me to work alone but I know some people thrive while writing with others.