By temperament, I’m one of nature’s collaborators. Show me a team and I’m spitting on my hands and doing my bit. With enthusiasm.
In my various day jobs, I’ve loved the sense of shared enterprise. OK, I could get a bit testy when we had meetings about meetings. But mostly interaction with other people buoyed me up when I was tired, focused me when I was floundering and made laugh a lot.
And I work a whole lot better than I do on my own.
But long before I had any sort of day job — heck, before I went to school — I was a writer.
Writing came straight out of my head onto the page. Nobody else had any input. How could they?
No planning sessions, no critical path analysis or team update meetings, nor any project evaluation group, either.
It never occurred to me that there was any other way to do it. I was all on my own.
Sometimes it felt cold, foggy and very lonely.
First Time Collaborator
Then my very good friend, author Elizabeth Hawksley, who teaches creative writing, said that her classes badly needed a plain book on punctuation. Two generations had missed out on grammar and style at school. They needed a guide book that took that into account. We could write one.
I admit, I didn’t see how it could work. But Elizabeth, who had worked in (AND written plays for) small scale theatre, was made of sterner stuff. We’d just sit together, discuss and then write it down and see what it looked like, she said.
What, both of us?
One would type, she conceded. But the point is there would be two voices behind the words.
It sounded completely loopy to me. But I respected Elizabeth, trusted her judgement, and if she said it could work…
I closed my eyes and jumped.
For several months Elizabeth and I met a couple of times a week. The thing evolved. We consulted authorities. All the time, we talked to people who might use the book — there were more than either of us had imagined! We argued a lot.
Novelists both, we knew where we wanted to end up. In this case, it was a book that would help people write clear and effective prose, be that letters, articles, essays, or even three volume novels. And we didn’t have a proper plan until we had a first draft.
I’m not going to say it was all plain sailing. For one thing, we talked, tweaked, talked again and read it aloud. Wrote it down and came back to it next time. It was slow.
For another, our body clocks are very different. I’m at peak performance before the streets are aired. Elizabeth is much more civilised. She hits her stride after the first coffee.
When stuff got really difficult, we took it away and worked on our own versions alone and brought them back for discussion. A couple of things were highly individual. Elizabeth’s inspired Train To Edinburgh, on how to organise a piece of factual writing, was like that. In those cases, one of us would write the whole and the other was effectively beta reader/editor.
We kept each other going.
From time to time, we each lost belief that we could complete the project (not to mention concentration). That’s when the other would just carry on climbing and then hold out a helping hand, if necessary.
We laughed a lot.
I learned more than I would have believed possible, particularly:
- it’s a serious high when two people share a successful chapter
- re-read on Day 2 and you can always tighten the ‘final’ version
- how to organise a piece of factual writing
- stop before you’re exhausted
- muddle is creative; you just have to treat it right and not be ashamed of it.
Getting the Point has been useful to lots of people, not just creative writers, and they laughed along the way, as we hoped they would. That’s been a real buzz. It’s out of print now (second hand prices are sometimes eye-watering!) and Elizabeth and I are looking at a revised edition.
I became much more relaxed about letting other people see what a horlicks I made of my stories in the throes of composition.
I really enjoyed myself. Indeed, so much, that, now I’d done it once, I was, very cautiously, willing to look at doing it again…
to be continued