Collaborations: Working with Other Writers


Many consider writing to be a solitary art, and they're not wrong.  Unlike motion pictures, where dozens--even hundreds--of skilled artisans collaborate to make a film, a writer is often squirreled away pecking at his or her computer, letting their imaginations flow onto the page.  It is a sublime experience to be sure, but a lonely one, as well. 

Often that loneliness drives writers to seek the company and feedback of other writers in groups where they read and critique each other's writing, thereby gaining insights into their work they would not otherwise have considered. And while hiring an editor can be expensive, if the editor is a good one, the experience can be rewarding.

Collaboration is another avenue to a polished piece of writing, but it takes skill, tact, and a willingness to compromise.  For my previous books and stories, I labored alone and I love being "in the zone," that place where the real world disappears and the fictional one takes over.  With Abe Lincoln: Public Enemy No. 1, however, I realized I would need to take a different approach.  I've known my co-author, Brian Anthony, for nearly forty years, and we've collaborated on screenplays in the past, which by its very nature is an art form that lends itself to collaboration.  With a novel, one has to create the inner life of the characters, something screenplays cannot do.  And for a collaboration of this nature to be successful, both writers need to be "in synch."

The original idea for Abe Lincoln: Public Enemy No. 1 came from Brian back in 1976 and took its original form as a student film.  It was a one-joke film about Abe robbing banks in the 1930s, and it was filmed and filed away for over three decades.  In conversation one day the film came up, and at that moment I had the idea to adapt the premise into a novel.  The biggest question was: could the story be expanded and made to be believable?  Would it sustain itself for over three hundred pages?  It was a challenge I was eager to undertake.

I told Brian I thought this was something we should both work on, but because I had more experience writing narrative fiction that I would take the lead and compose the first draft.  Thus, on November 3, 2012 I commenced.  A few days later I showed him the first chapter and he said, "Go for it."  Three months later I finished the first draft and sent it off to Brian with bated breath.  Would he like what I'd done with his original concept? 

Not only did he love what I'd done, he was bursting with ideas of his own.  Now, here is where working with a collaborator means putting one's own ego aside and being willing to accept constructive criticism.  Even more important is being able to recognize a better idea over one of your own.  This happened over and over again, as Brian would add tweaks and turns throughout.  

Sometimes, I would stand my ground and insist that a certain passage remain.  Other times, he would rewrite a scene that would give me an idea to take it even further than he originally intended.  There were still other times where Brian would suggest a cut that was very painful, but that I later came to realize made the book a better one. 

There were also those days when we locked horns, each arguing why a certain passage had to be his way, white-knuckles all the way, neither willing to budge. At this point we’d grumpily retreat to neutral corners, reflect, re-write, and between rounds the answer would somehow present itself.  All in all, working on this book was the most gratifying writing experience I've ever had. 

The best advice I can offer a writer looking to collaborate is to find a collaborator who brings skills to the partnership that you lack.  For me, I hate editing myself, as I tend to become very attached to my prose.  Brian could look at it more objectively than I could.  From my side, I brought twenty years of experience writing narrative fiction, something Brian had never done before, his experience being mainly non-fiction and the aforementioned screenplays.  Together, we complement each other and our writing styles came to blend in a way that is virtually seamless. 

If you can find someone with whom you can work in this manner I believe you will be rewarded as I have been.  The trick is finding that person and both of you being able to put aside your egos.  If you can do this, you just might find your writing improving in ways you never imagined.

BILL WALKER is an award-winning writer whose works include novels, short stories and screenplays. His first novel, Titanic 2012, was enthusiastically received by readers, and Bill’s two short story collections, Five Minute Frights and Five Minute Chillers, are perennial Halloween favorites. A highly-respected graphic designer, Walker has worked on books by such luminaries as Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson, Dean Koontz, and Stephen King. His most recent novel, A Note from an Old Acquaintance, was published in 2009.

Catch Up With Bill Walker:  

BRIAN ANTHONY is a writer and award-winning filmmaker. His first feature film, Victor’s Big Score, was praised by Variety as “A tremendous calling card for writer-producer-director Brian Anthony.” As a writer-producer Anthony has contributed to shows for American Movie Classics, Arts and Entertainment, and Fox Syndication, including Beneath the Planet of the Apes and Lost in Space Forever. A veteran film historian, Anthony has been interviewed on network television regarding film history, and co-authored the acclaimed biography of the film comedian Charley Chase, Smile While the Raindrops Fall, in 1998. Brian is an expert art and book restorationist, and you can see his work at Anthony Restorations

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  1. Thanks so much for explaining how the collaborative author process works. You're right, the key is finding someone you can not only work with, but someone you trust.


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