Why I Don’t Collaborate

- by Laura Resnick

purifyingfireSeveral years ago, I co-wrote three science fiction/fantasy short stories with novelist Kathy Chwedyk. In each case, I accepted an invitation into a themed short story anthology, then realized I couldn’t think of a story. (I’ve been in about sixty themed short story anthologies; and every so often, I stare at a blank screen and realize I shouldn’t have said “yes.” But I don’t like to back out of a contract.)

Kathy happened to be doing a lot of research on ancient Mesopotamia at the time, a background about which I knew nothing but which I thought would be a rich setting for a (very) vague idea I had in mind. Thus we co-wrote “Qadishtu” for Warrior Enchantresses. After that, over the next year or two, I twice more said “yes” to short story anthologies when I should have said “no,” and I again asked Kathy to co-write something with me.

After the third story we delivered, though, we gave up. The experience was fine, our friendship remained intact, and we’d found co-writing three stories a rather interesting experience… but “rather interesting” was as far as our enthusiasm went. We’d had no problems or tension working together, but we both found co-writing a lot harder than writing alone, without commensurate rewards to make the extra effort worthwhile.

My reaction to collaboration (which Kathy echoed) was that it doubled the work I had to do-without increasing the quality, quantity, or satisfaction of the results. Even with a friend I communicated well with, and on a short project, I found collaboration cumbersome and laborious. I didn’t hate it, but it was soon clear to me that I prefer writing alone.

Although I outline books before I write them, and although I have a climax in mind for a short story when I start writing it, my writing is mostly process-based. Apart from some vague ideas I’ve got in mind when I sit down at the keyboard, I find out what’s going to happen by wrestling with the story as it unfolds on the page. And I’m confused, incoherent, and bewildered until I reach a point where I’m done wrestling with it, until I’ve finally figured it all out in excruciating detail, polished all the text, revised it thirty times, and now it’s carved in stone.

I don’t have a period of articulate clarity about my story ideas or intentions between the inchoate mess that I can’t even picture in my own mind… and the material that’s finally so finished that the story will collapse like a row of dominoes if someone changes something.

This isn’t a process that a collaborator can really participate in. A collaborator can’t hear what you’re not even thinking yet about the work-in-progress, never mind saying aloud in cogent language; and a collaborator can’t co-write a finished, final story that you’ll kill her for altering.

There’s a channel of sharing and communication needed between collaborators that relies on each partner having phases of clarity in the ongoing work that I almost never have until after the work is all done. Kathy and I managed to articulate our ideas for each other while co-writing those short stories, but we both found it tough and laborious to do so. And we both agreed we’d never want to co-write a novel, it would just be too exhausting to maintain that kind of process for the length of a book.

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