Have you noticed something? Everything these days is awesome.
Your coffee order at Starbucks is, “Awesome!” or so says the barista. You’ve just
told the drycleaner that you’re dropping off two suit jackets. That, too, is “Awesome.”
The sad truth is that when everything is awesome, nothing is awesome.
When did those of us who publish books get so crabby? But we are crabby about this kind of devaluation of formerly useful words.
Many years ago, we were the ones who cringed every time
someone said that something was “groovy.” We just gritted our teeth and hoped
that the day would come when it would die out. It did.
But now we have a bigger problem because the word we are
having a problem with is a real word that has a specific definition that dates
to the sixteenth century. “Groovy” on the other hand, has a somewhat looser…
I can hardly believe that it’s been eight years since I first wrote about my adventures in writing with a partner. As I said at the time, “I don’t play well with others.” And that has not changed. That being said, I have, indeed, collaborated on four books in my distant past, and I’m doing it once more. Recently someone asked us (my writing partner and me) how our system works. So, how does writing with a partner work? I don’t know how it is for others, but here’s what I know about it from my own experience.
First a bit of backstory.
I have always considered writing to be a solitary activity. In fact, that’s the way I like it. Perhaps it’s even clearer to say that it’s one of the things that I like most about writing. Through all of those years when I was a university professor, I observed with growing horror, the number of academics, whose very livelihood depended on their ability to publish (or perish – it’s true), who were singularly unable to pen anything on their own. In fact, it occurred to me on more than one occasion when I sat on peer review committees, reviewing others’ work, that we had already promoted someone else based on the exact same publications since both names appeared on all of them. And sometimes there was a lengthy list of authors. What this really means is that many of them wrote not a single word. They may have contributed something to the data collection, but there was certainly no writing involved. Remember publish or perish? There is nothing there that says “write or perish.” There’s a difference. Then I came along.
At this point in my writing life – post-academic career – I am proud to say that every single article and book that formed part of my upward academic ladder has only one author – me. That is, except for those four books I mentioned (which my peers at the university probably largely ignored anyway) that I wrote with one other author. That author happens to be my husband. Which is probably why that person asked us about our writing process. In fact, I believe he might have added, somewhat incredulously, “And you’re still married?” Well, yes, and very happily, I might add.
Back in 2011 when I first wrote about our collaborations, I said this: “…There are good reasons to collaborate and publish a co-authored book – such as when the knowledge and skills of more than just you are needed…” And this reason still holds true. But now I have another reason.
I’m currently collaborating on a book with my same co-writer
(my husband) because there was a book he wanted to write, and he spent 45 years
working as a physician while I wrote to my heart’s content. This means that his
expertise in medicine coupled with my “expertise” as a writer would be the
combination needed for him to write the book he has always wanted to do. Am I
ghosting it for him? Not really, but I have decided that there is no need for
my name to be on this cover. It’s his book.
Because it’s his book and not our book, I have had to take a slightly different approach to the process. I have been his mentor and editor, but I have to try to ensure that the ideas that are finally on the page are his, not mine. That might be easy for some people who have not written in this area before, but once upon a time, I earned some of my income as a medical writer (I have a graduate degree in a medical-communication-related discipline). So, we had come up with a process.
We began with a very detailed book proposal. I’ve been selling
non-fiction based solely on proposal ever since I’ve been writing (my fiction
is another story all together). This means that before we even started, we had
worked through what would be in the book, how it would be organized, what
approach we would take and what he wanted the style and voice to sound like.
This was my blueprint.
Then, as we moved into the writing process, I fleshed out the
chapters, he reviewed each one as we went along, then I took that review back
and reworked each chapter. We moved through the whole book this way, with me
conducting mini-interviews with him along the way to capture his experiences in
specific areas, and so that it would have his voice. Once this first draft was
completed, we started the whole process again. After the third iteration, we
were ready for external copy-edit. And that’s where the book is now.
What would my advice be for collaborative writing? Here it
Choose your writing partner carefully. It needs
to be someone you respect and are compatible with.
Ensure that you are prepared to take criticism as
you move through the process.
Don’t be afraid of giving constructive
Be prepared to disagree.
Be prepared to compromise.
Be prepared to commit to clearing up each
disagreement as you work. Don’t let those disagreements pile up.
Write from a collaborative outline.
Find a rhythm of writing/reviewing/editing that
you can both agree on up front.
Use this process to learn something about your
own writing habits.
Have a drink together on a regular basis to chew
over aspects of the book that you can’t always figure out while sitting in an
office in front of a computer.
I am currently being accused by my co-writer of pushing hard
at this stage as we approach the end of the process so that I can return to my
novel. I can’t argue with that!
The book is being copy-edited as we speak and has a
September pub date. We’ll be having a glass
of our favourite champagne on that day!
Most writing style gurus who mourn the passing of the adverb seem to do so on the basis that we’ve been told to eliminate adverbs and adjectives from our writing. I, on the other hand, see the death of the adverb not as death-by-overuse, rather death-by-misuse. In other words, the way I see it, adverbs are only dying because so many people are grammatically challenged: they seem to think an adjective will work when and adverb is required. Or you change the meaning of a sentence.
I’m not a stickler for precise grammar in every instance if breaking the rule adds to the meaning: sentence fragments, for example, can be used for effect. Really. And beginning a sentence with a conjunction…well, sometimes it works given the pacing you’re looking for. (How about that preposition ending a sentence there?) However, when a grammatical mistake seems to muddy the meaning – making it impossible to avoid miscommunication – then it needs to be fixed.
Here’s are some particularly egregious examples that illustrate the trend:
When Apple started using as an advertising tagline the exhortation: “Think different,” precisely what did they mean? Did they mean that our thinking should be different? If so, then it should say think differently. If they mean that the thoughts that we think should be different from previous thoughts, then that is a nuance of difference. They should have said, “Think different thoughts,” or maybe even, “Think something different,” different then being the adjective modifying “something.” There is a difference between the thinking process being different and the outcome – the thoughts – being different. Although I’d accede to the fact that these two may be related. And, oh, it just sounds bad. Not badly.
Then there’s the “Drive safe” exhortation. If one more person says that to me as I leave somewhere to get into my car, I just might smack that person. The advice is for me to “drive safely,” or just shut up.
And what about the “eat healthy” catchphrase? Isn’t there something missing here? Eat healthy what? Eat a healthy dinner? Snack? Oh, or do you mean to heat healthily in general? The meaning is as clear as mud.
Every day I mourn a little when I hear those radio advertisements that are rife with grammatical errors – and the loss of the adverb seems to be the most common. Is it really so difficult to figure out what you want to say and then say it clearly? NOT clear!