Timehop is a fabulous app. It’s really built on one hook: you want to see what you were up to in the past. So every morning, I open my app up and get windows into what I was doing one, two, three years ago. You get the drift. It’s often awash with cute pictures of my kids, plates of food, and lots of updates on writing.
This morning marked a year to the date I finished Watcher of the Skies. After starting a new job and having a very tumultuous year with our son (we were in the process of getting his IEP, I believe) the accomplishment was huge. To date, it’s one of the longest, most complex books I’ve written. And so much love and thought went into it. Often, when I write books I feel as if they give me something — with Watcher I feel as if something of me was lost. Not in a bad way, but in a way that’s essential to growing. A part of me, my heart, my purpose here on earth…
But in the space between I’ve written another book, albeit nonfiction, and am progressing toward the end of the collaboration I’m doing with Jonathan Wood. And that’s what I want to talk about.
Collaboration isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s a messy process. You can’t have a big ego, and you can’t be a control freak. Thankfully I’ve known Jonathan since early 2008, and we’ve been part of a writers group that’s sometimes just a place to bullshit or talk about RPGs or whatever, since about that time. He was one of my first Twitter friends. Back then, neither of us had written a novel, though I admired him hugely because he’d published short stories and I was still wallowing in unpublished-dom.
Anyway, after the 60,000 we managed for NaNoWriMo, the book has taken on a very different feeling. We’ve gone through our Act II and written collaboratively, mostly using an agreed upon outline (and massive caveats that sometimes I just have no control over what’s going on and I apologize).
As a result, I’m changing the way I think about all my future projects. I’d never had the discipline (it’s what it is — I could say patience or “it’s just not my style” but I’ve come to believe it’s just a matter of practice) to stick to an outline. But I think I was doing it wrong. Entirely wrong. I wasn’t detailed enough in some places, and I always felt as if I had to micromanage my characters thoughts and feelings and experiences. But this way is different, because that’s not the case. It’s about tension. Pulling and pushing. Points of pressure, not necessarily the exact feeling or emotion from a given character.
But now it’s my turn to take control of process. Control is the wrong word. Leadership. We have the 7 point plot for the whole thing, but Act III we haven’t done an extensive outline.
And we’re switching POVs.
That is, up until this point I’ve been writing the male protagonist, Zolin. And Jonathan has been writing the female protagonist, Ashellen. They’re shoved out of their world into an alien landscape, and now they’ve had some cruel tricks played on them by the antagonist of the book.
And they’re going on a scavenger hunt for body parts.
Is there a right way to write a novel? Is there a wrong way? No. I don’t think so. Certainly when you’re collaborating, it’s anyone’s game. But I’ve got to say that at this point, I’ve learned so much more during the process than any other time I’ve written a novel. Because I’m accountable. Because there’s no ego. Because there’s no control.
If you’re struggling writing the way you used to, remember… you change. Your process can change. Your life certainly changes. Be open to the possibility that you can change you might be surprised.
If I’ve taken my own advice to heart and grown as much as a writer in a year as I have since this last Timehop — publishing or not — I’ll consider myself a lucky woman, indeed.