The Collaborator

I can say that I am, without a doubt, one of the more difficult writers to work with. I’ve driven editors insane, caused publishers to roll their eyes upon hearing my name (it’s true!), and (accidentally) began to instigate the idea for other authors to give it all up (fortunately, they stuck with it and produced some amazing stuff).


It’s not as if I go out of my way to be difficult. Really, I don’t. I just don’t play well with others.

A lot of people think that authors aren’t social creatures. They think we sit in a dark room with a cup of coffee, no windows, and a computer (or typewriter). They believe we will simply allow our creativity to flow with no interruptions, creating amazing characters and plots without any sort of outside influence.

That’s not true. I like people (usually). I just have a very low tolerance of them. It’s even worse when you try to write with someone. If you write with someone, things usually fall one of two directions. One is amazing, one is a nightmare. You can decide for yourself which one I think is which.


You can try to pick a fellow coauthor to write with, but things just… get in the way. Timing issues, speed, life, they all have a way of hindering one (if not both) of you. Personalities clash, or they can’t agree on what direction the character should go, or which way the plot is headed. They begin to bicker, and there isn’t any sort of flow to the book. The structure is disjointed and off, and in the end it’s obvious that two separate people wrote it.

That’s the sign that it wasn’t meant to be. It’s tough when you have to admit it, but in the end, it sometimes is a good thing. Better a clean break than a nagging, lingering annoyance of unfinished work.

But then there’s “The Collaborator”. Not just someone you’re writing a book with, oh no. This is someone who writes at the same pace as you, is on the same wavelength, and can expand upon a nugget of an idea you casually tossed out there while on your way out the door. The Collaborator is there with the basis of the idea you needed to drive the book forward, to look at something you hadn’t seen before. You feed off one another, almost parasitically (except, you know, without the parasite metaphor…) as you work together.

Quite frankly, it’s a magical thing.

And you… and you… and you… but not you. Oh, and you…

(I was just sitting here, actually rereading what I wrote above, and I realized that I made it sound like it’s some sort of strange commitment, like a relationship but without the benefits. I keep trying to reword it, but there’s no other way to describe it. So yeah, I expect quite a few comments below to be razzing me about my lack of explanatory skills. Thanks, Mom.)

But how do you find “The One?” (Oh man, here we go with the horrible allegories again… *cue snide comments*) Should you look for The Collaborator, or simply let them find you? Take out a bounty? Offer your second born? (nobody likes the middle child, apparently) How do you find that one (or two, or five) author who can see the collaborative project similar to how you do, but just different enough to make a good book great?

Let me share a story with you:

Last year, I was introduced to an author by the name of Eric Brown. Eric’s a horror writer, and while I can be classified as a horror writer as well, I tend to want to be a SF guy. Nothing really in common (he’s a married father of two, I have cats and a dog) between us, and though we share a like for David Drake, Eric is a much, much bigger fan than I. In fact, the only thing we really had in common is that we live in the southeastern United States (so we both are very familiar with kudzu). Eric and I chatted a bit, nothing spectacular, just “Oh hey, liked your books” kind of thing. Until one day he mentioned he wanted a new coauthor for a milSF book he was writing. Me, being the half-awake guy that I am, said “Hey, I write. Wanna fool around?”

(Holy crap I can’t seem to get away from these double entendres. Kill me now)

So we started a book, and in five weeks it was done. We were amazed. We liked working with one another, and we worked well together. We shouldn’t have, given our backgrounds, but we did. We both write incredibly fast, and his grimness and gore matched well with my humor and action sequences (surprisingly). Not only that, but we each brought a unique skill set to the table and applied it to the book. So we tried it again. And again.

We’ve written two books and are a quarter of the way through our third in less than six months. Yes, I have found… “The Collaborator”.

As I said, it’s a magical thing. You never know what can happen if you find “The One.”

(…seriously, Jason? That’s what you’re calling it?)

Srsly? Again?

(shut up, brain)

15 thoughts on “The Collaborator

  1. Given that my collaborator sometimes jokingly refers to me as his permanent roommate, yeah, I EXACTLY get your metaphor. Also, our working relationship isn’t a traditional collaboration. I’m the one that puts words on paper, he’s the one that sparks my thoughts when I’m stuck and we’ll talk for hours, working out the plot kinks and twists. It’s really, really good. I’d tried writing with someone once before, and it was a dismal failure. I never expected it to actually work for me. And yet… here we are!

    1. Well, I’m 23,000 words into something I started two years ago…

      Of course, that doesn’t count about 40,000 words of notes, calculations, and a glossary (for myself – I can’t keep characters straight).

    1. Oh, I dunno. If Eric’s wife is anything like Peter Grant’s wife, she’d probably smile and say something about “I’m so glad you found a good playmate. Just be honest about the openness of your writing relationship, and remember not to keep the rest of your life and relationships in balance while you’re in a tizzy about the new one.” 🙂

        1. Hey, if Calmer Half ever wants to go collaborate with another author, I’ll want to know who it is and know it’s someone I could trust to share a dropbox account with my husband, without any risk of viruses [or malware] when they’re forming [email] attachments…

          And as the married partner to the author, I also have certain standards of sanity and maximum drama thresholds for any potential partners; I don’t want their fuss and bother ruining our happy times together.

          But other than that, if he want to plot and play with another writer’s characters, I’m fairly easy-going.

          1. Heh. I’m maritally monogamous, thank you very much. A writing collaboration? Only – and I’m very serious about this – only if the collaborator is a friend to both my wife and myself. I regard Dorothy as an equal partner in my writing. I focus on the writing, and leave a great deal of the marketing analysis and positioning (via keyword/SEO/etc.), overall sense of where the industry is headed, etc. in her very capable hands. That frees me to do what I do best, and gives her a stake – a vital one – in my success. So far it’s working well for both of us.

            Ideally we’d end up BFF’s with another author couple like us. The two writers could drive each other batty with plot points, and the non-writing partners could console each other with good food and wine (the scent of which would doubtless drag the writers out of their cave and towards the table).


  2. The whole double intenders– don’t bother trying to get away from it, roll with it. A good collaboration is like a good marriage, you join up to birth the child of the mind in the form of a wonderful book.

    Or that’s kinda what I’m getting from the article…..

  3. Kudzu. If you’ve not seen any yet, wait a bit. I’m convinced it is the Borg, and will swallow a continent before long.

  4. I shudder to think of trying to write with someone else, but I do write more prolifically when I have a cheering section of fans egging me on. So maybe the right co-conspiritor would work.

  5. It’s funny… my husband just got a story idea and wrote it out and put it on a shared google drive page. He sometimes has “wouldn’t this be neat?” ideas but as far as I know he hasn’t tried to write anything. I had to have him stop commenting on my stories in any way because he always had “great ideas” that weren’t what I was trying to do. At. All. But I’ve wondered… if we took his ideas, so they weren’t my baby you know?, and started with them instead… maybe we’d be able to collaborate happily. He really does have amazing ideas and he thinks sideways to me so they aren’t something that I’d ever come up with.

    1. My husband gave me a great idea for a story about a mixed martial arts fighter returning to the ring. Even though there was no space travel, he got me all keen on it once I added a Second Amendment angle. Then Warrior came out, and the husband took the wind out of my sails by saying, “Never mind. It’s been done, now.” Even though our plot was totally different. Sigh. However, it’s on a back burner and I may use it for a NaNo some November when I’ve written all the SF I want to write.

      Otherwise, he doesn’t look at my drafts, just waits until I publish. It’s probably for the best, but he’s useful for bouncing things off of.

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