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Collaborating for Profit and Fun
by Arlene Uslander

Think of all the times you have sat in front of your computer, trying desperately to come up with the next (or perhaps the first) sentence. Think of the many times you have been stuck for a single word and have reached for Roget's Thesaurus, only to discover you can't find the word that will express exactly what you want to say. It is times like these when you need a writing partner - someone who can help fill in those missing words, or even whole chapters; someone who can help fill in the blanks. Of the 12 books I have had published, all but four were written with a partner.

Once you have become accustomed to writing with another person, you may find, as I have, that you become so attuned to one another that one of you need only start a sentence and the other will complete it. You will explore an idea verbally, and the next thing you know, the words will appear on paper. When your creativity seems to be at a standstill, your partner's may start working overtime. Of course, there will be just as many times when you will come to your partner's rescue with a literary lifeline.

Choosing a collaborator

How and where do you find a writing partner? Enroll in a creative writing class. Join a local writer's group-- a really good way to meet potential collaborators. Your neighborhood librarian, community newspaper editor, or search engines on the Internet may be able to put you in touch with such a group. Actually, the Internet offers a myriad of possibilities for hooking up with other writers. I found my present writing partner in just that way. I posted an announcement on the bulletin board of a writers' web site, saying that I needed stories for an anthology. She submitted a story and we started corresponding - about writing and all kinds of other things. We live in different parts of the country, and after corresponding for about a year and a half, we decided that we absolutely had to meet in person. So we did, along with our husbands. Since that time, the four of us have spent several other vacations together, during which time my partner and I even manage to get some writing done! Once you start visiting the various writers' web sites (such as "Writing for Dollars") on a frequent basis, you are bound to find other writers who share your interests and who could very well be potential writing partners.

The division of labor

Each writing partnership will work out its own way of dividing the workload. Start by making a list of everything the project will require: research, interviews, photographs, if called for; typing, if you are not going to hire a professional typist; querying publishers/agents; marketing and promoting your book. (The focus of this article is books, but there certainly are other genres on which writers can collaborate: articles, plays, film scripts, newsletters, etc.) Some of the tasks will require the efforts of both of you; some should be divided according to how much time it will take, which of you is more knowledgeable, interested, or skilled in particular facets of the project. For example, my partner is very interested in doing research; I am not. Because I have had a number of books published, I am more familiar with the process of trying to find a publisher or agent than she is, so that is one of my strongest suits. You need to decide what each of you does best, and, also, what each of you wants to do. Then, after divvying up those things, dole out the less interesting, more routine tasks so that each of you performs an equal share of the interesting, as well as the arduous, duties involved in writing a book.

In collaboration, the finished manuscript must sound as though written by one person. The reader should hear only one voice. (The exception would be a collection of stories in which there are many different voices.) If one partner has a more formal writing style than the other, for instance, and one uses a more casual, homey approach, you need to decide which will work best for the particular project at hand and stick with it. Otherwise, the book will be jarring to readers. The best way to see if your collaboration is succeeding is to ask a third person to read several chapters. If he notices where there is a change in style, or if the break is obvious, you need to try again. Usually, the longer two writers work together, the easier it will be to develop a seamless whole.

In writing, more is often better.

To me, one of the biggest plusses of working with a partner is having her edit what I have written. I am much sharper when it comes to editing someone else's work than my own. I can read over something I have written ten times and still not notice a typo or miss that second quotation mark, or a comma. That is because I am concentrating more on the content of a sentence than the sentence's outside dressing, so to speak. My partner quickly picks up my mistakes. So, just as two heads are better than one in coming up with ideas for a book, and four hands are better than two for the actual physical work of writing a book, four eyes are definitely better than two for editing.

Are there any disadvantages?

Only one. It has been my experience that earnings are less if you write with a partner than if you write and publish something on your own, because you have to share the royalties and advance with someone else.. On the other hand, you will have someone to share pre-publishing expenses - writing materials, mailing, long distance calls, photocopying, typing, if you hire a professional typist, marketing, promotion, etc. So, even the financial aspect of a partnership might not be a net disadvantage.

The way I look at it, half a share of something is better than the whole of nothing, and collaborating may be just what it takes to help you get started on a happy, successful, and lucrative writing career.

Partners can console each other when the rejection slips come, or the critics pan your book, or when your first royalty statement reveals that more books were returned than sold, or when your publisher goes out of business (as has happened to me on more than one occasion!). There really is truth in the old adage: "Misery loves company."

And, what about the highs, the successes - that first letter of acceptance, a publishing contract, a good review? The sweet smell of success is all the more fragrant when there is someone to share the dream that finally came true.

© Copyright 2002, Arlene Uslander

Arlene Uslander is a freelance writer and editor. She is the author of 12 non-fiction books, over 400 articles, and has received media awards for outstanding contributions to journalism. Her most recent book, That's What Grandparents Are For (Peel Productions, November, 2001) can be ordered by calling 800-345-6665 or online, www.peelbooks.com. Uslander and her writing partner, Brenda Warneka, are currently working on an anthology of stories about "fate." They still need a few gripping stories, so if you think might have one, request their guidelines: auslander@thermap.net. Arlene’s web site: www.theramp.net/auslander

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