“We have made something we each get to claim, like sharing a dream, which makes it feel bigger, more real, and somehow easier to believe in. It is not about us as individual writers, or even “us” as the partnership, it is truly about the work.”
Writing is a solitary life—or at least that’s what many clichés about the writer’s life have told us. To live and die by the pen is to commit yourself to a life of solitude; whether at your desk, on a walk, or even at your local coffee shop, to say that you want to write means that you’re going to spend a lot of time by yourself. It is a sacrifice surely, but a necessary evil, like spending hundred of dollars on toner at Office Max—you’re a writer, and that’s what writers do. And then there’s this: even when surrounded by others, writers often feel alone.
For years I accept this truth, perhaps even relished it, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve begun to warm to the idea of writing in partnership. I’ve often enjoyed other types of collaboration—like putting on plays in high school or playing little league, cooking a holiday meal or playing a cut-throat game of Hearts—but for years I squashed that desire when it came to my writing life. Mostly because I wanted to be in charge, but also as a result of the silence it required. I had a voice, and I had stories I wanted to tell, but I needed to work alone in order to hear them. Or so I thought.
For the last few months, while writing my third novel, I’d wake at 5 AM to work for a couple hours before the rest of the house awoke—I had nothing but silence. And darkness. And occasionally, dread. It was all mine—my time, my ideas, my words. I was completely in charge and I liked it like that. But there was also the downside: I was completely responsible if it didn’t work. (This, I tried not to think about.) Instead, I concentrated on the major benefit of writing alone: freedom. I was free to do whatever I wanted, and I did. I wrote, I erased, I laughed, I cried, I rewrote, I swore, I suffered—all on my own. I completed the draft and felt an immediate and profound relief. I was done, I had crossed the finish line, but no one was there to hear my cheers. Did that mean it hadn’t happened? Or worse, that it didn’t mean anything? My excitement quickly began to fade. I posted my accomplishment on Facebook, and slowly the “Likes” started coming in. That helped some, but it wasn’t the same as a pat on the back or a hug. I needed a human interaction.
When my children woke up I rushed in to tell them the good news.
“Mama finished her novel today. Isn’t that exciting?”
My daughter looked at me. “Well, I finished Little House on the Prairie last night. I beat you.”
Hmm, not quite the congratulatory response I had hoped for. I tried again.
“I mean, I wrote a book. Everyday I worked on it, and now it’s done.”
One of the boys piped up, “I can write a book. I’ll do it today afterschool. Will you type it for me?”
His twin said, “Mama’s not a typer, she’s a writer.”
“What’s the difference?”
This is what led me to collaboration. My friend and co-writer Sam and I have many things in common—an obsession with taco trucks, a love of Yentl, and a ridiculous devotion to tennis tournaments—but what makes us good collaborators is the fact that we enjoy spending time together. Our working sessions are less like work and more like extended conversations over a laptop. As we throw ideas back and forth, beating out the story, our main focus is on getting it right—not on getting our own ideas on the page. It is not about us as individual writers, or even “us” as the partnership, it is truly about the work. First and foremost, we are interested in telling the truth, which we accomplish by writing fresh and bold stories. I have done this in my own work, as he has done in his, but together it seems like we are able to convey a larger truth—the same way a cause expands the more people you find to believe in it. We have made something we each get to claim, like sharing a dream, which makes it feel bigger, more real, and somehow easier to believe in.