As Iron Sharpens Iron

Writers, by nature, are solitary beings, loitering in libraries, browsing bookshelves and hunkering over a laptop or paper alternately cursing and praising the words in front of them.

You do find them congregating at literary festivals and the adjacent pubs and bars where they will hold court and pontificate about process, craft, literary technique, genre, publishing, moleskins and every other ennui about writing.

But there’s one thing I’ve noticed writers tend not to talk about: story ideas. In particular, the current WIP. Writers become like professional poker players when it comes to discussing their WIP. The dark shades go on and the cards are held close to the chest. Is there a fear someone will steal our precious and brilliant idea?

A writer works in isolation, writing, drafting, editing, polishing.

A writer knows the benefit of a beta reader in helping to shape a novel/flash fiction from what it is into something better. The beta reader helps identify when the plot is flagging or the characters are not fully realised. But this is normally done only after the piece is written.

A new way?

If we were to collaborate with another writer, a critical friend or trusted beta reader, in the initial planning and drafting stages, would our WIP benefit from it? Would we avoid a flagging middle section, have more developed and real characters because we’ve talked it over with a trusted writer?

Do we not talk with someone because we are afraid of our brilliant story idea being stolen. We always think our ideas are brilliant, don’t we?

But why are writers so different from other creative types? Musicians collaborate all the time. Dramatists workshop a play before performance. A fresh set of eyes and ears could open possibilities you as a writer may not have thought of. Develop a critical friendship with a peer who writes in the same genre or a different genre.

I’m working on a multimedia project with a colleague where I am doing the writing (novella length) and she is the artistic director for the short film/website/graphic novel/art installation. It’s a partnership where the dialogue about possibilities and options will make for a better product. It will still require a beta reader in the later stages, but the collaborative approach is engaging, inspiring and fun.

During a rehearsal for a carols performance this week (where I was playing percussion), I was chatting to one of our singers, another creative type.  We were talking about the need for developing creative texts like short films and dramas for events like Easter and Christmas. It sparked a brief, but enthusiastic discussion. While no real plans were made, it opened an avenue for new directions to explore in the new year.

Whilst driving to the carols performance on the weekend, I had an idea for a short film for Christmas next year. And no, I’m going to keep it a secret. Hey, it’s Christmas, so there’s a limited repertoire and focus, know what I mean.

But as iron sharpens iron, so a discussion with someone creative opened new possibilities. My idea requires refinement and development, but the collaborative approach can surely produce a better product.

Would you consider a critical partnership to make your work better, even before you start?

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9 responses to “As Iron Sharpens Iron

  1. I would actually love this. Sometimes I’m knee-deep in a story, but it’s too hard to ask for help because you have to explain everything that’s come before. If there were a writing partner who’d been there from the beginning, I would have someone to bounce ideas off of. Now, to be fair, my boyfriend reads every chapter I write as I finish it. So he’s pretty patient about letting me bounce ideas off of him and he’s helped me a great deal, but it would be nice to have a writing partner to do the same.

  2. I agree with you entirely.
    Where one of the collaborators falls down, the other may rise and carry the work to greater heights.
    I just need to find the right person to collaborate with.

  3. I can’t relate, really, since I blogged the first drafts of two novels as I wrote them over the last 4 years & change. 😛 The only “secret” was not revealing what was coming, so as not to spoil it for the people reading.

    A collaborator, or at least a person in face-space to bounce ideas off of, would be great though.

  4. sure screenwriters also have to go thru a development stage with producers, script editors etc. It’s good to get in the habit of this in the planning stage. I pay a consultant to read my synopsis / outlines and spot holes that I can’t see due to my egotistic blindness.

  5. I’m working on a post that makes a similar argument. I think the enduring myth that writers work alone hinders more potential writing careers than anything else. [Assuming the writer wants to be published.] We need our beta readers and editors and cover designers and agents and….

    Writing collaboratively is great fun with the right partner[s]. I want to do some more of it and I have a couple projects in mind for next year that I only want to do if I find good collaborators.

    You touched on another point, the value of an idea. Ideas aren’t really worth anything. We can’t copyright our ideas. We copyright the expression of those ideas — the books, plays, movies, and songs. Those expressions don’t exist until we put in a lot of time and effort to create them. The vast majority of people will never put in that time and effort.

  6. On more than one occasion, I’ve offered to enter into a partnership with another writer, and I’ve offered feedback on their work, but when I’ve asked for their feedback on my work, they’ve shied away. Alternatively, they’ve liked the idea of the partnership but they just haven’t wanted to swap any work. I’m more than happy to work with others, but I think it’s something other writers need to learn to do.

  7. Partnering one-on-one wouldn’t work for me unless it was an intimate friend. I’m far too introverted and intense when in a project; I’d need to talk to him/her every few hours every day about matters that don’t even lend themselves to conversation. It’d probably drive me batty, particularly if I had to reciprocate while neck-deep in my own novel process. Another mark in the Unfriendly Person category for me.

  8. Yes!

    I agree completely.

  9. I stumbled back across this going through my Facebook page (because that’s what you do apparently when you are beset by some need not to go to bed)

    It’s funny you should have been talking about this in mid December – only three week’s before the episode in the surf.

    I have no qualms in saying I write best when I write with others. And I’m so chuffed to be writing with you this year.

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