A Writer's World

By Molly Moynahan

How to Collaborate

“Collaboration on a book is the ultimate unnatural act.”

Tom Clancy

Collaboration is a little like s’mores or swing dancing classes. It sounds like a good idea at the time but when you actually commit, you mostly wish you didn’t. Now, I rarely collaborate. I’m a novelist, which means I spend months and years trying to make a bunch of characters do something meaningful and then I kill them off metaphorically by writing The End.

After a brief period of mourning, I try to find someone nice enough to read the thing and possibly make some helpful suggestions. This is not collaboration.

I once tried collaborating on a sit-com pilot with a woman I liked enormously who also happened to be very funny. We spun together some great ideas and then I went off and wrote some stuff and she went off and wrote some stuff when she wasn’t minding her two toddlers. We got back together and laughed at all our jokes. We parted again and she discovered she was pregnant. When we again joined forces, the material wasn’t funny. I suggested her pregnancy had ruined her sense of humor and we never spoke to one another again.

Writing films is a collaborative project but it’s also very weird. You produce a script, people make suggestions, you rewrite and everyone tells you it is brilliant. Then you get a lot more suggestions, many which contradict the previous ones. You try and incorporate the new ideas and suddenly a very famous producer shows up and makes lunatic suggestions like changing the entire plot. You look around and everyone is nodding. You try and do what you can with this complete change and you are fired. This is what is known as an unsuccessful collaboration.

My husband is an ironworker but there are times when he believes he is a writer. I read early work aloud to him and he makes suggestions mostly in the vein of changing a character’s line of work to ironwork or introducing a vampire theme or suggesting I should be thinking about a series because, “publishers like series.” I usually react by offering to connect the iron on his next skyscraper or requesting he keep his non-reading mitts off my novel. This isn’t collaborating either.

I have collaborating on my mind because I’m supposed to be writing a book proposal with my ex-husband, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist on the subject of our divorce and subsequent co-parenting of our now nearly twenty-year-old son. The idea is to write an account of how we did this, to remain the sort of writers we are, one given to hyperbole and fiction, the other dedicated to truth and accuracy. We collaborated on a baby, now we are meant to collaborate of a book. I’m not feeling very optimistic.

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