[Elise Allen (Populazzi YA coming August 1, 2011) has written for children’s television and film and is the co-writer of Hilary Duff’s first novel for teens, Elixir, which debuted two days ago — Tuesday, October 12, 2010. Elise believes she’s been part of a writing team for most of her life and, in today’s bonus guest post, the co-author describes the collaborative process.]
A couple months into eighth grade, my best friend slipped me a notebook page filled with two paragraphs of scrawl. The first was all about her dazzlingly romantic life with George Michael. The second detailed my torrid romance with Andrew Ridgeley.
I was furious. George was clearly supposed to be mine. I had no choice but to continue both halves of the story, with George getting a nasty case of amnesia, forgetting all about his marriage to my friend, and falling madly in love with me, while Andrew swept my lovelorn friend off her feet in some completely random way that might have had something to do with an elephant.
A year of back-and-forth chapters later, we had what we firmly believed was a brilliant novel. Or the most ridiculous soap opera ever. Or both. And while it would be a supreme stretch to say that was the beginning of my writing career, it definitely cemented my love of collaborative writing.
There’s a stereotype of the tortured writer sitting alone at her keyboard, ideally in a garret, though a back table at Starbucks will do in a pinch, locked in an eternal struggle with her own demons as she battles to get the perfect words down on the page. While the image does have some truth to it (especially if you throw in several large boxes of breakfast cereal getting crunched down by the handful… though that part might just be me), the truth is the writing process is also incredibly collaborative.
Sometimes that collaboration is constant. When I first started writing sitcoms I worked with a partner, and we literally sat together in front of a single computer hashing out our spec scripts, feeling like Buddy Sorrell and Sally Rogers in The Dick Van Dyke Show as we bantered back and forth to massage the perfect cap to a three-act runner about peanut butter between George and Elaine. (“Peanut butter” turned out to be the perfect cap. I didn’t say it was a good spec script, just that we had fun writing it.)
When I landed on my first sitcom staff (Cosby — not the America’s Favorite Show you’re thinking of, but the one that came after. It’s okay, no one else watched it either), the collaboration rose to a fevered pitch. Instead of two of us in front of a computer, there were sixteen of us, all screaming out joke and story pitches to improve or completely rewrite a script that would officially be “written by” just one of us. We didn’t mind that; it was part of the process – our job as part of the writing staff. And when it wasn’t completely intimidating (I was 24 years old and pitching along with veterans of The Simpsons, The Larry Sanders Show, and the co-writer of Blazing Saddles), it was insanely fun.
That of course was TV. Novel writing, I imagined, would be back in the garret with the decaf grande nonfat lattes.
Not so much.
I did go through a ton of decaf grande nonfat lattes, but I got to drink them side by side with Hilary Duff as I worked with her on her debut novel, Elixir. That was a process I loved. Once again, I got to experience the electricity of hands-on collaboration. It was like being back with my first writing partner – Hilary and I would sit at our laptops and agonize into the wee hours over manuscript sections that weren’t working… and the heady rush when we finally figured them out was beyond exhilarating.
It was also thrilling to work with someone so passionate about the final product. We’d have absurdly deep discussions about whether a sentence should start with “yet” or “but.” We’d laugh at ourselves for doing it, but (yet) at the same time it felt great to know we both cared so much about what ended up on the page.
Direct collaborations like that are fantastic, but none of the writing I’ve done has been in a vacuum. I’ve written a lot of freelance TV and DVD features, and they always involve notes from producers, head writers, network executives… all kinds of people. And most of the time the notes are terrific, shining new light on a story. My own debut novel, Populazzi, would be nowhere near as honest, rich, and layered without the wonderfully piercing notes of my editor Samantha McFerrin. She pushed me out of my comfort zone, and helped me get the book to a place I never would have found without her incredible insight.
To me, collaboration not only makes writing more fun, it also makes the end result a million times better. Sharing what I’ve written, and letting input from people I respect push me to hone and improve it, is among my favorite parts of the process. And since that extends to blogging, this piece won’t really be finished until your thoughts are included too.
Do you love to collaborate? In what ways? What collaborations have been most successful for you? If you’re working solo, at what points do you share your work with others? When you do, do you always go to the same core group of people, or does it depend on the particular project?
Thanks for reading, and I look forward to your thoughts!
Announcement: The winners of Russell Wiley Is Out to Lunch by Richard Hine are Stacey W and Ann. Congratulations!
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