Writing As A Collaborative Process

Posted by on Aug 13, 2014 in Uncategorized | 1 comment

“Writing is a lonely job. Even if a writer socializes regularly, when he gets down to the real business of his life, it is he and his type writer or word processor. No one else is or can be involved in the matter.” 
       – Isaac Asimov, I, Asimov: A Memoir 



I find some truth in the notion that writing is a solitary act—an intimate experience the writer shares with her notebook, pen and paper, or keyboard. And it can be lonely. I’ve experienced the occasional moments where, like a grounded child, I look out the window at the other kids in the midst of a game and wish, just for a second, that I was out there playing too. But those moments pass and I put my head down and continue to write, not because I want to, but because I must.


However solitary the act of writing itself may be, I’ve also found that writing can also be a collaborative endeavor. In my experience, writers are naturally drawn to other writers, people interested in talking about the process. This is why we have writer’s groups, workshops, and even MFA programs—if you find the absolute best kind that inspire a strong spirit of community and connectedness.


We writers—albeit some more than others—are naturally suited to tell our stories, to share our trials and our triumphs, and to grow as a result of the relationships we develop with others walking the same road. We understand that we don’t write the story, that, more often than not, the story writes itself, and we’re just conduits tasked with helping the narrative find its way, giving characters life and creating worlds. It’s a tall order, what we set out to do, and we learn that we can’t always do it entirely on our own. Sometimes we need a sounding board, a solid piece of advice, or even just an encouraging word.


In my own writing life, I’ve discovered the importance of maintaining close relationships with fellow writers. I need someone who knows my story inside and out, and I his. I need someone who believes in what I’m writing as much as I believe in hers. I need someone I can trust to advise me on directions my work might take, and I need to be that trustworthy advisor for someone else.


I think about a rather glorious afternoon a few winters ago with two dear friends, both fellow writers and MFA colleagues. Imagine a hotel room with the entire plot of one writer’s novel taped to a wall, and the entire plot of another writer’s novel laid out on notecards on his bed. My thoughts on my own novel remained on my laptop, where I set in a chair in the corner.


Amidst piles of books, laptops, and a stray article of clothing or two, we huddled between these novels, going over their respective plots, offering praise and suggestions, simply talking through each one as a group. Sometimes it takes an outside perspective or two, a couple of trusted individuals well-acquainted with your story, but with a level of distance from the writing itself, to help you see the details that have been there all along, waiting for you to find them.


When it was time to actually settle in for an afternoon of writing, we argued about background music. I’ve never been distracted by music with lyrics while I write and enjoy melancholy indie songwriters or frantic jazz. The men wanted something upbeat and instrumental, perhaps an electronica station on Pandora. They won—two to one. So, we sat together writing individually, working on our own revisions and plotting, the time punctuated by the occasional “Can I read this to you guys?” or “Listen to this and tell me what you think?” I cannot tell you how much the three of us accomplished that day in our individual projects, what we gained from each other’s company, and the ability to just be writers together for an afternoon, sharing in the very heart of what it is to write.


Of course, we can’t all write like that all the time. We need our solitary spaces, our quiet moments of contemplation, where we can inhabit our stories and our characters fully and uninterrupted. But, I can emphasize the importance of a collective experience like the one I had that afternoon—the impact it leaves on each writer. Something extraordinary happens every time I send pages to each of these writers, when I sit down for a conversation about my own writing, or the writing of someone else I’ve come to exchange with. Write with passion and with pride, but don’t forget that you might need other writers and they might need you.

 By: Stephanie Harper

Stephanie Harper received her Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at Fairfield University with an emphasis in fiction in July 2012. Her work can be found in The Montreal Review, Poetry Quarterly, Midwest Literary Magazine, and Haiku Journal. She served as Fiction Co-Editor for Mason’s Road Literary Journal. She lives in Denver, CO.

1 Comment

  1. Wonderful piece. I’ve never “jammed” like that with other writers, but recently discovered that the Center for Fiction in New York has an upstairs writing lounge where writers (members) are encouraged to work this way, even with total strangers. This essay makes me want to try it. Thank you.

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