I have great respect for the writings of Virginia Woolf and her stake in the feminist movement, but the title of her book sprang to mind when I started to think about the writing life. There are innumerable books that discuss the writer’s life, the long and lonely journey on the page, and ultimately the inner turmoil writers go through. One of my favorite is Writing Past Dark: Envy, Fear, Distraction and Other Dilemmas in the Writer’s Life by Bonnie Freedman.
Everyone knows that a guitar can sound good, but that it usually sounds its best when accompanied by drums, bass guitar and vocals. Musicians working in concert with one another are greater than the sum of their parts. (Sorry, I couldn’t pass that pun up.) Although one man may create music for each instrument, it requires several music makers joining to create a complete symphony. My analogy comparing music to writing is not a precise fit, but it will lead the way.
I want to address collaboration between writers. Every time a piece of writing is workshopped in a class or sent to an editor, collaboration is taking place. Let’s move beyond this though. Take the idea one step further…
In a successful piece, there is a distinct tension between the prose and poetry. Each section not only builds on what has come before, but also adds something new or turns the phrase in a new way. Sometimes a piece like this can tear itself apart when the authors have varied ideas or agendas. And as in all writing, sometimes a piece of writing fails for other reasons. It does not gel as it should. Any writer who has been putting pen to page or font to computer screen knows that not every word sees the light of day. We sometimes give birth to ugly babies.
You can take this further. If you are a prose writer or poet, you can collaborate with another individual on single pieces. My friend John has worked on collaborative poems with others in open source Google documents. Each person can access a poem at any time or even write on it simultaneously—even if they live on the other side of the world. As I have said, not every piece is a successful work of art.