Sunday, March 27, 2016

"In Collaboration With . . . "

A friend who is doing a series of articles for a writing/publishing site, BookBaby, sent me the latest chapter in which the subject was finding a collaborator. The writer suggests putting yourself together with a writer whom you admire, and through their work, letting them advise you. That doesn't mean sending a letter to Agatha Christie, or Stephen King, for instance, seeking advice. The idea, according to my colleague, would be to immerse yourself in the other person's writing to discover how their goals were achieved; how they made the right words fall into place to achieve the effect or point you are trying to make. It reminded me of a technique I had been introduced to many years ago by a colleague. It happened like this.

I had moved from writing every script to actually producing the medical teaching films that were the mainstay of my organization. I hired a couple of writers to share the load. One was a young man with good skills but not much experience. The other was an older writer, a man of great standing in the teaching film community, the son of a very successful Hollywood writer/director from the Silent Era. One morning, making my rounds of the various departments, I went into the writing office where the older man was working away. I hadn't given him a new assignment, so I asked him what he was writing.

"Hemingway," he replied.


"Well, when I asked what writer you most admired," harking back to the time I interviewed him for the job, "you said 'Hemingway.' In Hollywood if you were adapting or working with a known writer on a script, the best way to write like him (or her) was to simply sit down and type from the original novel or script, until you had developed the style, the rhythm, the music of the original."

Seeking to satisfy me, my new associate was putting on Hemingway.

The kinds of films we were producing didn't offer many opportunities for such a skill, but it was a useful one to have. I've tried it. It works.

So take the writer you most admire, want to write like, and start typing. After about 30 pages, slip into your own work. Let the rhythm, the feel of the words sing you the song you want to hear. Begin every writing session with a page or two from your "collaborator's" text, and then pick up your own work where you left off.

After the first few sessions I think you will find your co_writer standing less and less heavily on your shoulder, but perhaps just close enough to nod when you get it right.

It's a collaboration that will help you find your own, true voice.

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