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No Writer is an Island

June 20, 2011

When I looked at the topic for this month’s blog I felt a little out of my depth. The only collaboration I’ve been a part of was when writing a poem for a Creative Writing class several years ago. In short, me and another classmate had to come up with a list of objects, then we each had to come up with a character that would own/use those objects and then we had to email back and forth with each of us adding a new line to a poem in the voice of our character. It worked better than I expected and it was exciting to see how the poem changed with each email sent and each line added. Albeit, that is all the experience I’ve had in the art of collaboration. Or is it?

I felt that I should ponder this subject with some of my writerly friends during one of our workshops. One of them referred me to the episode of Frasier in which Frasier and his brother, Niles, attempt to collaborate on a book and the results are not pretty.

We then mulled over the positives of collaboration: it makes us writers more determined if we have to justify our ideas to another writer. Collaboration is good if there is a meshing of creative thoughts and aims. And we looked at the negatives: the frustration caused by differing opinions and ideas.

We then got to talking about our workshops. Isn’t that a form of collaboration? Of course it is. We each read whatever we’re working on and then provide vital feedback. If this feedback makes it into our editing process then isn’t that a form of collaboration? Yes! Taking others ideas and suggestions about our work on board is definitely a form of collaboration.

One of my writerly friends used the phrase: the editor is the truth author. This made me think: isn’t self-editing a form of collaboration? When we write something, for most of us, we revisit the piece of writing at a later date (be that the next day, week, month or year) and ultimately, we are in a different place. We’ll have had different experiences, had a good or bad day, tried something new or been stuck in the same old rut. So we subconsciously apply these experiences to our writing and let them influence our editing. They determine whether we think a certain description works, whether a character needs a stronger character arc, whether to cut a mushy love scene because we’re now broken-hearted.

So each time we edit our own work, we are bringing a new editor to the table. We never edit our work the same way. Therefore all our writing is a collaboration, whether with our peers or with ourselves.  Indeed, no writer is an island.

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