Sharing Work Space and Partnering with Other Authors
By Jeff Salter
This week, we’re blogging about sharing — who we’d share writing space with and who we’d want as co-authors. Supposedly I came up with this topic, way back when, but I can’t (for the life of me) remember what I had in mind… if anything. For one thing, I’m not much into sharing. I don’t tend to share snacks, for example, and that’s supposedly the minimum threshold for status as a true gentleman.
But as I’ve read what three of the Four Resident Foxes have to say, so far this week, I think I’ve chiseled out a toe-hold on this topic.
If I had to share MY writing space with anyone else, it would be a nightmare. I know this from two distinct experiences:
- At my first “permanent” duty station in the Air Force – the Office of Information at Cannon AFB, NM – for my initial few months, I had a desk that was head to head with the desk of a three-striper. In other words, if we were both seated properly, we were staring at each other. That wasn’t the bad part, however, because we each had our own typewriters (manual, of course) and we were each writing our own articles for the base newspaper. The difficult part was that we had to SHARE a single telephone. Yeah, back in the dark ages when offices had desk phones and there were only so many lines… all hard-wired. So when Sgt. Clausen needed the phone, he’d whack the rotary dial with the hooked end of a specialty ruler and drag the phone to where he could reach it to dial. And when I needed the phone, I’d snag it with my own hooked ruler and drag it back over to my side.
- The other example is much more recent. For several months, a few years ago, my wife’s laptop was not working… or wouldn’t connect to the internet. Something like that. So she logically needed to use MY desktop, which was directly wired to the cable box. Fair is fair. But when I was hot on a story and really desperate to start clacking those keystrokes… I was unable to get to the workspace. Drove us both crazy. Finally she got a new laptop which was able to pickup the wireless internet… and we could (once again) peacefully coexist.
Some of my colleagues this week have spoken of writing retreats, or more concentrated group writing sessions… or even just meeting with a colleague at a favorite coffee shop to write. There’s part of me that wishes I could / would do some of this… but a larger part of me just doesn’t want to be bothered. It’s not that I’m antisocial — it’s just that when I’m focused, I’m really focused and it aggravates me to be pulled away or distracted. And when I’m not focused, it would bother me to see anybody else successfully courting their own muse and having a fine time. If you know what I mean.
I greatly admire people who have successfully co-authored fiction with others. Several of my colleagues and friends have done this and some have fared very well with the results. I don’t think I could do it, however. Much is made of whether an author is a “plotter” or a “pants-ster.” — the former being one who carefully outlines nearly every aspect of her/his plot, characters, and setting… and the latter being one who flies by the seat of her/his britches. In fiction and poetry, I’ve always said I’m mostly a pants-ster but often find I’ve written myself into trouble that requires a plotter to work out of. So, I’m just saying that my hybrid, ebb-and-flow, flux and flummox style of writing fiction simply would not sync well with a co-author. One of us would drive the other… CRAZY.
Writing non-fiction, however, is a completely different ballgame. My brother and I co-authored at least four principal works back in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Two were monographs released by one of the top three (at that time) publishers of library resources; the third was a signed chapter in a book published by the American Library Association; the fourth was a signed article in a specialty encyclopedia. For each of these projects, Charles Salter and I worked together closely on the scope, direction, and outline — then we divided up the chapters and other components. As we finished each solo part, we’d send it to the co-author for feedback. We rotated our names, so that my brother’s name was listed first on projects 1 and 3, while mine was listed first on projects 2 and 4. Whoever was the “lead” author was the primary contact with the publisher / editor / whoever had to be dealt with.
Not a Co-Author
As I’ve pondered our topic this week, I realized there’s another category of writing “partner” who is less involved than a true co-author, but nonetheless considerably valuable to the creation of the work. You’re probably thinking, Beta Reader — and, yes, that also fits. But I’m thinking more of a go-to person who can fairly quickly jump into the project, scan what I’ve done, learn where I’m going, and then offer up the assistance I need.
My brother, Charles A. Salter, is particular good at several phases of this — namely technical expertise on matters related to science or medicine… and insightful assistance with structure and organization matters. [He helps in numerous other ways, also, but it would take pages to list them.]
My wife, Denise Williams Salter, is my other go-to resource person. Sometimes this is at the very beginning of a new story, when I sound her out about the direction I’m considering. Sometimes it’s when the story is moving along but I’ve hit a snag of some sort. Sometimes I’ll tell her a little about my story and then ask her, “What kind of house does Character X live in?” And Denise will know. Or I’ll ask her, “What kind of job does Character Y have?” And Denise will know. One time when I was struggling with the complex layout of an unusual setting for a story — Denise (who loves building plans and loves to draw) sketched out the layout for me. She’s helped me decorate hotel suites (circa 1914)… and design Depression-era ranch houses which were renovated in the 1960s. And those are just a few examples.
So, even though neither of these two “go-to” resource people are actually my co-authors for fiction — each is indispensable for the stories I write.
What about YOU? Do you write with others? Share writing space with others? Go on writing retreats, of any duration?
[JLS # 360]