Wednesday, February 24, 2010

When the Perfect Writing Relationship Founders

Hopefully, this is a blog topic that doesn't apply to any other writer but me.  It's not a pleasant topic to write about; it's not a great situation to be in.  But, it does present its own particular challenges that a writer needs to know how to meet.

Once upon a time, a long time ago, my crit group was bit by the fire-eating ant of all crit groups everywhere--let's write a shared world anthology! 

*If your crit group does this to you, back out gracefully as quickly as you can. Fair warning. I, on the other hand, was not so smart*

While I don't doubt there are groups of writers that can and do write succesfully in a shared world, I don't think creativity is the problem. I think professionalism is the problem. You have your beat every deadline by two weeks types of writers (like, um, me) and you have the deadlines don't really mean DEADLINES, do they? types of writers.  Ne'er shall the twain meet.  No matter how much you try to accomodate the 'other' type of writer, someone is going to get pissed off.  I'll even go further--it's usually the people who understand the concept of deadlines who lose their cool with people who don't.  So, when all is said and done, I learned a valuable lesson, right?


Brilliant.  Fast forward three years.

A writing partnership can be one of the most amazing experiences of your life.  You find someone that you like planning things out with, whose writing style gels with yours.  You write in first person POVs as your two main characters.  You build a world, negotiating all the teensy little bits of information that make up a successful fictional landscape and, armed with all of that information and the inspiration you've derived from each other, you launch into your project.  You get lucky at first--you're trading a scene a day.  The manuscript is getting bigger.  The characters are jumping off the stage.  Together you've created something new and wonderful and fantastic.  It all should be cake, right? Right?

And then...the deal-breaker.

It doesn't matter what breaks the deal in the end.  The relationship is irrevocably shattered from the moment the deal-breaker is introduced into the project.  You may try to regain that magic you shared at the beginning, but it's never quite the same.  And then you're left with a huge world built and the story only half done.  So what do you do?

Hopefully, you and your writing partner are mature enough to decide together how to dispose of the shared intellectual property.  Maybe your writing partner is done with it, but doesn't have a problem with you continuing the story on your own.  Or vice versa. It doesn't really matter.No one likes to feel like they've wasted a year or two of their life. So perhaps, you can at least salvage a story out of the deal.  Or, if you're in the middle of a series that is uncompleted, you can finish off the series in such a manner as to satisfy your readership.  After all, the readership is and should be the most important thing to a writer in the end.  All that artistic integrity stuff?  Well, it's nice but it's hard to scrape onto toast in the mornings.

So what do you do?

First thing I recommend: cover all your bases from the beginning. Save all the professional interactions between you and your partner--preliminary scenes, world building materials, research, emails and chat transcripts.  All of these things have time stamps on them if--and the gods hope it never would!--it comes down to a legal issue.

The second thing? If you're working on a series, already have an idea of how the series will resolve. If you find yourself in the horrible position of having to finish out a story, you're in a heck of a lot of a better place if you know where that story needs to go. That way, if you suddenly have to double your word output, you have a guide to help you complete the entire plot arc--and check for those continuity issues!

Third? Don't waste time being bitter.  Sure--find a photo of your former writing partner and tape it up on your dartboard in the den.  Throw darts at her picture as long as you want to--but keep it there.  Leave the details of your parting of the ways off the internet.  If you don't, the focus of your story could quickly become lost behind the real life drama of the bitchy little spat being played out in front of a live audience online.  And, for that matter, don't go out of your way to encounter your former writing partner.  If she hangs out on a particular forum and has for a long time, don't shimmy your little tail down to that chatroom every day and then play all innocent when your butt gets burned for the spiteful little 'neener neener neener' act you're pulling.  If you're old enough to write a novel, you're old enough to know better.

And finally, never forget who you are.  You are a writer.  You are not defined by the writing partnership you may once have had. You were a writer before the project and you're still a writer now.  Sure, it's normal to experience a bit of a funk after a traumatic professional event like this one, but shake it off and get right back to the keyboard! Sulking about it won't make things automatically better.

We can all spend a lot of time daydreaming about what might have been.  But, once a writing relationship is in the past, go ahead and bury it.  Complete the story or trunk it--either way leads to a final resolution that will help you move on.  And, regardless of whether your writing partner quits or you do, don't cyberstalk your writing ex, lurking around like a vulture with every intention of sabotaging her every chance you get.  For one thing, that rarely works out well.  For another, it's a waste of time.

Just write.  You'll feel better.