I belong to an online writers critique group called California Writers Circle. As part of honing our writing skills, we produce a variety of anthologies with members. The last two are 1) Masquerade, a collection of stories written by members (free on Amazon January 15-16), and 2) Knightfall: Midnight at the Montclair, a collaborative novel where each member added their own chapter. The brilliant writer tasked with editing the chapters and fitting them into a novel was Sandy. What an effort! I asked her to share her insights into writing as a collaborative experience. I think you’ll enjoy what she came up with:
Picture the familiar image: A solitary writer sits at her desk deep into the night, pen in hand (or hunched over a keyboard), waiting for inspiration—and very much alone. It’s a scene Ernest Hemingway described in the simple words of his Nobel Acceptance Speech, 1954: “Writing, at its best, is a lonely life.”
I certainly can’t argue with Hemingway. Writing is, indeed, a singular activity. However, authors today have more opportunities than ever to share their writing experiences through conferences, social media, online blogs and webinars, membership in genre-specific organizations, and participation in writers’ support or critique groups.
For me, the image of “the lonely writer” disappeared when I joined a writing group and began sharing my material with other like-minded authors. Our regular discussions energize us, keep us motivated, and offer insightful ways to improve our work. In addition, another unexpected benefit has emerged: the chance to work together on writing projects.
The members of my group, California Writers Circle, collaborate once a year to create a book suitable for holiday gifting. Over the past eight years we’ve produced six short story anthologies, a volume of poetry, an art-quality book of travel and culinary delights, and a full-length mystery novel—all this in addition to doing our individual writing. For each of us, there’s satisfaction knowing we’ve perfected our work together, and there’s pride seeing our names in print on the final copies of the books.
For writing groups interested in the collective writing experience, here are 5 Tips for collaboration on a book project:
- Decide on a genre and a theme for the project. As an example, last year our group decided to publish a mystery novel, Knightfall, in which each of our members created a character and wrote a chapter connecting the character to the mysterious death of a celebrity author. For our current short story anthology, Masquerade, we centered on the idea of uncovering what lies behind the mask of first impressions.
- Assign specific jobs to those most able to do them. With Knightfall, members volunteered in areas where they had some expertise. A member with organizational skills became the overall project manager; a former English teacher proofed and edited submissions; a technical-savvy person handled the self-publishing requirements for Amazon KDP and other outlets; an artistic member did our layout and cover design; one familiar with social media opted to be our publicist; another member handled the royalty income and advertising expenses.
- Schedule a month when all members work on the project. During the selected month, members write for one week, submit their work to the group for critique the next week, do revisions the third week, and submit everything the fourth week to the project manager and editor who put together the book’s final draft.
- Post deadlines and follow through with reminders to be sure everyone is on schedule. Sometimes obstacles arise that prevent adhering to a posted schedule, but for the most part our members contributed on time to each of our book projects. Even so, it’s important to build a little slack into the timeline in case situations arise. For example, during our preparation of Masquerade, we decided to ask outside readers to critique our first draft. This fouled up our timeline and delayed our anticipated publication date, but it turned out to be an extremely helpful tool that improved the book.
- Organize a book launch and ongoing promotion campaign. To launch Culinary Delights, our collection of travel and cuisine memories, we held a “First Look” party for authors and their guests where we took book orders that made popular holiday gifts. For Masquerade, all 26 of the collaborating authors provided their individual plans for promotion through ads, email, social media, and personal contacts.
The time I devote to writing is more productive and satisfying now that I’ve ditched the stereotypical image of the “lonely writer” and found a group of writers interested in reading my work, sharing theirs, and helping each other succeed. We’ve all grown in our craft, and we’ve become caring friends as well—in part, due to our collaboration on writing projects.
Sandra Homicz moderates the Dana Point writing group Write On! and is a founding member of California Writers Circle (CWC). Her work appears regularly in CWC anthologies like Masquerade and the community publication Seashore News. Her upcoming mystery Starlet: Mystery, Murder and Old Hollywood is due for release later this year.
Sandy’s latest publication is a short story in Masquerade, “Deirdre Kane and the Chinese Porcelains”:
An undistinguished author knows his work is mediocre but has some fun with it—along with a bit of adventure.
You can get it for free on January 15-16, 2021.
More about collaborative writing
Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, the Man vs. Nature saga, and the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, blog webmaster, an Amazon Vine Voice, a columnist for NEA Today, and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. Look for her next prehistoric fiction, Laws of Nature, Summer 2021.