May 09

On collaboration

The story behind ‘Sand and Seawater’, from One Small Step

I don’t play well with others. In school I would happily fake an injury to get out of team sports, and I was one of those irritating brats who would rather do the whole assignment by myself than work in a group. Just as well then, that writing is such a solitary pursuit? Right?

Well, this is what I’ve been telling myself for so long. But, you know, maybe I was wrong.

I’ve never really entertained the idea of collaborative writing, and have always been a little bit in awe and at the same time a little bit unsettled by the writers who do it. They couldn’t really enjoy all that sharing, could they?

When I first started taking this writing thing seriously, I knew I’d need to get feedback. Critique. So I joined the Online Writing Workship for SFF, and met a whole bunch of other writers. One of these was with an amazing writer named Rabia Gale. We read each other’s work. We shared critiques. We got chatting, outside of the OWW. Somehow, we just clicked. On different sides of the planet, with only our writing in common, we forged a strong professional connection and an even stronger friendship.

I didn’t even notice it happen, but writing wasn’t so solitary anymore. Yeah, we work on separate things (Rabia has this way of twisting fairytales that I wouldn’t ever even attempt) and our styles are quite different (I would kill for her kind of lyricism) but, somehow, we work well together.

Even so, the idea of collaboration felt alien. I even remember a conversation in which we discussed collaboration — how it was odd, and we could never do it. No sir. (Do you remember that, Rabia? :) ) And then Tehani Wessley from Fablecroft Publishing came along. Would we like to collaborate on a story for her One Small Step anthology? What do you say when an editor like Tehani invites you to write for her? You sure as hell say yes!

When it came right down to the actual work, to the plotting, writing, revising and editing of a story, collaborating with Rabia was entirely natural. It was like an extension of what we’d already been doing. We brainstormed ideas for a while but, you know, that wasn’t actually anything new. We’ve been helping each other grow and solidify our plots and characters for ages, and this was nothing different. I threw an interesting photo at her, she came back at me with a cool myth, we exchanged excited conversations full of “But what if…?” “And then that…?” and lots of “Oh CREEPY!”

And that, my friends, is how stories are born.

Sand and Seawater itself has two POVs, and we each wrote one, which made the mechanics of being in completely different time zones and rarely able to actually write at the same time much easier. It meant we were also able to grow the plot and the world together — Rabia’s character might mention something that would spark and idea for mine, and visa versa. At first I was a little worried that the story would feel fragmented — that there would be a discernable difference and even a disconnect between my sections and her sections, and it would suffer as a whole. But my fears were unfounded, and I think that’s because the story developed so organically, one layer after the other.

And when we finally had a draft, I gave Rabia a red pen and let her go nuts with it. Never stand between this woman and an unnecessary word.

Maybe it’s because we’ve spent so much time in each other’s worlds and heads? Maybe it’s because we already knew how to work together, we’d had practice over the years. Whatever it was, collaborating with Rabia on Sand and Seawater really worked. I hope readers will enjoy the story and think it worked too!

Hey, maybe we’ll be doing some more of this collaboration thing in the future? And maybe team sports aren’t so scary after all… as long as you get to pick your teammates!


Rabia talks about her side of the experience over here. As usual she’s way more organised than me :)

2 pings

  1. how to collaborate with another writer: a case study | Rabia Gale

    […] has her own thoughts about our collaborative experience here (link might not work until later in the day, since she’s already gone to bed). Update: Link […]

  2. FableCroft » Cool stuff round up

    […] separately! If you’re interested in how they did it, their posts are worth a read (Rabia / Joanne). I wonder if Lisa Hannett and Angela Slatter would also like to blog about their OSS […]

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