Here’s a piece which appeared on the Book Dude Blog (which apparently is no longer an active blog) that describes in part how our collaboration and creative relationship worked.
Intro: Daniel Grotta and Sally Wiener Grotta are long-time collaborators who happen to also be a married couple. They’ve written literally thousands of articles, columns and reviews for scores of major magazines, newspapers and online publications. In addition, they’ve co-authored numerous non-fiction books. This means they live and work together 24/7. Of course, they argue; they’re married. Not over the “usual” trivia (taking out the trash, money or whatever) but about split infinitives and Harvard commas. Gluttons for punishment, even when they go their separate ways, writing their fiction independently, they still edit and advise each other. And now, they’re stealing each other’s characters and places, as they dip into a shared fantasy of fictional locales and characters, to create their very separate stories set in the made-up village of Black Bear, Pennsylvania. The first two Black Bear, PA stories are Honor a novella by Daniel Grotta, which was published last summer, and Jo Joe a novel by Sally Wiener Grotta ,which will be published this May.
What’s remarkable is that both their marriage and their professional reputations have not only survived, but thrived. How do they do it?
Sally: Daniel, these folks want to know how we can work together and still remain happily married.
Daniel: Not now, Sally. I’m busy.
Sally: Okay, when?
Daniel: About 15 minutes
Precept #1: Just because you’re ready to discuss a crucial point doesn’t mean your partner is. Make appointments and keep them, as though you are strangers working together.
15 minutes pass
Daniel: Okay, Sally, now what is it you wanted to talk about?
Sally: How does our marriage survive our partnership? Or, vice versa.
Daniel: Beyond the fact that we always sleep in the same bed at night?
Sally: [No comment. Sometimes, you have to just let him talk]
Daniel: We negotiate, compromise and create rather than defend and denigrate. The important thing is to get the best writing done that we can.
Precept #2: Check your ego at the door. You wouldn’t be working together if you didn’t have respect for your partner’s intelligence and talent. Take full advantage of the opportunity that creative collaboration offers.
Sally: Okay, that’s all true, but you’re forgetting the fun element that keeps us coming back for more. The sense of adventure. When we start a brainstorming session, we never know what new ideas – or characters – might develop.
Daniel: The “what if” and “what might have been” games.
Sally: And the long car drives, when we talk away the miles, coming up with creative solutions and novel approaches.
Precept #3: If it isn’t fun, why do it?
Daniel: Actually, I’d say our three criteria are: it has to be important, interesting, and/or fun. But in the back of our minds, we also consider how we can turn it into income. After all, without income, it’s all a house of cards.
Precept #4: Show me the money. Or, as they say, don’t quit your day job, unless you can be assured of supporting yourself with your writing.
Sally: That’s where we’ve been very lucky. We established ourselves as professional writers years ago, honing our skills in the marketplace and under the guidance of some great editors. It’s how we learned to appreciate, respect and crave good editing, which leads to better and better rewrites.
Daniel: After a day of writing, we often read aloud to each other, testing what we’ve written against our partner’s ear and sensibility. It doesn’t matter if it is something we’re collaborating on or an essay or novel that one of us is writing independently. Having each other as sounding boards — and often just hearing our own words through our ears, rather than within our minds — helps us clarify our thoughts, refine our prose, and enrich our plots and structure.
Precept #5: Every writer, regardless of how experienced or brilliant, needs an editor.
Daniel: No, it’s not always smiles and roses. Our arguments can be as passionate as our writing.
Sally: Maybe that’s one of the reasons our writing can be passionate. “Write what you know” – right?
Daniel: Possibly, but our arguments have limitations, because we always end up in the same bed at night.
Sally: [Yep, the minds of men seldom stray far from one particular instinct, even after decades of marriage – thank goodness.]
Daniel: Of course, in the end, it’s just the writer and the keyboard. An editor – or a wife – can advise, encourage, or make suggestions regarding grammar, character development or plot line. But the final arbiter of what will end up on the page is solely the author.
Sally: I’ve found that when Daniel or anyone makes a suggestion that I don’t like, I need to pay special attention to that portion of my writing. I must consider that I’ve left a hole in the story or prose where my vision of what should be there isn’t clear enough. So, the reader feels the need to try to fill it with his or her own ideas.
Precept #6: Once you’ve picked your editor or collaborator carefully, listen to him or her. But make sure you understand what it is they are really saying about what you’ve written.
Sally: Then there are the alone times.
Daniel: Every writer is alone when facing a blank screen.
Sally: Well, maybe not completely alone. Not when you have all these voices in your head, demanding to become real, breathing characters.
Daniel: Still, every morning, we announce to each other when we’ll be writing, so the other doesn’t infringe or disturb.
Precept #7: Carve out your space and time to write. It all comes down to chaining yourself to the keyboard and, as Red Grange said, “Opening up your veins.”
Precept #Alpha/Omega: Writers write. If you’re not writing, you’re not a writer.
What are some of the lessons you’ve learned from your collaborations…. or marriage… that help you with your writing?