WHEN BETA RELATIONSHIPS BECOME SERIOUS
or “How To Use a Catcher’s Mitt”
From ACN: When I go to my writing group and mention to friends of mine that I write with a collaborator, or as I call her, a co-author, I get odd looks. One even suggested that it couldn’t possibly be a collaboration and that really I must be doing all the work. But that really couldn’t be farther from the truth.
As in any good partnership, once synergy happens, one can’t tell where an idea began once it gets going. The whole really is greater than the sum of its parts. (And here you thought two and two only ever equaled four!) Rachel and I started working together several years ago as “beta readers” for each other. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, a beta reader is a second pair of eyes who looks at your manuscript and helps to pinpoint areas of weakness. It is not, generally, a line editor. (In fact, many beta readers that I’ve known refuse to line edit.)
When Rachel first sent me a manuscript to look through, what struck me right off was the strength of the story. It did need help with some of the technical details, but the underpinnings were rock-solid. Contrary to what many writers have said in my hearing, it is my belief that STORY is everything. If you don’t have a good story, you just have well-constructed grammar exercises. After all, it’s not very interesting to read “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog.”
From RW: I would say that several of the main benefits are input and a second opinion when world building. It also helps to have another pair of eyes when editing and another brain when creating, as well as a built in support system for the tough times. It’s fun to trade ideas and use each other as a sounding board.
Back to ACN: As we worked together, we started talking about how we might write a story together. I suggested a blog, and created Taurus and Taurus. That is how our serial novel NEW WORLD ORDER came to be. At first, Rachel took one character and I another, and we essentially role-played our way through the story. We have the first, second, and third books all plotted out as well as ideas for a couple spin offs.
When we started writing BURNING BRIGHT, we knew we had something special. The story literally flew off the keyboard. The bulk of the story got written in under four weeks. We realized that not only did we have something, we could replicate it with other stories.
From RW: It was when we were discussing a spin off that we decided to be bold and submit it. We utilize Google chat, many times creating and writing entire scenes that are copied, pasted and polished into the manuscript. Another tool is Google documents where we will have a glossary that we can add to and share between us. The most important tool is a fantastic long distance phone plan so we can talk and plot out ideas.
Back to ACN: In some ways, it’s like a marriage. We are, at times, so deeply in one-another’s heads that we finish each other’s sentences. We utilize each other’s strengths. Rachel prefers research and I work on deep POV (point of view) and we both share the fun of writing the smut scenes. The worlds that we create together become real to us. We create maps of our characters’ homes, cities, and properties. We look up pictures of interior designs to use. We even took a week-long trip in Chicago and Madison to research locations. Making the stories more real helps the creative process.
And, what’s more, it’s great fun!
“Fun” is greatly underrated as a creative influence. So many writers I speak with seem to feel that they must be “disciplined” in their writing, or it won’t be real. I think that’s tosh. Fun is something that our human spirit needs in order to be happy. The great creators of the world (DaVinci, Michelangelo, Shakespeare, and our contemporary greats like Cherry Adair, Jody Lynn Nye, and Stephen King – not to mention Delilah Devlin) share a deep and abiding love of the craft. That’s why they do it and it comes through in WHAT they do. The more we can get the fun back in the writing, the more we as writers can create.
For Rachel and I, having a “Catcher’s Mitt,” someone there to encourage a nascent story into existence, is as critical as air or water. Julia Cameron in her seminal book THE ARTIST’S WAY talks about the Catcher’s Mitt being the kind of person who believes in WHAT you’re doing, beyond whether you’re doing it well or even right. They can see past the wobbly first drafts to the beauty within and keep their sights squarely on that belief. They believe it so hard, that you begin to believe it too – and together, you midwife a new thing into being. That’s a little like how Rachel and I work. We prompt each other through writing slumps and offer encouragement daily. Everyone suffers from the Inner Critic, that voice that murmurs, “This isn’t any good, what are you doing? That’s not how you spell chair!!” The trick is to get your work out past that censor and onto the page.
After all, didn’t we learn it in first grade? Walk with a buddy. Life is just safer that way.
**Watch for BURNING BRIGHT, coming from Samhain Publishing September, 2011!