James Boylston has written articles for The Alamo Journal and The Crockett Chronicle. He’s also the creator and moderator of the Alamo Studies online forum, a web based discussion group devoted to the serious study of the Alamo and the Texas Revolution. A songwriter and audio engineer, he has had a life-long interest in the Alamo and David Crockett. You can listen to some of his music on his MySpace page (my favorite on his current playlist is Blueprint for the Blues; second favorite: TROUBLE).
Allen Wiener is also the author of The Beatles: The Ultimate Recording Guide and co-author of Music of the Alamo. He has written for The Washington Post, People, American History, The Alamo Journal, The Crockett Chronicle, Western Clippings, Goldmine and Discoveries.
Their book, David Crockett in Congress has won high praise. I found it quite interesting that they live in different states. Boylston resides in Florida, while Wiener lives in Maryland. They’re here today to talk about co-authoring. If you’ve ever thought about partnering up and writing a book, this is a great post to read.
Welcome James and Allen!
James R. Boylston and Allen J. Wiener
Since the publication of David Crockett in Congress: The Rise and Fall of the Poor Man’s Friend, one of the questions we’re asked most frequently is, “How exactly does co-writing work?”
It’s a fair question, especially given that writing is generally a lonely process, when authors reach down deep inside themselves and transfer their innermost thoughts onto the page.
For a collaboration to be successful, there are a number of factors to consider. First and foremost is TRUST. Each writer must have faith in the other’s abilities, and trust that shared ideas will result in shared benefits. The book is what’s important and egos have to take a back seat. So, getting to know your partner before you plunge into a project is important.
HONESTY: Collaborators must be open with each other about strengths and weaknesses in their writing. The work is bound to suffer if one writer has a thin skin or is reluctant to be blunt with the other for fear of offending. This is related to the issue of trust. Both authors should be confident that, when they hear criticism or suggestions from their partner, they are honest comments intended to strengthen the work. This is as true for the research phase of the work as it is for the writing itself. When the research burden is being shared, each writer has to trust that the other has left no stone unturned. Often, a writer may think of a source that the other has missed, and that has to be communicated. This is one of the strengths of working with a partner, who may think of things you hadn’t considered, or suggest sources that had not occurred to you.
COMPATIBILITY: Two distinctly different writing styles, regardless of how effective each may be, will hurt a final manuscript. The reader should forget the fact that the book has been written by two different hands and be able to focus on the content. The narrative must flow seamlessly, as if a single author had composed it. This can be problematic since writers’ styles tend to be distinctive and each writer tries to convey his thoughts from his mind to the printed page. It is a major advantage if the two writers have similar styles, but when they do not, each must adapt theirs to that of their partner to the extent possible. Depending on how different those styles are, the process can be difficult and is best addressed in the drafting and editing stages. Each writer’s initial and subsequent drafts should be reviewed by their co-author, who should suggest revisions or corrections and send it back to the original author. This back-and-forth process can be repeated several times for a single chapter and, in the process, the styles of each writer may “bleed” into one another. Although complete seamlessness may not be possible, a smoother transition can be accomplished. Of course, the surest way to avoid this problem is to choose a co-author whose writing style already matches your own fairly closely.
BALANCE: In most collaboration, each author will bring certain strengths and weaknesses to the task. They may not be obvious at the start, but should become more clear as the work progresses. One partner may be better at seeing the big picture while the other may be more detail oriented. One may write long first drafts while the other submits shorter, sketchier, first attempts, and these roles often shift as the writing progresses. The sooner the two authors recognize these traits, the sooner they will arrive at the most productive division of labor.
A SENSE OF HUMOR: Writing a book, or even a magazine article, can become stressful. It is certain that unanticipated challenges will crop up, causing delays or frustration. Learning to take on these obstacles with patience and a smile will get you through them with a minimum of aggravation and stress. In fact, this is one of the advantages of having a partner, since these burdens can be shared.
Anyone considering a joint project would do well to keep these things in mind. Checking your compatibility ahead of time can avoid a lot of stress later on. Still, there’s no guarantee that collaboration will work out successfully. Achieving effective teamwork is not always easy, but giving a partnership careful consideration before taking the plunge can make all the difference between the successful completion of a project and one very long headache.
Thank you very much, James and Allen.
You can find out more about the authors and David Crockett in Congress: The Rise and Fall of the Poor Man’s Friend at James Boylston’s blog, Jim’s Corner: Miscellaneous Ramblings. In addition, Allen Wiener also has a blog, Allen’s Corner: An Occasional Commentary on Books, Media, Current Events, and the Author’s Own Writings. If you’d like to hear more about their book, you can see the talk they gave at the 2009 Texas Book Festival, which was taped and appeared on CSPAN Book TV.
David Crockett in Congress is available in bookstores everywhere.