The Elegance of Experience

Eric and I have just finished our second collaborative novel together. We’re at the stage where we are reading one another’s work, taking notes on errors, extra spaces, plot issues, and the like. We exchange the notes and then restructure from there.

I can’t help but compare this time around to our first work together, and further back than that–to my first solo novel. At those times, allowing someone to read my stuff was agony. I felt like a rubber band stretched to the snapping point when anyone was in possession of my work. Would they like it? Would they hate it? What was I thinking anyway? Who would ever take me seriously as a writer?

In those days, as my family sat around the dinner table discussing the events of the day, who had what homework, etc. my husband and kids would inevitably ask, “How’s the book coming?” And I’d tell them exactly how it was coming. I’d give details of plot, character development, subplot . . . I’d even include information on future chapters and future subplots and future character interaction. I’d spill my guts and wait for their evaluation. Sometimes they’d tell me what to write, how to have one character kill off another,or they’d make suggestions like there should be an alien in the story. Sometimes I would be to frightened to write anything unless I bounced it off someone else first.

I felt like by talking everything out first, to anyone who would listen, I’d avoid any of the agony of writing something bad or, worse, having somebody read something bad that I had written.

And what a waste of a lot of good writing time all of that verbal procrastination turned out to be.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned through collaboration with Eric and through working with publishers it’s that we really have the same end goal — put a good book out there. And a writer can’t do that if s/he is always bouncing ideas out in the open rather than putting them down on paper where they belong.

I don’t share every detail of my works in progress with my kids anymore. I could be wrong, but I think they are grateful. I think it also came as a shock to my husband when I mentioned last week, “Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you that Eric and I finished the first draft of our book.” He had no idea how far we were into writing it. Unlike I did with previous works, I didn’t show my husband any of the work I did with Eric on this book, or any of the work with my current solo project. I know I’ll have days when I write crap and I don’t need anyone’s permission to have days like that or anyone’s reassurance that those days will pass. I know it now from experience.

Will I always feel weird about letting other people read my stuff in its raw form? Well duh. Of course. But I’ve yet to meet a writer I didn’t like, or who didn’t read my work with the eye of a colleague, and I’ve yet to meet an editor who didn’t truly want to make my work better. And I’ve got Eric Beetner as a writing partner. He keeps me on my toes. His great writing inspires my own efforts and I think we’ll continue to put out some really good stuff.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some editor’s notes from Eric that need addressing.

By JB Kohl

1 Comment

Filed under fiction, writing

One response to “The Elegance of Experience

  1. christinehusom

    Wow, if your next book is as good as “One Too Many Blows to the Head,” it will be another winner.

    I tend to be a little private about what I’m writing. Maybe it’s because I sense others aren’t really listening when I’ve talked about the project. And I’m not one to verbalize my thoughts until I’ve pondered them a while.

    Good luck with the final edits!

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