4 Points to a Successful Writing Collaboration

Guest Bloggers: Angie Brenner and Joy E. Stocke

A good companion shortens the longest road.

Turkish proverb

“Why Turkey?” is the first question we’re often asked when we talk about our travels and collaborative memoir ANATOLIAN DAYS & NIGHTS. What seems obvious to us after visiting the four corners of a vast and varied country, still escapes many of our Western readers.

“And why a collaboration?” is the second question.

Our love of travel, culture, and adventure brought us together, but it was our growing friendship and desire to share those adventures that led us into a ten-year journey of research, writing, and countless revisions. And to a successful collaboration. While it took three years to develop a shared voice, it never occurred to us to give up and NOT write our stories about Turkey.

However, if you have considered a writing collaboration, here are our four points that work for us and helped us reach our goal.

1) Check your ego at the literary door.

At times, each of us had to “get rid of our babies.” This also speaks directly to how we created a “voice” for our narrative. We came up with a formula that allowed us to retain our individual voices within a forward moving narrative arc by writing chapters with an alternating first person narrative.  We gave each other creative license to write individual chapters without censorship. Then we passed the work back and forth between us. There were times each of us fought to retain sentences and paragraphs that came from our deepest selves. And there were other times when we gladly accepted a revision, and clear, unsparing criticism.

Here is an excerpt from Chapter 1, Lycian Days, a first person narrative through Angie’s eyes, with Joy’s editorial input:

“Have you been to eastern Turkey?” asks Joy, sipping her coffee.

“Only as far as Nemrut Dagi, near the Atatürk Dam, on a two-day tour from Cappadocia,” I say. “But I’ve wanted to go farther east, especially to Mardin, where Syrian Orthodox Christians still speak Aramaic, the language of Jesus.”

Joy tilts her head as if she sees something hovering on the horizon. “In Urfa, which isn’t far from Mardin, there’s a Phoenician river goddess I’ve been reading about called Atargatis. She took the form of a mermaid and is associated with the Virgin Mary.”

“Why don’t we go?” I say, recognizing a mutual sense of wanderlust.

2) Focus on a Single Goal

 

It took as a while, but we spent a lot of time working on an outline.  Taking on a country is a fool’s errand, especially a country whose history can be traced to Neolithic times.  So, we made a commitment to tell stories within geographic regions, stories that resonated with us and moved the narrative forward. Whenever we got stuck, we’d ask ourselves: “Is this important to our goal of creating and entertaining and compassionate portrait of Turkey?”

This is Joy’s voice from Chapter 8, Our Grand Basic Black Sea Adventure with input from Angie:

On Maraş Caddesi—street—we join a crowd of young people in low-slung jeans and denim jackets cruising shops selling Diesel jeans and Dolce & Gabbana knockoffs. Stylish young women have wrapped silky headscarves over top-knotted hair, tying them behind their necks like Grace Kelly ready to take a cruise in Cary Grant’s convertible.

Beneath a flashing neon palm tree next to a five-foot-long neon skewer of meat, teenagers gather at the Formica tables of a fast-food joint called Kebab Island. Next door, an equally tall red neon chicken grins and advertises another restaurant, Chickenland. Sidestepping schoolchildren in crisp blue smocks and white Peter Pan collars, we dart down an alley, past shops selling stationery, underwear, and vegetables, and stop in front of a metal door next to a shoe shop.

“Welcome to the Grand Basic School of English,” says Faruk.

He swings open the door, turns on a light attached to a timer in the stairwell, and hurries us up the staircase before the light clicks off.

A wiry man dressed in a tan sweater tucked into brown corduroys greets us on the landing.

“Ah, my American teachers,” he says, embracing Faruk.

“This is Nuri,” says Faruk, his cheeks reddening at our puzzled stares. “One of the owners of the school.”

“Bana mı söylüyorsun?” says Nuri, pointing an index finger at his chest, his smile set off by flirtatious dimples. “You talkin’ to me?”

He bursts into laughter at his dead-on imitation of Robert De Niro in the movie Taxi Driver. “Ah, fuhgeddaboudit,” he says. “Come and meet Meryem, our head teacher.”

Angie shoots me a look that suggests she too thinks there’s a bigger agenda afoot, but neither of us is sure what it is.

3) Respect for each other’s talents.

 

Art is never created in a vacuum.  “Collaborative art,” says friend Bill Eib, husband of the online magazine WILD RIVER REVIEW’s literary editor Gerri George, says in response to a conversation we had about the collaborative process, “No one does it on their own.”

Stephen Greenblatt shows in his book: WILL IN THE WORLD: HOW SHAKESPEARE BECAME SHAKESPEARE,” says Eib, “that Shakespeare with the aid of his life experiences, other playwrights, and the retelling of pre-existing stories, became the William Shakespeare we all know today.”

4) Never Give Up.

 

There were many times when we were tired, when we realized that to do justice to the narrative we would have to return to Turkey, times when we each were holding down more than one job and making time for the research and writing of the book. But, we never gave up.  We believed in the work.

And perhaps that’s one of the gifts of collaboration.  Just when you’re feeling you can’t go on, your partner sends an amazing revision of a chapter, or a photo from one of your journeys or a book recommendation.

And when one of us was busy elsewhere, the other was busy with a revision. It could be one of many things, but it reminds you that no piece of literature is created in a vacuum.

From Chapter 13, Return to the Lycian Sea

We watch the sea flow into Kalkan Harbor, where through the ages a hundred languages have been spoken, where the muezzin’s call has replace church bells, where evangelists, travelers, entrepreneurs, farmers, adventurers and dreamers like us, have left a part of themselves within this golden fold of mountain.

Joy E. Stocke is founder and Editor in Chief of the online magazine, WILD RIVER REVIEW. She has published fiction, nonfiction and poetry, and has written about and lectured widely on her travels in Greece and Turkey, as well as religion, ancient and modern. She is the author of a bi-lingual book of poems, CAVE OF THE BEAR, translated into Greek by Lili Bita; and a novel, UGLY COOKIES, co-written with Fran Metzman. Her travel memoir, ANATOLIAN DAYS AND NIGHTS, based on ten years of travel through Turkey, co-written with Angie Brenner was published in March 2012 by Wild River Books. You can visit the book’s website. Or order ANATOLIAN DAYS & NIGHTSby clicking here: ADN. Her essay, Turkish American Food, appears in the 2nd edition of the OXFORD ENCYCLOPEDIA OF FOOD AND DRINK IN AMERICA (OUP, 2012).

Angie Brenner is West Coast Editor for WILD RIVER REVIEW. In March 2012, Wild River Books published her memoir ANATOLIAN DAYS AND NIGHTS: A LOVE AFFAIR WITH TURKEY – LAND OF DERVISHES, GODDESSES AND SAINTS, chronicling more than ten years of travel through Turkey, co-written with Wild River Review’s Editor in Chief, Joy E. Stocke. Brenner has written numerous articles about Turkey and facilitates travel literature reading groups and presentations at bookstores and libraries in southern California and Oregon. In addition, she has traveled extensively through Africa, Turkey, and Vietnam bringing back both hair-raising and humorous stories. In 1997 she closed her store in order to travel and write, and works with elementary students in their Language Arts program near her home in Julian, California. She has recently returned from her fifteenth journey to Turkey.



 


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2 Comments:

  1. Janice – You attract some of the biggest and best writers to your blog (readers: note Janice’s long, luminous list of guest bloggers). And you’ve done it again with Joy and Angie and their wonderful book, and unique, helpful advice. “Focus on a single goal” applies to both collaborate work, as used here, and the work of a lone writer, as I see it. (I just added another big yellow post-it to my computer monitor…)

  2. I have always been fascinated by authors that partner together to write a book – and often wondered about the process. I appreciate the insight on how they wrote this book..and the excerpts are wonderfully rich. As hard as it must be to write a book together and trying to achieve a smooth flow and similar voice -I would think the fact you have someone you are accountable to for sharing the load and to motivate you must make it be an amazing journey.

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