In collaboration: How (and why) to write with other people

Blake Crouch is a prolific writer of thrillers, horrors and paranormal adventures, an author with some 13 novels under his belt plus novellas, short stories and collections. He has collaborated with other writers on several books, the most recent being Eerie, which he wrote with his brother Jordan. Eerie will be available on Kobo September 15, 2012.

We asked about how and why he writes in partnership with others:

Blake Crouch

Usually we think of writing as a monastic activity but you have collaborated on several books, with several people. Why?

Before I collaborated, I was wary of the process. Writers, by their natures, are control freaks, and I’m no exception. I want to approach a story in the best manner I see fit. That mindset changed in 2009 when I wrote the short story “Serial” with J.A. Konrath. He hit me with an idea. Everyone knows hitchhiking is dangerous. What if we wrote a story together? You write from the POV of a crazy hitchhiker. I’ll write from the POV of a crazy driver. Neither of us will know what the other has planned, and we’ll fight it out on the page like a chess game.

We started from an elaborate outline. I was primarily responsible for my characters, he was responsible for his. We did write some scenes in isolation to start but then jumped into the story and wrote together in real time in a Google doc. Often, toward the end, he would be writing my characters, and I would be writing his.

It was an amazing life changing experience. I discovered I love working with other talented writers. And that little short story began a great partnership with Konrath wherein we combined our two series (Andrew Thomas and Jack Daniels) and have been writing together ever since.

What value does collaboration offer?

If a writer is willing to check their ego at the door and be open to melding their style with another’s, there is not only a world of fun to be had, but a lot to learn. The experience of “Serial” turned into me working with J.A. Konrath, Jeff Strand, and F. Paul Wilson on “Draculas”, with Selena Kitt on “Hunting Season,” and with my brother, Jordan Crouch on “Eerie” coming to Kobo September 15.

The value is in getting away from thinking your writing is too precious and learning how to create stories with other writers. I’ve learned a great deal from every writer I’ve been fortunate enough to collaborate with. It’s also taught me to be a faster writer, and it’s given me glimpses inside the minds of living legends, like F. Paul Wilson.

How does it work? Give us some examples.

It’s different from writer to writer. With Konrath and I, the first time we collaborated, we wrote the story back and forth in emails. Then Google create Google docs which lets writers work on the the same document at the same time. Now Joe and I do all our work in real time in a Google doc, often working on the same paragraph, the same sentence even at the same time. Because we’ve written a lot together and have a collaborative style that is different from our individual styles, it’s a seamless process. With my brother for instance, in the writing of “Eerie”, we would sometimes write together at the same time, but more often than not, we divided up scenes and worked separately. It just depends on what feels right. One of the rules is that we can rewrite each other at anytime.

How do you choose a collaborator?

Very easy process. I answer two questions. Do I respect this writer’s craft? Do I like them as a person? The truth is I have a lot of people I’d still love to collaborate with but there just aren’t enough hours in a day, and I still do have my own solo projects which take precedence.

Have you ever had to dump someone mid project because it just wasn’t working?

Thankfully no. Although my brother and I did get into fights during “Eerie” because, well, we’re brothers after all.

Usually things done “by committee” are terrible. How is collaboration different? Who is in charge of the story?

Collaboration isn’t really a committee. It’s the power of two minds pulling against the same general idea and usually what happens is that better ideas and approaches emerge than would have in isolation. In a two-way collaboration no one person is in charge of the story. In a four-way collaboration like “Draculas” Joe and I took the lead, because four cooks in the kitchen is too much. That isn’t to say that Strand and Wilson didn’t contribute hugely to the concept. It’s just that we needed to have two people driving the ship instead of four. So in that scenario, we came up with the characters and general outline and I pieced our scenes together.

Best thing about collaboration, and worst thing?

Best thing: working with friends to create something you all love. Worst thing: I haven’t discovered it yet, and I hope I never do.

Read some of Blake’s collaborative work:

Crouch & Kilborn: Killers Uncut & Serial Killers Uncut

Blake Crouch’s books at Kobo