All Good Things Come To An End

Heide and Iain reading at the launch of Clovenhoof

At some point, any collaboration must come to an end. Your novel is published and is selling and you’ve done everything you reasonably can to help promote the book and those sales. What happens next?
Perhaps the first thing to do is take the time to evaluate the success of the collaboration. Actually, no, the first thing to do is take a long holiday and spend time with the other important people (or cats) in your life. After that you should definitely take the time to evaluate the success of the collaboration.
You can judge the success of any collaboration on any number of criteria. Perhaps the coldest but most measurable one is in terms of money. Did you sell your novel? If so, how much money has it made? Even if you don’t end up in profit, any sales are better than no sales, aren’t they? Money is, when all is said and done, a measure of how much people value something. If you make £100 of sales on a book then that is how much the reading public value it. If you make £10,000 then that indicates they value your efforts that much more. This is a simplistic view but is one to which you can attach numbers.
Or you can judge your collaboration simply by whether it ran its full course: did you finish your novel together? People (by which I mean non-writers) frequently underestimate the challenge that completing a novel represents. Many, many people would like to be able to write a novel. Lots of people start writing novels. But, all told, how many of your friends and acquaintances have written a novel? If you’ve completed a novel, I honestly believe you deserve a medal. It should be an even bigger medal if you’ve written a collaborative novel. Writing collaboratively is like going into business with a friend or entering a marriage; a good proportion of such endeavours will end in disaster. If yours didn’t, well done.
Whether you’ve finished it or not, sold it or not, have you learned anything? I don’t mean unhelpful lessons like “never write a novel with someone else.” I mean, have you learned anything about the craft of writing? Have you picked up any tips from your writing partner(s)? Every writer’s style has strengths and weaknesses, tricks and idiosyncrasies. Has the experience changed your style? Perhaps some rough edges have been smoothed. Perhaps you’ve picked up some new techniques. Maybe you’ve learned to improve your dialogue, descriptions, characterisation, plotting, scene-setting or whatever. And maybe you in turn have had a positive effect upon your collaborator(s).
Or maybe you should you just say to hell with all those notions. Who cares if it was profitable or educational? The big question is, did you enjoy it? Was it fun? If you didn’t enjoy the collaborative process then you really need to think long and hard before entering such an enterprise again. Because, yes, isn’t one of the purposes of evaluation to decide if something should be repeated, tried again.

So, once you have brought your collaborative project to some sort of conclusion, you then evaluate it. Do a bit of SWOT analysis if you like. Draw some pie charts or Venn diagrams. Whatever your approach, you need to be able to decide if it has been a success (according to the criteria of your choice) and why it was so successful (or unsuccessful). Once you’ve done that you will know how make potential improvements and leap right into that next collaboration, won’t you?
Er, no. I don’t think so. Don’t rush into another collaboration straight away or, if you do, don’t make the decision lightly. One can make the assumption that, before you became a collaborative writer, you were a solo writer. You can’t forget that and can’t let go of that. Collaboration makes some aspects of the writing process a lot of easier and it wouldn’t be a good thing to find yourself in a situation where, having grown so used to the collaborative process, that you have lost some of the essential skills and drive to stand on your own two feet and write alone.
Besides which, hasn’t the collaborative process given you a new perspective on your own writing? You really ought to test that out. Do some solo writing, maybe finish that other novel which has somehow thwarted you until now. Take what you have learned from the collaboration and apply it to some solo pieces.
But, ultimately, everyone knows that absence makes the heart grow fonder. If you enjoyed writing collaboratively then you will return to it, maybe with the same writing partner(s), maybe with others. Collaborative writing is a starkly different experience to writing alone. It doesn’t suit everyone. If you’re lucky enough to have discovered that it does suit you then there’s no reason why you shouldn’t go on to make further fun and profitable collaborations in the future.

Posted in 2012, Reflections Tagged with: , , ,