- Writer Unboxed - https://writerunboxed.com -

Writing as Collaboration

You know the drill : writing requires you to put your ass in the chair and write… alone. We’ve got our characters, sure, but they aren’t colleagues. The conversations we have with them are really conversations with ourselves. I think this is one of the reasons that writers flock to social media – finally, other people to talk to all day!

Writing can be lonely. I did a (unscientific) survey recently of many writers I know who write full time and that is one of the touchstones they didn’t necessarily think through when they chucked their day jobs. The day, the blank page, these stretch out before you and there is no break room, no people to commiserate with about that terrible boss.

Even though I still work at my day job, it is something I’ve struggled with too. As a result, I’ve been looking for a collaborative project with other writers for years. But short of getting my own television show – I mean written by me, not starring me – I couldn’t make it happen. I tried writing a novel with another writer friend but that didn’t pan out. I did participate in some anthologies, but those were still solo projects. Then I heard about Serial Box (serialbox.com [1]) which is a service that offers serialized novels which are written like TV shows: there is a lead writer, a writer’s room and then the season is written collaboratively. Cool, right?

It was cool and also a challenge. I pitched a show – well many shows, but the one they liked was this one – about Supreme Court clerks. Think Felicity meets the West Wing. I was commissioned to write a ‘bible’ – not religious, just the term they use also from TV, think a detailed outline of the world the book inhabits and the episodes – and based on that they green lit the book. Which means, go time! We gathered a team of writers and ended up with Elyssa Friedland (The Floating Feldmans), Kermit Roosevelt III (an author and former Supreme Court Clerk), Jasmine Guillory (The Wedding Party), Randy Susan Meyers (Waisted) and Shawn Klomparens (Jessica Z.). Three of us were lawyers, including me, and two were not. And we also had a producer.

We met over a long weekend in DC last January. We worked all day on plot and story and character. We took notes on a big easel. We got a behind the scenes visit to the Supreme Court (the coolest!) And then we took photos of everything and went back home. The collaboration continued though, with each of us having to submit an outline to the group for review, and then our episodes too. As the lead writer, it was my job to review everything, pick up continuity and character errors and generally be a pain in all the other writer’s asses.

It was so much fun! Honestly, while we didn’t all see eye to eye – and lawyers can be pushy and abrasive, me included – we produced a fun and engaging story that was better than any of us could have done ourselves. Along the way, we formed lasting friendships and, for me personally, engaged with the US Supreme Court in a way I never had before.

Would I do it again? Absolutely. Writing collaboratively is something that takes time to adapt to and why not put what I’ve learned to good use! It’s also a great exercise in letting go a little – you can’t have everything exactly the way you want it (even when you’re the lead writer) because that’s not the point. Majority rule, and in this case, the tyranny of the majority worked.

If you want to read the product, FIRST STREET is available at serialbox.com [2] in e and audio format and you can even read or listen to the first episode for free. Each episode takes about 45 minutes to read or listen to – it’s built for your commute!

In the meantime, I encourage writers who are stuck in a rut, or feeling the time alone with yourself and your characters to consider something like this. I came out of it fired up and ready to go to write for myself and with others.

Write on!

How about you? Have you ever attempted a collaboration? How did it work out? Let’s collaborate in the comments.

About Catherine McKenzie [3]

A graduate of McGill University in History and Law, Catherine McKenzie practices law in Montreal, where she was born and raised. An avid skier and runner, Catherine is the author of 11 bestselling novels, including HIDDEN, THE GOOD LIAR, I’LL NEVER TELL and YOU CAN’T CATCH ME. Her most recent novel, SIX WEEKS TO LIVE, releases in Canada April 20 and the US May 4, 2021.