Thinking of trying your hand at writing collaboratively? Married authors Clay and Susan Griffith, know all about the hard work of co-authoring. They have just kicked off their newest series with The Greyfriar. Now the authors share how have melded their skills to become a successful team.
We are Clay and Susan Griffith, husband and wife authors that have written together for over twenty years.
And yes, we are still married.
Collaboration between writers isn’t particularly unique; it’s done all the time. However, most collaborators live in different cities or countries. We live in the same house; we see each other a lot! Therefore, collaboration tests all facets of our relationship. People often ask us our secret. The ingredients are simple: respect and trust. We recognize that our partner is talented, and we cultivate mutual respect by trusting in each other’s skills. Neither of us believes we are more talented than the other (no really, we don’t). Although writing is an intensely personal affair, we have willingly surrendered our private control in exchange for the benefits of collaboration. Our work doesn’t belong to one or the other of us; it is the product of a partnership. We won’t sabotage the other’s writing just to showcase our own favorite sentences. We each want to produce the best story we can, one that is filled with beloved characters, fast-paced action, and a unique setting. We’ll give you an example of how we do it using our most important project, our new novel, The Greyfriar, the first book in the Vampire Empire trilogy.
Ideas may spring from an individual’s head, but from the time you blurt it out, a project like The Greyfriar is a joint effort. We won’t kid you; teamwork isn’t always pretty. First comes outlining the concept and, as with much of our work, it’s usually done in a public place for the safety of all concerned. We’re less likely to throw a heavy vase or hot coffee if strangers are watching, and we use our “inside voices” while arguing over which scenes work best for the project.
Once the basic premise is ironed out, we fashion a detailed chapter outline that lays out important character moments (like where the Greyfriar and our heroine, Princess Adele, meet for the first time), furious action scenes (as in the dramatic crash of Princess Adele’s flagship), and explanations of the world (such as describing vampire-controlled Europe or the neo-Victorian city of Alexandria, the capital of the new empire of Equatoria). Not only does this let us know how the novel will progress, but we can now divide the writing chores based on our expertise.
You see, each of us has certain strengths, and we try to gear the writing process around them. Chapters that have a lot of character development go to the one that can best bring them to life (Susan), and chapters heavy on history and world-building go to the one who best understands that (Clay). Obviously, these concepts weave throughout the story, and we each do a little of everything, but we recognize who is the expert on certain issues and they have final say on those issues during editing. Distributed authority keeps things sane and running smoothly.
After we split up the book, we retreat to our offices to write in peace. However, even while engaged in the lonely process of writing, we require constant communication. A good story constantly evolves through the process, and communication ensures those changes are out in the open. After all, it’s not good if Susan is writing a chapter where Ol’ Thomas saves the day, only to find that in the previous chapter Clay made him a meal for a vampire. Alas, Ol’ Thomas we knew you well.
One great by-product of a very close collaboration is that writer’s block can be instantly addressed, usually over the dinner table. Whereas most collaborators have to wait for an email or a phone call, we just bring out the problem along with the meatloaf. Before the meal is through, we’ve usually hashed out a new direction.
We trade and rough edit finished chapters weekly, and every pass brings our individual styles closer to being a single voice. At the end of the process, no chapter should scream out the style of one writer or the other. Otherwise, we’ve failed in our mission to present a collaborative novel, neither Clay nor Susan, but a totally new voice.
The writing process is relatively pleasant, but the editing is where hearts and heads can be broken, and real arguments develop. As always, even in the heat of battle, we must ask ourselves “what are we arguing about?” Is it about the story or our ego? Is that passage important to the character or to me? If it is the former, then defend it with a passion. Over time, we have learned that if one of us continues to fight over something through tears and raised voices or the lob of a heavy book, then we know the argument has merit. Sometimes the impasse is just a matter of semantics; it’s hard to find the right words to express your point of view to someone else.
Aside from listening to each other, any good marriage counselor will tell you--so we’ve heard--don’t try to win every battle. A good general knows when to concede a skirmish in order to win the war. The color of the hero’s hair is not nearly as important as that crucial moment when he kisses the heroine for the first time. If you’re going to argue about something, make sure it’s the latter.
The Greyfriar is the accumulation of several years of hard work. As authors, we brought our individual influences to the table – romance, steampunk, alternate history, pulp adventure, and horror, and merged them into something new and exciting. And the process has been very rewarding for us as writers, and as a couple. Collaboration may not be for everyone; there is much head-shaking, eye-rolling, and frustrated sighing. But when it clicks, it’s great. There’s nothing better than working on a difficult project with someone, and knowing you couldn’t have done it so well alone.
- Clay and Susan Griffith
And you can pick up your own copy of the Griffith’s newest novel, The Greyfriar, on shelves now!