Collaborative Writing & Ghosts in the Kitchen

Collaborative writing invites ghosts to my party, but these guests barge into the kitchen while I’m still pulling food from the oven. Who are these people? Oh, there’s the editorial board, the editor in chief, the audience waiting to see if the thing tastes as good as it smells. These unseen ghost guests elbow in and shove the writer aside, too many cooks in the kitchen, “more salt, less garlic! More facts, less fiction.”

The collaboration begins when someone chances on a call for submissions and says, “We could write it together.” Now the egos have take a step back and not snarl like a dog with a fresh soup bone, or a toddler who won’t share her cooky, “Mine!” Our self images as writers are also ghosts to be placated.

Like party planners, the writers (two in my case) put on their grown-up hats and get to work. My approach is intuitive, hers intentional. I free write till my notes bloom like sour dough. She revises our slimy outline. I gobble information; she digests it. We decide on deadlines and working process: shared Dropbox files, Word track changes, conference calls when distance precludes face-to-face work.

We begin putting words on the page, draft the proposal that will go to the editor. Enter again the ghosts: who, exactly, is our audience, other than the board that finally will accept–or not–the article? Who’s sniffing around to see if we’re cooking up something tasty, or at least edible? One of us dictates, the other one types: “Whoa, slow down.” “Fix that sentence, it’s boring.” We slice and dice, stir and knead the language into a first draft.

Time now to let the dough rest and rise. This draft is an important 200 words, a taste of what’s to come. We pledge not to poison anyone, to accept the outcome, and hope everyone else enjoys the party as much as we do.

Self-publishing Points



Self-publishing, independent publishing, vanity press, traditional publishers, small press–these words fill the head like a bad smell. But I’m getting clear on these issues. And finally producing the books I want. (Go look at my bookshelf page.) In order to get here, this is what I did:

  • Came to regard self-publishing as my best choice, not an act of desperation;
  • Had honest, knowledgeable colleagues read and comment in detail on the material;
  • Studied the options and learned the difference between independent publishing and getting scammed by a vanity press;
  • Realized that, no matter which route I took, promotion and marketing are my responsibility;
  • Learned to use social media–Word Press, Facebook, Twitter, Linked In;
  • Identified and identified with my audience;
  • Learned to be patient and organized in order to make each book as nearly perfect in content and design as I possibly could.

I take pride in the books, confident that I have written and produced something that feels like a small gift to the world, not just a potential money maker. The added benefits are intangible but very important: creative control of the book, the ongoing challenges of learning the process (just did my first ebook), bigger royalties and a more active place in the community of writers, readers and designers. Of course, there is risk. If I do a sloppy job, I get a sloppy product and no one will want it. But in this virtual cloud where so much of writing happens, I am still thrilled to hold a beautiful book with my name on the cover.