At the intersection of writing and life with the author of the Cameron Ballack mysteries

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Essentials of Writing: Collaboration

I have three distinct vocational worlds. I am presently employed as a teacher. I have been a pastor before and am still ordained as a minister. And for enjoyment, I am also a writer and trying to become a better one.

Those occupations can be frightfully lonely. Teachers are often in survival mode and we have to be intentional about getting outside our room and talking with colleagues about what works and what doesn't and how to improve. Those conversations can often be more accidental than proactive, and what can happen is a teacher can spend more time navel-gazing on his or her daily needs to get the instruction across and precious little to share and collaborate and have iron sharpen iron (to quote a biblical proverb).

Being a pastor was excessively lonely for me. In my honest opinion, I think serving in that capacity in central North Carolina for a short spell was the primary catalyst in flipping my Myers-Briggs personality profile from extrovert to introvert. After that experience, I am more energized being by myself than around other people, brought on by a raised mistrust that I have of the human race in general. All that should be a blog post for another time to give it the attention it deserves, but suffice it to say being a pastor was a lonely time. People demand much of your effort but there can be little room for authenticity and genuine friendship.

Perhaps the alone-ness is part of what drove me to writing, along with experiences that I believe had to be shared. The written page serves an author as both outlet (for their words) and as a buffer (you can say things to people without having to share them face-to-face), perfect for an introvert like me who wants to make his points. But you can't stay there forever. What I've noticed in my short time (October 2009 onward) doing serious, intentional writing is that you can get energized by stepping out and--instead of keeping your insights to yourself--you collaborate with another, both giving your own insight into the writer's craft and receiving ideas from another soul.

About a month ago, I think it was, another student here at Westminster Christian Academy made contact with me. Eichel Davis is a senior here at the Crystal Palace (my name for WCA), a leader, mover and shaker, aspiring writer and entrepreneur, and all-around great guy. I've never had Eichel in class, but he reached out to me via Twitter through his feed and that of his writing efforts, known as Created and Written Publications. According to Eichel, CWP is "all about writing what I want to write. It's all about thinking AS IF THERE IS NO BOX."

My kind of guy.

Eichel was working through his recent book, The Varsity: Darkness of the Light, after a couple volumes in his Seniors series (check out his stuff on Lulu here). He contacted me and after a series of exchanges he asked me to look over some of his work for The Varsity, to provide feedback, and to generally suggest any changes.

I did so, catching a few things that I felt would be good changes, and he was appreciative of my time and effort. To his credit, he was thinking along similar lines about the few changes that needed to be made, and so it was interesting to have that synergy thing going on the writing front. What I hadn't counted on was how much fun it would be. The back-and-forth, the "what if we tried this?", and the different pace of life that comes with thinking through someone else's creation was tremendously energizing for me. I was entering a short season--between finishing my fifth novel and then starting planning my sixth after Thanksgiving--in which I would take a short hiatus from writing. But not inscribing does not mean eschewing any thought about what writing is like.

Some people might view that as an interruption to my writing Sabbath. For me, I think Eichel came along and connected with me at the right time. In the immortal words of Ric Ocasek and the Cars, it was "just what I needed."

Now my friend Tom has asked me to read part of a novel he's written, and I have started doing that to grant him the feedback he's asked for. And I sense the blood pumping and the ideas starting to pop again. I can sense the hidden, inner conversations going on in my mind that will bear fruit once I sit down after November 28th and start outlining my next project. And Eichel and Tom will have both played a role.

The Protestant Reformers had a mantra about saving faith, that one's trust in Jesus Christ is not isolated, but is always accompanied by a new life marked by good actions, attitudes, and words. They said: "Faith alone saves, but the faith that saves is never alone."

In a similar-yet-not-parallel vein, we authors may write alone, but the writing that is effective, memorable, and lasting is never an isolated phenomenon. A good writer has someone else's fingerprints all over the warp and woof of their drafts.

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