I’m so excited to get back to writing, like, actual blog posts next week. Not that having Monday off wasn’t equally good. ❤️
I’m so excited to get back to writing, like, actual blog posts next week. Not that having Monday off wasn’t equally good. ❤️
Hart Fowler is an independent journalist. S. Noelle Lynch is an incendiary nocturnal fiction writer and journalist.
There are many relationships in which both partners write, but true writing couples are few and far between. For every Joan Didion and John Dunne, there are other ambitious, talented, and romantically involved writers who have tried integrating their work in a collaborative effort only to fail to find a balance—or, even worse, fail to maintain their personal relationship.
As a writing couple, we have collaborated on six published articles over the past six months. This experience has had a significant learning curve, and we are here to share what we have learned from our collaborations.
Having two independent thinkers conjuring up story ideas expands your realm of expertise. If you read our previous collaborative guest post, The Power of the Shower Curtain Whiteboard, you already know that we keep track of our pitches on an 6’ by 8’ transparent shower curtain pinned to a wall in our writing room. When either of us encounter a breaking or topical news story or an interesting juxtaposition that is in one of our wheelhouses, we write it on the board. We are fortunate in that we have both similar and contrasting interests, so having two heads to generate pitches doubles our idea-generation regiment.
For example: Hart was recently interviewing a musician on speakerphone for an article previewing an upcoming concert for a regional magazine. When Noelle overheard them discussing a shared passion for recreational game, she mentioned she’d seen a sports magazine in the library that focused on the game. Hart pitched the sports magazine on a profile piece about the musician’s love for the game and the piece was accepted.
Knowing what turns your significant other on is key to a successful relationship—and being able to help them find a place to write about their interests and passions can help your partnership in more ways than one.
One important skillset a freelance writer must quickly develop is the ability to work to meet the needs of different clients and editors. The first draft is just that, and having a second pair of eyes on your work helps you hone in and whittle down your piece into something more lean and focused—and gives you more confidence when you finally press the send button. This increases the chances of the piece coming back with fewer edit requests from the client, which is a good look for everyone involved (especially in an industry where time is money).
When the edit notes do come back, your partner can serve as a sounding board and help ensure you fulfill your editor’s requests. One example of how this worked for us was with the piece Joystick Fantasia: Inside the Spectacle of Video Games Live for Electronic Gaming Monthly. After investing many hours on the researching, reporting, and writing of a piece, it can be frustrating when the piece comes back with significant feedback. That can get to you, affecting both your confidence and your workflow because rewriting often takes a substantial amount of time.
But your partner’s emotional and intellectual support can be a godsend. When the edits came in around 11 p.m., we dove in, worked through the night, and had a rewrite back to the editor by that morning. The editor was pleased not only with the new shape of the piece, but also with the piece being turned around so quickly. It was a win-win, as we both could enjoy the satisfaction of not only making the work better, but also knocking it out before it began to over-ripen—which can happen if you sit and brood on a piece too long.
It is important to note the difference between helping your partner edit a piece and encroaching on their writing voice. This is definitely an acquired skill, and we have found this to be a fine line that, when crossed, can lead to tension. While it is important to accept criticism if you ask for it, it is similarly important to not try to rewrite their work in your voice. This can be detrimental to not only how you approach collaborating on future pieces, but also to your relationship in general. Tread lightly and have thick skin.
It is, after all, a team effort.
While we’ve put together many collaborations where one of us does the writing and the other serves more of an editorial role, we have also begun working together as co-authors using a singular voice.
We are still learning the skill of developing a shared voice, and understand why there are very few co-authored works out there. We marvel at Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, the husband-and-wife showrunners of HBO’s wildly ambitious and successful Westworld. They are one of the most successful collaborative couples of all time, and somehow manage to have maintained a singular vision over three seasons working hand-in-hand on the acclaimed series.
For our recently published Love on the Rocks for Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine, we first brainstormed ideas of what we wanted to include in the piece, and made a shared Google Doc that consisted of potential section headings and raw notes and anecdotes. We really hit a creative flow when we began composing the piece simultaneously on separate computers on different sides of our writing room.
Be forewarned that this is not for the faint of heart; this was the third time we tried this technique and the first time it worked. What we learned this go around was to work on different sections, and to actively avoid writing in the same graf, as to not step on each other toes. We also learned to trust each other’s edits and additions.
It is freeing when you can let go of your voice and find the voice that fits the piece—and it was a beautiful thing to watch the story get fleshed out in real time, revisiting a section and seeing it develop, returning to a sentence and suggesting a better wording. With a trust in one another, disagreements over phrasing or flow reached a new level of constructive criticism as we were reminded that we both are good at this, and it helped our mutual respect shine.
Joan Didion wrote of her collaboration with her husband, author John Dunne: “I never had to finish sentences because he would finish them for me.” Yet they rarely, if ever, shared bylines.
One of the many satisfactions of being a published writer is reading your byline on the piece. Be it print or online, seeing your name and/or a short bio gives a sense of pride in your accomplishment. Your byline can also encourage readers, and perhaps editors and publishers, to look you up, send feedback, and/or approach you with other story ideas.
Similarly, reading your names together as a co-authored byline shows a mutual respect and satisfaction.
However, you need to extend that respect to your clients as well. For the aforementioned Shower Curtain Board story, Hart pitched the story, and Noelle both edited and wrote many of the lines. Even the concept of the shower curtain board was a shared idea.
The piece went live with Hart’s byline. When we asked Nicole to add Noelle’s byline to the story as well, Nicole was happy to do it—but let us know that we should have told her it was a collaborative work during the initial pitch.
Lesson learned: Be upfront and clear with the editor from the get-go. As long it doesn’t affect the agreed-upon pay for the piece, this shouldn’t have any negative effect. In fact, the editor is getting two writers—and if they have a following, two sets of readers who follow the writers’ work—for the price of one, which is a win-win.
There’s some gray area when assigning credit in the byline when one of the collaborators serves more of an editorial or “second set of eyes” role.
We requested an “additional reporting” credit for the EGM piece, for example, because Noelle played a more heavy-handed role in the editing process and was less of a co-author. But if you want to work on a story together from the beginning, pitch it to the editor that way— and if it turns out one person does the brunt of the work, do your best to avoid conversations of who did what. The field of creative collaboration is littered with failed attempts at assigning authorship, and as a romantic couple, it is of the utmost importance to not get bogged down in such conversations. (If you find yourself arguing over who contributed more, it is a good time to rethink future creative collaborations.)
While we are most definitely not a “power couple,” we are a couple that writes both independently and collaboratively. Being a collaborative couple is not easy. It takes work, just like the romantic part of our relationship. There will be conflict, that is for sure. But regardless of whether you’re reading your partner’s byline, editing your partner’s work, or sharing a byline together, working creatively with someone you love can give you a twofold sense of pride.
This week was “Loner Week” at Lifehacker, which meant I got to share some of my favorite single-person hacks. ❤️
Tara K. Shepersky is a contemplative walker, writer, & photographer based in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. She’s also the creator of The Florilegia Project, a conversational art and poetry experiment. This is the second in an ongoing column about the creative practice.
I miss my book. I mean the one I’m supposed to be writing.
I don’t miss the manuscript I completed last year. That one’s alive on its own now, finding its feet, and doesn’t need anything from me at the moment. Plus I’ve finally untangled my identity from it, after months of intense conversation, late nights, and needing to be together all the time. Writing that book (well, shaping it—we’ll get to that) was a lot like falling in love. I can’t live like that for long without exhaustion.
Which is precisely what it’s earned me.
I had a second manuscript already in the works, so it seemed reasonable, thinking about goals for this year, to say I’ll finish it by the time midwinter returns. All I really want to do though, this year so far? Is read.
About this time last year, I was making an effort to get back into the habit of loving reading. I think of myself as a reader, but I’d fallen out of doing a lot of actual, focused book-reading. I got better. But I was so busy
falling in love writing! It’s now, when love writing has wrung me out, and left my usual defenses crumpled, that my re-made reading habit has moved in—insistently—to take its place. The place of lots of things, actually. Movie watching, multi-hour walking, and meetings for committees I care about quite a lot have also been victims of my pure exhaustion. Instead of them, I read.
It’s glorious. It also puts my current manuscript mentally across the room from me, lounging on the rug against the scrolled arms of my loveseat, eyebrows raised.
I do know that the writing process is circular. Every artist needs to lie fallow periodically. You’re not less of a creative person for doing it. It’s just that I miss my current book. I’m excited about it; I want to fall in love again. And I am completely incapable of shaping that love into something beautiful, something outside my own self, right now.
Which brings me to the difference between this part of the process I’m feeling nostalgic for—I call this The Shaping—and the part I’m inhabiting now, the much quieter Gathering. These are, as far as I can tell, the two distinct phases of my own writing process, once of which feels much more like “writing” than the other. And therefore feels more legitimate.
The Shaping is the being-in-love phase. It’s a furious round of writing up outlines, work-dreaming poetry, debating line breaks, revising revising revising, scrapping whole poems for parts, and changing my mind a hundred times about what order the pieces go in and what the sections are called. It’s the part that gets me to a definable end, a goal achieved.
It’s also the part that drops me right off that end like it’s a pier, with the water down below cold and rough and deep and full of unknown creatures. It’s tiring, swimming to shore through all of that. And here I am chafing to run headlong off that pier again, as soon as possible.
The phase that comes before this violent intensity of love is gentler altogether, and ambiguous as a cloud. It gets nothing at all “done.” I call it The Gathering, because it has that feeling of wandering about, not aimlessly but not focused on a goal either, and questioning, investigating, enjoying what you run across. It’s made up of daydreaming poetry, vague notebook scribbling, writing prompts, and joyful drafting; also literal wandering, journaling, dancing, deliberately putting myself in the path of new skills or ideas that have nothing to do with writing. And also reading.
Ah—reading. So I can say that right now I’m in The Gathering phase. If I’m being generous, which I want to be, so I will: lying fallow is a first part of Gathering.
(You should keep in mind that I’ve made these terms up to articulate some learning from my own experience. Also that past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results. You should ask yourself what the heck I know.)
Here’s another thing I don’t: when will the present (wool)-Gathering resolve into The Shaping? And if that’s a mystery, how do I know I can write another book of poems in 2020?
Maybe annual goals written in January are something in the nature of a first draft. Maybe they clarify what you value, and then hold it up to the harsh light of what you need.
Besides a writer, and a reader, I define myself as a contemplative. “Contemplation” sounds passive, but it requires a lot of discipline. I’m so tired lately that sometimes I think I’m not rested enough to be a good contemplative. I get enough sleep, but I’m still trying to drop off during my morning silence-time. Contemplation seems to require space, by which I want to mean “not having a bunch of pressing demands on your schedule,” and by which I more sustainably mean an inner sense of spaciousness and time.
The same thing poetry requires, in fact.
The Gathering is a spacious season. You need it, or I do anyway, to invite depth and surprises and Mystery to participate in The (eventual, unsummonable) Shaping.
I think The Gathering is about play, as much as anything. Mary Oliver has a line about “letting all the voodoos of ambition sleep.”* I’ll sleep too, I guess, and read books like I used to: constantly, playfully, with no thought of what they might teach me or how I might use their knowledge.
I’ll wave sometimes across the room at my manuscript, who is actually fine over there alone, maybe Gathering too.
We’ll have so much to talk about when we get back together.
*It’s from her poem “Today,” which for me is maybe something more like “This Month,” or maybe “This Quarter.”
Vaxtyn requested I write about this, so here we go:
The interesting thing about beginning my third year in Cedar Rapids is that I already feel like I’ve been here for a longer period of time than any other place I’ve lived as an adult, even though I know mathematically that isn’t true; I was in Washington, DC for four years, and in Seattle for just over five.
At first I thought it was because I’d been in the same apartment for longer than any of my previous homes, but even that isn’t true; although I’ve rarely maintained an apartment or roommate situation for more than two consecutive years, I did keep my DC apartment for the four years I lived there.
So I think that, in this case, the sense of temporal expansion comes from finally being part of a community.
Arguably, time is supposed to speed up when you do the same things over and over, whether that’s singing with a choir every Sunday or going to the same big outdoor festival every summer. But there’s also this sense of here we are, singing another concert, or oh look, the art museum has a new exhibit that I want to go see, or well, I guess it’s time for another board meeting.
And because everything changes, just a little bit, every time, it doesn’t feel like you’re repeating yourself. It feels like you’re adding on to something.
I didn’t have anything to add onto when I lived in Seattle. There was work, of course, and building my career, but very little of that happened in connection with the city. I can work from anywhere, as long as I have my laptop and access to the internet; so the sense of being in Seattle, as a place, with locations I visited regularly and people I saw on a daily basis, didn’t precisely exist.
It was more like I lived online and, once a month or so, visited Seattle to see a friend or attend an event.
I very definitely live in Cedar Rapids, now. People know me, both in ways I’d like to be known and ways that surprise me. I’ll meet people in a professional context, for example, and they’ll say “wait, I recognize you, you’re always walking the track at the YMCA!”
I’ve also had the privilege of spending time with my parents on a very regular basis, which is very different from seeing them five days a year at the holidays. I wrote in The Biographies of Ordinary People that when you see family only rarely, years get compressed into yesterdays; you’re still viewed as eighteen or twenty-five because that’s how you were the last time they spent any significant time with you. We haven’t gotten to see each other change, so we all work from our last point of context.
Maybe that’s why it feels like I’ve been living in Cedar Rapids for much longer than just over two years (I moved in November 2017). I have all kinds of context now, and memories associated with places and people who are actively present in my day-to-day life.
Which is very different from the kind of life I lived in larger cities.
And yes, moving back to the Midwest is still one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. ❤️
A few of these posts are from the last few weeks; I usually track everything I write through RSS (I use Feedly), but it looks like some of my RSS feeds aren’t collecting articles the way they used to. I’ll be more diligent about keeping track going forward! ❤️
When I was maybe sixteen years old, I had the kind of dream you never forget.
I dreamed I went to Heaven, which was the kind of concept that unnerved me when I was awake. I was well aware of what infinity meant, and even the idea of an unending eternal paradise was too much for me to bear.
I mean, how would you be able to stand it?
In this Heaven, the one in my dream, you didn’t have to.
Instead, when you arrived—when I arrived—you were told that you could do anything you wanted. Anything you’d loved doing on Earth, anything you’d never gotten the chance to do on Earth, anything that would be theoretically impossible on Earth (like flying, with your arms and not a plane).
Because I was sixteen years old, give or take, I decided I wanted to finally have sex.
With my high school boyfriend, who was also apparently also dead in this scenario.
So that happened. Then the dream got interesting.
After you’d done everything you wanted to do, you were allowed to depart your physical body and let your soul ascend into the collection of souls that surrounded Heaven. You would no longer experience time, or your own thoughts, or anything beyond a sense of peace and contentment.
Which I did, in this dream. I remember being conscious (in my unconsciousness) of feeling both nothing and feeling completely happy.
Then I dreamed that God called all the souls back into Heaven, so we could gather around Heaven’s IMAX and watch as a new Messiah was born on Earth. God explained that Earth was in need of some guidance, and so a guide had been sent.
And we watched, as this infant grew up into a young man, and somewhere in all of this I woke up and thought well, if Heaven turns out to be like that, I don’t think I’ll mind going there.
And then I saw the last two episodes of The Good Place.
I’m going to assume you’ve already seen those episodes or been spoiled for them, because they are nearly identical to the afterlife I dreamed as a teenager (minus the overt Christian influences and the idea that God was sending numerous Messiahs to Earth at regular intervals).
In the Good Place (as presented on The Good Place), you can do anything and everything you want, for as long as you want—and then, when you’re ready, you can leave. Let your soul depart your body, and be at peace forever.
I am still kind of taken aback at the idea that the Heaven I imagined for myself as a sixteenish-year-old in the late 1990s was the same as the best version of the afterlife that all the philosophers and writers working on The Good Place could come up with.
Not that I believe that’s actually going to happen, after we die.
But if it did, it would be a beautiful and wonderful thing. ❤️
It’s time for another one of these, and I know I didn’t do one last month so don’t go looking for it…
In January, I earned $4,611.63 in freelance income and $0.47 in publishing royalties. Since it’s been two months since my last financial update, I’ll also report that in December I earned $11,833.09 in freelance income and $0.22 in publishing royalties.
January is often a slow month for freelancing; everyone’s ramping back up after the holidays, budgets are getting reconfigured and reshifted, and so on. In my case, I also took some time off for the Writer’s Winter Break conference (but I ended up writing and filing two freelance pieces during the conference because THAT IS HOW I WORK).
And I’ve also got something like $3,050 in outstanding invoices, and $9,000 worth of work already on the schedule for February, so… I’m not worried, financially.
Nor am I worried about the stock-market-related dip in my net worth.
So my net worth over the past three months has gone from $164,475.44 to $167,031.85 to $162,736.15 as of this morning, and I also bought a bunch of Vanguard ETFs this morning because stocks are on sale.
That said, I’m really curious what you’d like to see in these financial updates for 2020. I’d be happy to keep writing about my income and my investments, but if there’s something else you’d like to know about How I Do Money, um… tell me?
Because this monthly roundup doesn’t have to be just about various numbers in various accounts. Maybe I should also tell you the smartest thing I did with my money in the past month and, like, the least smartest.
In January, the smartest thing I did with my money was to switch my Capital One 360 Savings account earning 0.63% APY for a Capital One 360 Performance Savings account earning 1.70% APY. (For the record, Capital One should have highlighted this opportunity in my online dashboard; I should not have had to discover it when I was researching high-yield savings accounts for Lifehacker.)
The least smartest thing was… maybe… spending $13.38 on a bunch of hair clips from Amazon. They turned out to be the wrong shade, and I didn’t like the way they looked, and I keep feeling like I’m too old to wear hair clips anyway. The only thing in my hair at this point in my life should be hair, and a very small amount of smoothing product to prevent flyaways.
What about you? ❤️
Next week I’m going to write about The Good Place. You’ll see why when I tell you. ❤️