Thursday, June 08, 2006

Tag Team Writing

by Aaron Paul Lazar

I thought it couldn’t be done. Write a piece with another author? Someone who has a distinctly different voice than mine? No way! We’d clash. We’d argue. Neither of us would be satisfied, and the end result would be disastrous, a muddied representation of watered down prose.

When a friend of mine asked for help with her query letter, I agreed - but I didn’t expect it would be done “live.” I thought we’d edit and attach recommendations via email, like we normally do. This time, however, she suggested that we actually get together to do this, on one computer, face-to-face. My instincts roared up into a tsunami. No way! I thought. I had massive doubts and began to type up something on my own.

She arrived shortly thereafter, with her own query written in advance. Aha! She has the same reservations about this dubious process.

For those who haven’t had the privilege of crafting a query yet, it’s basically a one-page pitch that writers send to potential publishers or agents. It needs to have a short paragraph that regales your book in such an eloquent, witty style that the publisher has no choice but to immediately snap you up with a hefty advance. It’s impossible to do, especially if you are writing about your own book. I know. I’ve tried. For days. For weeks. Although my current publisher is competent and has been decent to me, I’m currently trying to hook a big time player who’s in the mass media stream. Finally, a fellow writer helped me with my own query and I wound up with a gorgeous paragraph, neatly crafted, that I didn’t write. Oh well.

My friend arrived. We sat down at my computer and began. After a few false starts, we began to meld our paragraphs, taking the phrases we favored from each other’s drafts. It started to work. What resulted was a “brainstorming-for-two” session. In the past, my experiences with brainstorming have been confined to engineering team activities involving problem solving or research and design. What normally happens in this environment is “no thoughts are judged.” Ideas are floated up, bandied about, and recorded. One idea builds on another. And another. Sometimes, if the team is lucky, some supremely unusual and fantastic combination of ideas results in innovation.

And so, we brainstormed. I typed up silly phrases that danced around the topics. She tossed out words and phrases. We built on the words, wending our way toward jump-off-the-page, dynamic sentences. Together, we isolated the choicest phrases. It sang. It was lyrical. It was the best darned one paragraph synopsis I’d ever read.

My misgivings were all for naught. My instincts were flawed. It can work. Tag team writing can be successful. (At least in this venue.)

So, once again, the Lord keeps me humble. Oh yeah… and so do all those rejection letters!

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