A Love Letter To Collaborative Writing
Psst. Here’s a secret for you.
O.E. Tearman is a front, for two writers. We are, quite literally, two writers in a trench coat. One cis woman and one genderfluid person. And we started writing together because we love to play with words.
I’m not kidding here. We started writing because we both liked to write. These books started as a collaborative role-playing play-by-post game, way back when. We got our fears and our hopes, our joys (along with some jollies) and our pain out through our characters. We played with words.
And it was one of the best things that ever happened to me.
I know a lot of terrible things are said about collaboration. It’s one of the reasons we decided to write under a pen-name: we didn’t want the nasty cachet of a co-authored book. And finding that person you just click with is hard work.
But here’s the thing: a healthy collaboration can drive you to heights you didn’t know you could reach.
Here’s the setup:
One bubbly bisexual cis woman. Friendly, outgoing, trained in the sciences. Acts confident to the point of exuberance. Talks faster and faster the happier she is.
Goes home after a setback, hides her face in a pillow and sobs silently. Comes from a family riven with the issues of intergenerational poverty, anxiety-depression issues and genetic disorders. Deals with anxiety that can leave her a shaking mess.
Desperately tries to be good enough in the eyes of those around her.
One thoughtful genderfluid person. Well-read and well-versed in literature. Obliquely sassy. Quietly competent. They can tell you anything you ever wanted to know about a pocketful of fandoms and they know Norse mythology up, down and backwards.
They can tell you what depression feels like. They know how dark it can get behind your eyes. They know that sometimes even the body you’re in seems like the enemy, and the world just asks too much.
Some days they wish the eyes of the world would just stop judging them.
Somehow, these two odd birds met. The chipper girl with the too-bright eyes sat down next to the warily watching person, and started chattering away. And the stories started coming out. Shapeshifters. Other worlds. Grand battles. Wonders.
Telling stories together was a lifeline though shitty jobs, through family problems and bad days. It was a place to dance with words, to stop being ourselves or let some part of ourselves out for some cathartic exercise. Under the auspices of chatting about our games, we celebrated each other’s successes and talked each other through our troubles.
As 2016 grew difficult, the stories we told got a little darker. We worked out our fears on the page. Both of us felt the despair of wanting to do something valuable. Neither of us are built for going to rallies, calling politicians or yelling at political opponents.
We needed to do something real.
So we decided to take what we’d written and turn it in a story that would keep the hopes of the people like us alive.
This is the thing about good collaboration: it’s a way to complement one another’s strengths. Both people in this collaboration found in the other person something they needed.
The girl looked confident, but she never would have had the courage to start getting serious if her buddy hadn’t gotten her into stories she fell in love with.
The person was a great writer, but depression could bring them low for months, unable to put down words that were intended for publication and came weighted with that stress: the exhausting pressure of judgement. They needed that judgement off their backs to enjoy writing again.
The girl had been taught to do ‘important work’ and not to ‘waste time’. She wrote carefully researched non-fiction essays for public consumption. She never would have had the courage to write fiction for sale if her friend hadn’t shown her it was valid.
The person had trouble valuing their work, no matter how much they’d put into it. Old pain and old failure made it hard for them to believe they could ever do work worth publishing. They never would have considered turning the stacks and stacks of roleplays into a serious book if their friend hadn’t grabbed their shoulders and gushed ‘dude, do you realize we have something seriously good here? We could really do something with this!’
Tearmann is actually the Irish Gaelic word for the concept of a safe harbor or sanctuary. And that’s what collaboration can be: a safe place to explore ourselves and our dreams together. A safe harbor. A sanctuary. As we batted first drafts, second drafts and proof reads, cover designs and blurbs back and forth between us, we always knew one thing: No matter what, we were safe to try things. We were safe, in each other’s company.
To readers: if you’re feeling stuck, think about doing some collaboration. What you get out of it might surprise you.
To my co-writer: Thanks. For all of it. I didn’t just get good stories out of this. I got an amazing friend.
And also: Dude! We wrote A Book! We wrote two! We’re working on Book Three!
Dude. We rock!