(adapted from my “No Mystery Here” column in the Grunion Gazette)
Writing is a solitary undertaking. The writer sits in front of a keyboard or notepad for weeks or months on end, accompanied only by a cast of characters whose words and actions spool out of the writer’s imagination one word at a time. With all those fictional folks competing for attention, I can’t say I ever feel lonely when I’m writing, and I do enjoy the process. But when I was invited to join a collaborative writing project with twenty other published authors I was happy for the company.
The invitation came from my good friend Tim Hallinan. Most of us who agreed to participate had worked together last year on “Shaken, Stories for Japan,” edited by Tim, a fundraiser for Japan after the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami in March of 2011. The need in Japan was immediate, the response by forty writers was swift and, via electronic publishing, the book was available to readers within only a few months. Because every author in this brave new age of electronic communication has his or her own collection of followers on Facebook, Twitter, webpages, newsletters and blogs, to name only a few possibilities, the book was well publicized and “Shaken” was a success as a fundraiser. It helped, of course, that the stories are terrific.
I have contributed plenty of stories to anthologies, but I had never before worked on a collaborative project of that sort. I’m not sure there had ever been one exactly like it before.
During the process of assembling and publicizing “Shaken,” a sort of community of writers was created. Tim tapped into that community for a conversation on his blog about the ways that different authors plot their books. The question he asked us was, are you a plotter who outlines before beginning to write, or are you a pantser who writes by the seat of the pants, letting the plot emerge as the story unfolds? What became clear right away was that every author had a different approach, and that collectively what the group had to say would be valuable if expanded into book form. The audience would be both beginning writers who are hoping for advice about strategy, and for the many experienced writers who, like me even after ten books, wonder if they know what they’re doing.
In this zippy age of electronic publishing, just a few months after the conversation began, The Twenty-One Writers Project launched its first book, “Making Story: Twenty-One Writers on How They Plot.” What the title says is what it is: Tim asked us to write about our strategies for “organizing words, people and ideas” to make story. The responses are as varied as the international collection of well-published authors who contributed.
wenty-one authors, twenty-one different strategies for moving a story from concept to publication, all of them interesting, all of them useful. If there is one consistent message, it is that the writer should do whatever works best for him or her. As Somerset Maugham said, “There are three rules for writing, only no one knows what they are.”
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