Co-Writing 101: Great Minds Think.... Distinctly
Someone once profoundly said, “Great minds think alike.” Often that quote is true. Kirsten and I (Marit) have used it innumerable times during our months together as co-writers.
However, I’ve learned that great minds don’t always think alike. Sometimes they think the exact opposite of one another, and that is something for which we should all be thankful. If no one ever had great ideas that were different than those others, all writers would be forever stuck in the muck of unoriginality.
Light is beautiful, is it not? We all appreciate the bright warmth that banishes shadows and illuminates our lives, but we would never come to the knowledge of how wonderful the light was if we didn’t know that darkness existed. A star shines so much more brilliantly when it is set against a coal-black sky. Black and white are polar opposites but without the one we wouldn’t be able to fully grasp the other. The same concept applies to co-writing. Just as the difference between dark and light makes each individually so much clearer, so the differences in Kirsten and I make our work clearer, bring a new understanding to how to write effectively and efficiently, and in the end, make both of us shine brighter. I’ve discovered that you don’t have to be the same as someone else to co-write with them. In fact, it is often better to have differences that complement each other.
Today I’m going to share three ways that Kirsten and I are different, and explain how having individual strengths makes us stronger as a co-writing unit.
1. She stops to smell the roses. I chase butterflies.
In other words, I take an idea and run with it. Kirsten follows along behind, picking up the scraps of paper that fly out of my arms and into the wind behind me. She ties up the loose ends, is unendingly patient, and, if she has to, lassos me and gives me a sharp tug to get me back where I’m supposed to be. I’ve joked before that she should really write a book called “How to Survive an Exuberant Co-author.” I’m positive that it would be a best seller. All great books come from experience in one way or another, and Kirsten has all the experience she needs to write a book on that topic after working with me. I’m constantly jumping ahead, wanting to write the end of the book instead of the next chapter, and coming up with ideas for yet another book. It’s rough. When talking to others we tend to describe our relationship like this:
“Marit is driving a four horse carriage, yelling and snapping the reins to make us go faster, while Kirsten is running along behind with her hands tied to the wheels.”
That word picture emphasizes the difference between us. Kirsten is calm and sensible, making sure that we stay on track and finish what we start. I, on the other hand, make sure that we are always moving forward, a hop, skip, and jump at a time. Both are essential to a cowriting relationship. I like to think about it this way: if we didn’t have me, we’d never start anything new. If we didn’t have Kirsten, we’d never finish anything. We balance each other out. Both butterfly-chasers and rose-smellers hold imperative roles in the world of cowriting.
2. She is inspired by plot. I'm a thematic writer.
What inspires me first is the message behind the story I'm writing. For Mended our theme was showing how God can make beauty out of brokennness. For book two in the series, But Now I See, the theme is spiritual blindness, sight, and trusting God in the midst of fear. Today I'm going to use book three as an illustration for how our book ideas work.
I actually came up with the theme for book three while driving in the car one day. As I rode along, I was contemplating the idea of beauty and worth. I considered how so often people can try to find their identity in how they look or what they can do. It's become a passion of mine to show others that our identity is not found in appearance or activity, but the fact that God created each of us lovingly and for a great purpose. As I was thinking about these things, a book idea came to mind. As soon as I got home I texted Kirsten.
"Guess what? I have an idea!!!"
Her response was, "Oh no."
As I said before, she knows how often I get excited and will run off on the slightest inspiration. But she sat down and listened to me. Plotting is my downfall, and thankfully, it is her strength, so we worked together and using my theme, we did a massive amount of brainstorming and came up with a plot and characters that would work. I never would have formulated an idea half as clearly by myself. Kirsten and I put our strengths and weaknesses together to come up with the entirety of book three. Every book needs plot, characters, and theme, and it's wonderful to have a co-writer whose strengths can complement yours in that planning process.
3. She thinks big picture. I think detail.
As I like to say, “She puts the bones together, and I put the muscle and skin on.” Kirsten didn’t appreciate that image, but it does describe us accurately. Many times we've written a scene or chapter and Kirsten will get all the characters where they are supposed to be going and figure out just how that particular part of the book is going to work. I follow her and embellish the dialogue, add thoughts and reactions, and describe details that add just a little more texture to the feel of the scene.
Imagine it this way: it's almost like seeing a picture of the ocean. You know what the ocean is like: salty, fresh, sandy, etc. But it's only until you actually go to the ocean that you can experience the full crispness of the air, the brisk breeze that whips your towel and blows your hair about, the taste of salt drying on your lips, the cold power of foaming waves crashing about your feet, and the graininess of sand between your toes. You get the picture without the added description. Without the structure and the setting, the description would be meaningless and out of place. However, with the description added onto the "bones" of the scene, you come to a whole new level of experiencing what the words are trying to depict.
In the end, sometimes it's better to be different as co-writers. Kirsten and I don't always think the same. Our value and purpose are the same, but in other ways, we have various views, distinct strengths, and unique weaknesses. We take all of these and put them together to make a co-writing team that covers nearly all the different aspects of writing. Together we conquer plot, detail, characters, exuberance, cool-headedness, theme, and so much more. We can do infinitely more when we are together than we can when we are apart. We each become the background against which the other can shine like a star with her own God-given abilities. When you are looking for someone to write with, whether it be for a short story or a mega novel, keep in mind that sometimes great minds don't think alike. They think distinctly. In my opinion, you can't get a more efficient team than that.