I've been asked to blog about collaborative writing, what kind of a beast is it, how to do it, how not to do it, and if it's a good idea to do it at all. Before you read any more, however, know this, I only have experience creating flash fiction sprees on my blog like the one about Easter Bunny Apocalypse (20 writers participated) or Bloody Santa vs Zombie Siren (10 writers participated) or quick flash fiction exercises like compiling a story out of tweets between two writers in real time, like Turtle, Sloth, and Dust Bunny. I also wrote a script for a short movie together with another writer and collaborated on converting stories into scripts and back. Apart from this, I don't have experience writing a book together with another writer, like Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett did in Good Omens, for example. Here is a good list of books written by 2 authors or more, for your viewing pleasure. I will speculate, of course, on what it would be like. Writers are professional speculators, after all. With this in mind, if you're still here and still reading, let me give you what I do know and what could hopefully help you decide whether to collaborate with another writer or not.
Writing together is like jumping into temporary marriage. Imagine for a second that the person you want to write together with is a complete stranger, and with this complete stranger you will have to air our your darkest laundry, your deepest pains and memories, your most sacred ideas. You will have to become vulnerable, lower your defenses, and embrace any feedback from the other writer as your own. Can you do it? It's a scary prospect, isn't? From what I've read, successful collaborations were possible either between long-time friends or spouses. Writing is such an intimate act that it's impossible to get naked enough with someone who might mistake your openness for weakness, your beautiful scars for ugliness. And that will kill your creativity on the spot. Another thing about writing is the need to keep the passion alive, to write fast while the idea is hot and pliable, before any trace of doubt crosses either one or the other writer's mind and cools it down, makes it go stale, or, worst of all, renders it suddenly boring and uninteresting. It's hard to battle self-doubt alone, imagine how hard it would be to battle it with another person, or two, or three, or ten. On the other hand, collaboration may be just that fire that will keep fueling your inspiration, but only in the case of mutual understanding, like that in... err... a marriage.
In a pair, there is always 1 writer and 1 editor. In a pack, always 1 leader. From what I know, no matter how equally people strive to share their writing duties between themselves, it seems like one person takes on a bulk of writing, and the other person acts more like an editor. This is in the case of two people collaborating. As soon as you introduce more people, one person has to stay as the leader of the pack, to give direction to people, kind of act like a director of a movie, or a the mastermind of the whole thing. This is what I did with 20 writers, prodding everyone, keeping everyone on track, sending written material to everyone, and keeping the fire aflame by becoming a cheerleader of sorts. The trick to keep so many people interested and organized is to be very clear and firm. I have watched the excitement bubble all the way throughout my flash fiction experiments and watched it spark and fizz out when people from the same group tried to do similar types of projects, including me as a writer and not as a leader. People created Facebook groups that died, sent out emails that didn't get answered, etc. I wondered why it happened, and decided it's because we, writers, are used to work on our own, that when collaborating, we need someone to steer us. There needs to be a base, a foundation on which to rely on, and it has to be solid. A solid person who is always there, always accessible, always excited. It's a hard job, but it pays off. Collaborating on writing is not about pride, it's about supporting each other's weaknesses to be stronger together. So if you're better at editing, yield the bulk of writing to another writer, or if you are collaborating with more than 2 people, choose a pack leader ahead of time.
No idea is a bad idea when writing together. The beauty of writing with someone is that suddenly you have a warm body to bounce ideas off of, and it's an amazing thing that can lead to rich stories, if only you agree that any idea has merit, no matter how crazy or outlandish it sounds. Every big awesome amazing writer has said something similar about writing the first draft fast, to keep the passion flowing, to keep the imagination flowing, and so on. When it comes to collaboration, this is true like never before. If everyone agrees to just go with the first thing that comes to mind and not slow down, the results will be astounding. When 20 writers (the largest number I ever attempted to round up to write one story) sent each other their writing, because this was a quick flash fiction project and they had nothing to lose, they jeered and squealed and clapped their hands like little kids. In other words, they had a blast and it seemed like creative energy was doubling and tripling and multiplying. As soon as someone slowed down, however, or doubted this thing or the other in the story, the excitement started cooling off, and we eventually lost a few people who fell out of the race. This only confirms what every big reputable successful writer said already: write it out while it's hot, using your heart as a guide. In other words, go mad! The head will come into play later, in the 2nd draft, and the 3rd, and so forth. Will you be able to agree to every mad idea having merit and not question each other? You have to have the right people to agree to this.
So, to conclude, from my experience, collaborative writing is both exhilarating and exhausting. It's something you have to go into willingly and expect being filled with amazing energy and being gutted completely empty at the same time. I can tell you that after collaborating and after going to writer's groups, I chose to write alone. I'm a hermit, and a stubborn one at that. What about you? Have you written jointly with anyone? Got any wisdom to share?