Hah! Got you there, didn’t I? Creepy mental picture, isn’t it? I don’t give a damn how buff someone is, Speedo wearing is just wrong. All right, remember this?
So, I was going to title this “Writing and the Swim Team” comparing my time on my high school swim team to writing with a partner. I was going to make the comparision how that even though you are part of a “swim team” what really matters (in the grand scheme of things) is your individual times for your individual races. The only time you are ever on a “team” is when you’re smacking the slow a**hole’s foot in front of you in practice or when you’re forced together for a 200 yard freestyle relay. Wherein, of course, you’re the only person who manages to get a 28 second 50 yard free and everyone else clocks in at 30 or 31 or, God forbid, 32 seconds.
Nevermind the fact that you almost killed yourself two races before, clocking in a 500 yard freestyle at 6:51:00, even though your partner at the other end dropped the counter three laps in, and the ONLY REASON you came back to the swim team was because you were begged and told that the girl’s team was crap without you. And nevermind that you were supposed to magically carry them to State that year with only three months of practice under your belt, while everyone else had six.
I’m not bitter.
Before you think that writing with someone is as horrible a picture as I’m painting, it’s not. Honestly and truly, it’s not. It’s fun, it’s frustrating, it’s a learning experience, but it’s not horrible. The real allusion I was making comparing the two was simply; even though you are “partners” the real goal is very personal, geared toward YOUR story rather than a joint effort on a single book.
If you don’t, you should. I just posted it yesterday. Why am I drudging up old memories? Well, because it’s come to my attention that I might not have been quite as clear as I wanted to be. You see, I think I’m devilishly clever and funny. The reality is, I’m really not. Yesterday I went off on a tangent, and while it brought up fond memories for me, it might have confused the hell out of the rest of you.
Let me be clear; writing with a partner is in no way horrible or like how I described my swim team experience. It’s not. It’s an experience that comes with its own particular challenges and frustrations and rewards. The “team” bit is what I was trying to get at.
Swimming, in of itself, is very much a solo act. They call it a “swim team” because you are, in fact, on a team. I was on a twenty-something strong swim team with girls and guys. The latter was a headache and the former a bunch of drama queens as a cluster of girls is wont to be. One of the reasons I quit in my junior year, not to return until three months into the senior swim season. That, and I hated my swim coach. Nearly drowned her, too. But she started that. Anyway. If you don’t know anything about swimming or swim meets outside of the Olympic events, let me just say that they are a ton of fun. It’s a lot of pressure and very, very cold water, and speedos, but the rush from competition is SO worth freezing your arse off. The meets are divided into individual events:
50 yard freestyle
100 yard freestyle
500 yard freestyle
50/100 yard butterfly
50/100 yard breaststroke
100 yard medley (breaststroke, backstroke, freestyle, butterfly)
and “team” or “relay” events:
200 yard freestyle relay
400 yard medley
My coaches were not the best in the world. I hated all of them, except maybe Rhett. He was an ass, but a good coach. Maybe I hated him, I really don’t remember. He took me under his wing and drilled the 500 yard freestyle into my head. It’s because of him I ended my senior year with a 6:51:00 and, even though freestyle is no longer my strong stroke (I’m more of a backstroker now) it’s because of his training that I was able to maintain an 8:30:00 400 metre P.T. test in the Navy. My coaches were much more focused on the individual events, cultivating us as though we were sheep in order to give them the greatest chance of making it to State, year after year, the relay events were very nearly forgotten. Their line of thinking was this; trim down the individual’s time to bring down the collective “relay team’s” time. For example; four girls with a 50 yard freestyle sprint of around 28 seconds would amount to a 200 yard freestyle relay time of 2:48:00 allowing for a +/- of a second and a half between them. I only know this, because that’s what my girl’s team was trying to beat for three years and why I’m so bitter about coming back in my senior year.
Apparently prom was much more important than smashing a record and getting to State. Again, I’m not bitter.
A 30 second 50 yard freestyle is suicide. 32 seconds is license for murder.
So, through three years I was under the gun to consistently perform to a 28 second freestyle. And by the grace of whatever God decided to give me the DNA for broad shoulders, and a competitive streak a mile long, I did it. Again and again I did it. I was damn good at it. In the lanes I would smack the slow a***hole’s foot in front of me and get him to get the hell out of my way. Sadly, for all of my efforts, my coach’s line of thinking was incorrect. They put too much emphasis on individual times, and only allowed the selected relay teams to practice a week or two before our actual meets. Not enough time for us to get the feel of each other, and to learn each other’s stroke and the cues needed to set us off the starting block to the best advantage of the entire team. We never broke that record and I continue to begrudge them that.
So, what does this have to do with writing? In what universe would a speedo ever have anything to do with a #2 pencil, or *gasp* a keyboard?
Writing is very much a solo act. And perhaps, one of the loneliest professions out there. The mark of a good story is one that sucks you in from the opening chapter and never lets you go until you don’t even remember why you started reading the thing in the first place. It’s something all authors aspire to create. Whether they do or not is completely subjective to the reader. A writing “partner” or “team” is very much like a swim “team”. Have you ever wondered why authors take the time to acknowledge others on the very last page of their book? Because, while writing is solo (in that you are the one writing your book) there are a whole slew of other people who spit, shine, and polish the book up into the finished product you see on Borders shelves and Amazon.com. It takes a team to make a book, though it might not seem like it.
In my particular case, my writing partner is across the puddle in Maryland. So, while we are “partners” we are not physically near each other. To me, the reference still applies. We write together, but separately. She has Shaman and her Fallen series while I’m writing Old Ipswich Road in between a comic book and waitressing. We come together as two people an ocean apart can. She sends me stuff for Shaman and more recently, Fallen and the vignettes that go on the webpage while I’m working on finishing the comic book. I try to send her Ipswich but such is the predicament of the story that I can’t.
Why the partnership? What the hell does it have to do with anything?
A writing partner is not there to write your story for you. Much like a swim “team” can’t win an individual event for you. However, unlike my relay team, a writing partner gets to know your writing style and through that, what does and does not work for your story. The latter is due to repeated readings and shelling out of criticism. Much like close proximity for extended periods of time brings out the worst (and the crazies) in people, repeated exposure to the same chapters breeds familiarity with the story. Partners are there to bounce ideas off of and talk a plot line through until the end, pointing out what works and what doesn’t. A good partner will sit patiently and let you scream, rant, rave and yes, cry when something doesn’t go your way or when you’ve had to delete a favorite chapter. I had an incident with Scrivener that Shiri patiently sat through even though I bit her head off. Something I’m still sorry for. Well, that and the whole not realizing that Shaman actually had an ending, but that’s another blog post. One I think I will title; the dangers of not bringing things up when you’re editing someone else’s book. Maybe a bit shorter than that, and more clever.
So, if you are writing a book, or want to write a book; it’s not a bad idea to have a writing partner. There’s a supersition about putting your story out there to the public. If you tell someone what your story is about, it’s doomed to fail. I haven’t found this to be the case. Ultimately, you are in charge of the direction your story takes, a writing partner is there to bring fresh eyes and make suggestions. You can’t rely on them to write your story. They’re not going to. They will, unlike my girl’s relay team, be there for you the best way they know how, until the end when some big name publisher has a eureka moment looking at your book.
And with that, I see it’s time for me to get going. So, hike up your speedos, gents! We’re going writing!
Until next time!