Wednesday, May 2, 2007

A Perilous Cliff: The Dangers of Couples Writing Together

Well, it’s official. My husband and I, in our—ho ho—spare time, have decided to write a book together. Still in the planning stages, mind you, but Jeff has some very definite ideas about what he wants it to be.

We don’t intend to sit side by side at the computer (although that would be adorable); rather, Jeff will outline all his ideas, I will flesh out a chapter, and then he will mark it up with all of his changes. Sounds okay, right?

But I’m reminded of our first married adventure: hanging wallpaper together. We had, at the time, a giant bedroom in our condominium, and I had chosen a lovely forest green wallpaper with a pattern on it. Later we learned that patterns are deadly: you have to match them, and they have to be straight.

Imagine these scenarios: a couple going to war together, stuck in the same trench while bullets scream past their heads; or maybe a couple trapped in a jungle, being hunted by a wild animal, forced to face inevitable grisly death. Stressful, right? No. Child’s play, compared with hanging wallpaper with your spouse. Between the awful gook we had to dip the long sheets in, the ladder we had to climb, and the little shovels we had to use to smooth out the bubbles—all of which had to be done pronto, before anything dried—there were lots of swear words. Truckers would have blushed and lowered their eyes in the face of the things we were yelling at each other. One of us would decide that the other’s work wasn’t straight, and then the whole sticky, messy thing had to be peeled off the wall and re-gooped. I was practically in tears on several occasions, and halfway through we were pretty sure our marriage was over. Visions of divorce lawyers were dancing in our heads.

Somehow we got the wallpaper up. Somehow it dried and looked okay, and we ended up really liking it. But getting to that point? We almost didn’t make it.

Now I think about writing a book. Is it more difficult than hanging wallpaper? Is it advisable for a couple to attempt this sort of thing? For one thing, I work harder than my husband (which we both admit), and this could immediately become a bone of contention. If we were both animals, I’d be some ambitious creature—a bird, maybe—and my husband would be more like a sloth, or a cat. Something that sleeps all day, or at least reads the paper for long periods of time. In my husband’s mind, tomorrow is always the best time to get something done. In mine, it should have been done yesterday.

Granted, I’ll probably die first because of the stress involved with this mindset, but I’m going to try to have a nice library of books to my name before that happens. My husband joked last night that his tombstone will read, “What’s on TV?”

So the great book experiment should be interesting. Hopefully we won’t have to drag the children in as referees—they can be bought off, I fear, and that won’t help us to accomplish anything.


Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

Hysterical posting, Julia! I can't wait for future postings on your progress with the joint book.

Joe Moore said...

Great post, Julia. As someone who does write with a partner, I predict that someday you'll look back and realize that wallpaper thing was a piece of cake. :-)

Mark Combes said...

Your are indeed a brave soul! My wife and I fight over who vacuums better - you do have to get under the bed as far as the thing will reach I argue.... No way we could do a book together!

Nina Wright said...

Hi, Julia. I wrote my very first (unpublished) novel with the man who is now my ex-husband.

Do you want to hear more?

I was already a working business writer with dozens of produced stage play credits when we decided it would be "fun" to write a novel together. Although I can't remember the precise occasion of that decision, I suspect we may have been drinking.

In the end, completely renovating three homes was much less stressful than sharing the authorship of one novel. But, hey, I learned a few things from that collaboration, and he probably did, too. As far as I know, he has never tried to write anything ever again. And I now work solo. Very productively.

Wishing you love and fun with your fiction!

Nina Wright
Real estate, murder, and one bad dog.

Mark Terry said...

I've always thought it would be cool to work a collaboration, but the couple times I tried to instigate it, I did something that I thought was an important thing--I told the would-be collaborator to bring me something. One for for a novel and I said, hey, write me a rough draft or an outline for the first chapter and we'll go from there. The second, which was a nonfiction book, they were the experts and I was the writer, I said, hey, put together a table of contents and we'll go from there.

Neither partner every did anything, which proved once again that more people talk about writing than actually do it.

Julia Buckley said...

Hey, everyone! Well, I'm not entirely comforted by your posts, but they were funny.

Sue Ann, I'm sure I'll keep ya'll updated--especially whenever I'm frustrated. Joe, I wondered about you and Lynn when I wrote this post, but I thought, hey, it doesn't fully apply, because they're not married--but I guess that doesn't always matter, eh?

Mark C, I know exactly what you mean--Jeff and I also fight over who should get "credit" for a particular thing. How infantile are we?

Nina, that's pretty funny. Hopefully I won't be referring to Jeff as my "first husband" in five years, but Fate is unknowable.

Mark T--I heard a great quote once, which was, "There are people who talk about doing things, and people who do things." We writers, I guess, belong in the latter category, even if we believed in the first one at some point.