Vision: A Resource for Writers
Lazette Gifford, Editor
Holly Lisle's Vision

The Art of Collaboration – 
a two-part article

By Dawn E. Greenlee and James Kenneth Mills 

2001, Dawn E. Greenlee and James Kenneth Mills   

The Art of Collaboration, Part 1 

By Dawn E. Greenlee

A fine art indeed it is.  One might equate collaborating to a juggling act.  Jim and I are a well-balanced team with our skills supporting each other.  For example, I am very good at world building, plotting, and characterizations, but my prose is at times not sufficient to the task.  Jim is weaker than I on world building and plotting, but he is an outstanding writer -- at least in my opinion.  He is able to turn my mumbled, scrawled and fragmented ideas into a readable whole.

But you need more then complementary technical skills in collaboration, whether in writing or anything else.  You need individuals who are flexible and able to handle the criticism that is required in order to work together.  You have to be willing to accept your flaws and grow from your mistakes.  For our novel, Lord of Change, we did one major rewrite and a host of editing sweeps  where we deleted or changed things in our book.  This was, at times, cause for heated discussions on the why's of it all.  But out of this I have seen improvement in both my poor writing skills and Jim's ability to develop plots and world build.  For both of us it has been a learning experience.

There are additional difficulties that make this a juggling act.  You also have to consider personal relationships between the collaborators, as well as their working conditions, because you are going to spend a lot of time with your collaborator, and this can be stressful on your personal relations.  For Jim and me, our biggest challenge in this is that he is married and I am not.  So I have very careful not to impose on his time with his wife -- either directly or indirectly.  By this I mean, you have to be able to force a quitting time when you know that you've been at it too long, even though you are on a roll and don't want to stop.    Or, since I work a day job from 6am to 2pm and am on call 24/7, there are times I have to stop, since I don't have the luxury of a partner who can support me while I write.

So as you work with your collaborator, consider these issues, because all of them will impact your ability to work together -- some in a positive and some in a negative way.   I personally think that collaborations are an excellent way to work because, as it is said, 'Two heads are always better then one'.

-- Dawn Greenlee


The Art of Collaboration, Part 2 

By James Kenneth Mills

Jim's #1 rule of collaborating: Friendship first.  Don't let conflicts over the story destroy your friendship with your collaborator.  Always, always keep in mind that you are working with a friend to tell a story and the story is not (usually) as important as your friendship.  You will have disagreements about how to handle things.  Always consider your partner's points fairly, and that if one of you feels very strongly about something, then that's the way to go.  You need to consider and understand the reasons for wanting to 'do it' a certain way.  Most disagreements fade when the reasons are examined and understood. 

Holly has an excellent article on "How To Collaborate -- And How Not To"

Here's the link: 

Scroll down to the list of the seven absolute minimum number of things you need to agree on, in writing, before you start your project.  Review the list often.  And make sure you and your partner understand and agree on each point.  Get it written down and sign your names to it. 

As examples, here are how Dawn and I have our collaboration agreement (the numbered paragraphs are from Holly's article): 

1. Who owns each character and the universe you have created (or each part of it), and whether either of you has the right to do solo works in the universe or whether it can only be used for collaborative ventures. 

Jim has exclusives to characters Jack (Chance/Kesu in Dragons of the East) and to Kim (Secret Psychics) and Dawn has exclusives to Astra (in Dragons of the East) and Garth (Secret Psychics).  Other characters are for both writers, though each of us has some voice in whatever happens to them.  LoC and SP universes are shared.  We have often written scenes involving our characters; many such scenes will never see print -– they were written for character and/or plot development as we worked on ideas.

2. What each of you may and may not do to characters owned by the other? 

Anything we do (to characters owned by the other) has to be agreed on before doing it.  For example, the main character in Lord of Change is Chance, a shape shifter.  Part way through the book, he dies... and is reborn (hatched) as a dragon.

3. Who gets final edit on the manuscript or manuscripts, or if this will change from book to book, how you will determine in advance who will get final edit each time. (And I'm telling you right now, you cannot both have final edit. Only one person can ever have the last word. Figure out before you type the first word who that person is going to be.) 

Jim normally gets final edit, but Dawn gets to comment, which may result in more changes.

4. How you will divide the work itself. 

We agreed to share expenses and any income 50-50.  Dawn handles much of the character, plot and world building.  Jim puts the words down on paper.

5. What will happen to the universe and its characters if one or both of you want to drop out. 

We have agreed that if one of us drops, then the other may continue.

6. How you will resolve differences if one of you does work that the other deems unacceptable, inappropriate, or simply wrong for the world. 

We agree to discuss differences, our reasons for wanting things certain ways, and we agree to work to find ways to resolve disputes in a friendly manner.

7. Whose name will go first on the cover. It's going to have to be the same one every time, so figure it out now. 

Originally, we were going to write as "Dawn E. Greenlee and James Kenneth Mills" but, in light of how big corporate bookstores handle book purchases (a topic for another article), we have recently decided, at Holly's suggestion, to write our collaborative books under the pseudonym of "Mills Greenlee".

We recently held a workshop on collaborating.  The log for that workshop is on the Class Transcripts Board: 

Transcript: Collaboration Workshop 07-23-2001: 

I hope this article clarifies some things and helps you in any collaborations you undertake.  Good luck and keep writing!

-- James Kenneth Mills