What it’s like to write a column together

By AUDREY HOLT and MORGAN OME | April 27, 2017

Welcome back to the couch; Sorry there’s so little space.

Audrey: So, you might have noticed that there are two of us. Well spotted, and yes, this is nonstandard.

Morgan: You also may be wondering why we structure our column the way we do. Well that’s because, after having decided to co-write, we wanted to take advantage of having two perspectives by letting you see the exchange of ideas play out on paper.

A: Yeah, very true, but even though the final column reads as though we’re just sitting around chatting, we’re not. We actually put quite a bit of effort into staging our ‘conversations.’ I’ll let you in on a secret: We’re not even sitting on a couch right now.

M: Writing together is not without its challenges. Normally, I consider writing to be a solitary activity: something I do in my dorm room with headphones on and zero distractions.

A: Or in a cabin in the woods; It certainly fits the writerly stereotype.

M: And while writing alone can be great, this column has made me realize that writing with a partner can be a rewarding experience too. Being able to brainstorm ideas with another person and having a fresh set of eyes editing my words has definitely made my writing better. I will really miss this column, and Audrey, next year.

A: Oh, come on now, I’m not actually going to disappear. You’re definitely right though. It’s kind of surprising when you think about it, but even when you sometimes have to let go of some of your more idiosyncratic phrases, ideas or obsessions, working side-by-side can be an effective way of digging through all the chaos to figure out what you really think.

(And which of us hasn’t had something to the effect of ‘This seems like a good idea, but is this really the thesis you want it to be?’ written at the end of a paper?)

M: Plus, it’s an interesting way to get to know each other’s voices (s/o to the section title). If one of us is editing alone, we occasionally have to adlib in the other person’s voice to keep the conversation going.

And if one or both of us is lost for words, we can take the opportunity to meet up and talk it out verbally, even sometimes recording what the other person is saying out loud to use as quite literal conversation text.

A: Right, and it’s not as though the final product, edited though it may be, is unlike either of our voices; It’s a fair impersonation of what a conversation on one of these writerly topics might actually look like.

M: And we know this too because Audrey and I are good friends and also do non-column-related activities together. We’ve attended art exhibits and poetry readings.

A: We’ve gone to Dangerously Delicious Pies to take advantage of their date night special! (Can confirm: Pie is dangerously delicious.)

M: We’ve gone to see the Miracle on 34th Street in Hampden during the holidays.

A: We’ve gone to the Farmers’ Market to peruse different stalls and shop for fresh ingredients.

M: I feel like we’ve formed a really tight friendship in addition to our bond as co-writers.

A: That’s very true, I think. And we’ve done nothing so complexly collaborative as Stephen Dunn and Lawrence Raab in their tandem-written chapbook Winter at the Caspian Sea where they each added a pair of lines at a time, only letting the other person see the second of the two they had added.

M: Wow, that’s quite unusual. It must also involve an extreme sense of trust between the two poets.

A: Definitely, but maybe not as unusual as you think. Sure, the stereotype of writerly solitude probably has a grain or two of truth in it, but the other side of it, the getting-together-with-your-friends-to-share-poetry-rants-and-pie side, can also be quite important.

And Dunn and Raab aren’t even the only two writers to have gone in for a co-written collection: Lace & Pyrite: Letters from Two Gardens is an exchange of poems as letters between Aimee Nezhukumatathil and Ross Gay spanning four seasons.

M: I’m not ready to commit to that level of collaboration. It does sound like an enjoyable but challenging process. So as we sign off on our very last column, we’d like to encourage everyone to try their hand at co-writing in some form.

A: Bye, y’all. There’ll be an open space on the couch next year, if anyone wants to jump into the conversation.

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