Writing together

A fairly complex follow-up to my 6/30 posting “54 years of chamber music and more” (about Virginia Transue’s book on chamber music at Auburn University), responding to VT’s protests, in e-mail to me, about my posting’s failure to credit her collaborator in the project. I shot back to her with some asperity:

I can scarcely give credit to your collaborator if nothing you you have posted publicly mentions the existence of such a person, nor is he named anywhere in what you have said publicly. Perhaps he wishes to remain anonymous, and I can deal with that in what I say; he can be X. But I can’t credit him if nothing you’ve said publicly mentions even his existence.

And then went on, more constructively, to observe that there are (at least) three ways in which two people can work together to create a book and to speculate on which of these was at work in the chamber music book. I will now amplify.

Three ways.

— Way 1: X is a ghostwiter, creating the book from interviews with a source, perhaps amended by notes written by the source. Most ghostwriting is completely invisible, though occasionally a book will credt the ghostwritier with tag to the title “as told to X”.

— Way 2: X is a genuine co-author with another writer; they collaborate together, passing drafts back and forth between them, revsing the text as they go along. I have done a great deal of co-writing in my career.

— Way 3: a writer creates a text, which is then submitted to a literary editor, who suggests revisions to improve the exposition. There are famous literary editors, like Maxwell Perkins; they are deft masters at what they do, but if they’re credited at all in the final piece, it’s in a thank-you in the acknowledgments page of the published book (but often they’re invisible in the book). I have several times been well-served by literary editors.

There are more, but these are the big 3, and I suspect what X did for you was to act as your literary editor. (I happen to think that literary editors deserve more explicit credit than they usually get, but many prefer to stay in the background.)

VT clarifies things. On 7/10:

We have called our product a COMPILATION, the amount of actual text being quite limited. The programs and musicians, plus as many photos as we could shoehorn in, comprise  108 pages. So to say that we AUTHORED it seems a stretch, somehow.  We just assembled a fascinating body of info and presented it.

I also did not realize I had not given you a name.  Craig Bertolet is my cohort, and once I had 54 stacks of documents laid out the length of my living room and dining room he came over and we spent a lot of time deciding what all that material WANTED US TO DO WITH IT.

It fell into place as
— 1 How We Began,
— 2 whom we have heard,
— 3 Whom we have nurtured and how we have served our community (concerts at the art museum, by music faculty and players from nearby cities, and some who were visiting the Auburn music department.
— 4 what  we learned and what we remember (backstories)
— 5 where we are now, and  thanks to all who have helped us pulled all this off.

So, in tandem we did pretty much  the same amount of work.  I would do layout and ask him what needed tweaking. I would beg for him to edit sentences I was not happy with, and he would make them elegant. I did all  the dealing with the printer, not having a demanding day job and all, and would send him proofs as they were ready

So I guess you would call us a classic category 2 example. Our minds work alike en generale,  and when one of us would say “how ‘bout….” , almost always the other would say “YESSSS.” Jolly good fun.

Writers of non-fiction, including academic writing of all kinds, often have the feeling that the material they’re assembled has a kind of voice of its own, telling you how it wants to be framed and presented — just as writers of fiction often find that their characters are inclined to take over the narrative, taking you where they want to go. Yes, it’s kind of spooky, like being inhabited by other beings.


One Response to “Writing together”

  1. Virginia Transue Says:

    Exactly so—-the material not only drove the content of the book, it drove its FRAME OF MIND, if you will. Its tone, its flavor. Free of pedantry. I also thought of how fictional characters sometimes take over from the writer!
    Thanks, Arnold—-

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: