by Samantha Simeone and Lillie Hannon*
It’s with just a touch of embarrassment we admit that we met online, specifically at Archive of our Own, which is a hub for fan-works, exchanging comments on each other’s stories about a children’s movie we both felt was lacking in emotional depth. We’d each, in turn, decided to process our dissatisfaction with ‘fix-its’, and though we’d taken different narrative approaches, we were each drawn to the other’s style of writing.
We began sending each other chapters in advance, for proof-reading and story input. We began adopting bits and pieces of each other’s writing styles that resonated with us (more detail here, a little more dialogue there, and a grudging acceptance from one of us that romance was indeed a wonderful genre to explore). What began as back and forth compliments turned into private chatting on social media, which turned into Zoom conversations and suddenly we were in each other’s lives.
So when a chat about the types of stories we loved to tell moved beyond fan-works and into original fiction, we found ourselves with a singular story that we both wanted to tell.
And well, we thought, why shouldn’t we tell it together?
What the story is about we won’t delve much into here. It explores many of the themes that we’ve always adored individually and together. Families finding one another, a sense of belonging, the struggle of a world against you and fighting back for something better. History lovers both, we set it during the Great Depression because who doesn’t love a good old fashioned outside metaphor. What we will say is that writing it has always been a joy. When we eventually brought it to The Writers Circle, we received one of the most unique comments we’ve possibly ever gotten: This sounds like it’s being written by one person!
That was followed up by questions that we hadn’t actually thought much about: How do you do this? Is it difficult to write in one document? What’s the process like?
“We just write together,” we told them. “I’m sure lots of people do it.”
“Not like this,” was the shocked response.
Our routine had become so much like breathing that we rarely considered how different it actually was.
Neil Gaiman tells the story of writing Good Omens with Terry Pratchett, of writing from different continents, in different time zones, of each trying to “beat” the other to the “best bits”, of zipping files and emailing them in the early days of the internet.
Our writing instructor tells us of each writer writing their own individual draft, and then taking the best parts from each and working to meld them together.
Neither approach is the way that, to us, feels endlessly intuitive. In fact, our approach happens without much discussion at all.
I can’t tell you how exactly it happened, but it started with a shared GoogleDoc, and suddenly it was like we were in kindergarten again. You probably remember being on the playground with your friends, shouting back and forth directions about made up games with increasingly complex stories that got wilder and better every recess. It was like that all over again. Google Chat became our shouting, and the document was our playground, and the two of us were making up the story as we went.
“Can I try something?” or “I’m stuck here” were all commonplace. We’d watch the other type along, jumping in with an idea that struck us, or jotting down scenes just below and waiting for the other’s input. We’d assist when the other needed help or throw encouragements through highlighted comments (LOL, that’s great, I love this, oh my god I can’t believe the character just said that!). The only real discussion was about the colors we chose to distinguish our individual sentences (or phrases, or sometimes even just words).
That’s not to say that our process doesn’t have its occasional bumps. We haven’t always agreed on every plot point or character name, and sometimes one or the other is busy for a week when life gets in the way. But these only serve to bring us closer. We have our discussions, we find solutions, and we move forward to bigger and better together.
We obviously can’t promise that this method will work for everyone. It may truly be a bit of serendipity that we happened to fall into something that works for us. Serendipity too that we found one another the way we did. After all, there’s a slim to impossible chance that commenting on a story in a forum filled with thousands upon thousands of writers and stories will land you with a friend for life and a writing partner. Then again, who knows? If you happen to be as lucky as we are to have found a friend with similar passions, who you have engaging conversations about storytelling with, then maybe give it a go!
After all, you can’t tell who wrote what here… can you?
Sam Simeone is currently a stay-at-home mom to one particularly rambunctious six-year-old. Between loads of laundry and soccer practices, she finds time to write, when she’s not fawning over Tom Hiddleston or Pedro Pascal. 😉
Lillie Hannon received her Master’s in Education from Rutgers University and teaches creative writing at The Writers Circle to students in grades 3-8. Her favorite genres are magical realism, comedy, and children’s literature, of course. Her published works include a non-fiction essay for Listen to Your Mother and her short story Cursed, which won first place for the Evelyn Hamilton Award. Lillie also provides academic tutoring at www.lilliehannontutoring.com/.