This is the first update from Joseph Lewis, chief instigator of the collaborative project, “The Drifting Isle Chronicles.” We first heard from Joe when he was introducing the project, and we have since heard from Charlotte English, one of the writers of this project. In this update, Joe shares how the project is progressing and what the team’s up to.
Thanks, Scott, for giving me a chance to check in with you and your readers to talk about our shared world novel series, “The Drifting Isle Chronicles!” Over the last two months, we’ve made a lot of progress that I’m happy to report on.
First, after we finished our initial brainstorming and decision-making, we started putting all of our notes together on a private wiki site. This included pages on characters, settings, cultures, creatures, machines, and magics, as well as our discussions on each topic in order to share ideas and solve problems. And this process was actually very quick because we were all very excited to get started and we could work “together” at any time, which is good because we’re spread out across the USA and Europe.
After that initial burst of activity, we fell quiet, but this was not a surprise. We knew from the beginning that many of us were already in the middle of our own personal novels and series, and those projects would need time and energy too. So during this “pause” we were publishing and promoting four new novels: Wren the Fox Witch and Son in Sorrow and The Rostikov Legacy and LA Nocturne II.
Then we got busy again and started writing our drafts, and we decided to post our works-in-progress to an online wiki site, Mediawiki, so we could continue to share and discuss them. We even edit each other’s work online because the wiki lets us view changes very easily, like Track Changes in Microsoft Word (only it’s shared!).
Of course, we don’t simply dive in and make changes to each other’s stories. We discuss the changes first, and then usually the editor makes changes to a character or scene so that it will mesh better with the editor’s novel, and vice versa. For example, I asked Charlotte to edit the dialog in one of my chapters so that her character would remain “in character” during her cameo appearance.
Also, I began sending out status emails to the group every two weeks so we could all report our word count and any issues we needed to discuss. For example, I would say that I had 20,000 words written and that I needed Coral to look at my Chapter 7 and Charlotte to look at my Chapter 9 because I had appearances by their characters. And everyone replies with their own status and needs as well.
Right now, we’ve all made a solid start on our books and we’re doing some more brainstorming and world-building (we’re inventing a language!), but I think we’ll be finished with that in a week or so and then we’ll all be back to work again. In the meantime, I’m keeping busy by writing another new novel in the middle of my project novel!
The thing I’m happiest of all to report is that we’re all still excited about this project. We even interrupt brainstorming sessions just to comment on how cool the project is, or how much we’re enjoying working together. The challenges have all been minor and the team has been excellent at communicating and sharing and cooperating, and I believe we are well on our way to delivering a fantastic new fantasy series later this year.
While this isn’t a shared story world project (Joe is not accepting submissions from the public), the Drifting Isle team is facing many of the same challenges of successfully building an SSW. Thanks to Joe for sharing the real, behind-the-scenes details of this project, as it’s proving to be a nice case study for SSW creatives. Here’s my take on it so far.
First of, I’m thrilled the project continues to move along at all. Maintaining momentum on these kinds of projects is difficult, and it’s a statement about the writers’ professionalism and commitment to see them sticking to a schedule and a process.
Second, this particular project demonstrates some general approaches that all SSW creatives should heed: the need for a proper set of collaborative tools, appropriate communication policies, and some good old-fashioned project management. Joe is operating as the project manager: identifying issues early and resolving them quickly, mapping out a schedule and holding people to it, establishing the tone for the project and constructing a space conducive for both creativity and productivity. And, as I alluded to above, he appears to have done an excellent job vetting the other members of the group. In other words, he “hired” the right team, and he’s showing a great ability to lead/manage.
Third, another factor contributing to this group’s success is its view that this is very much a business proposition, not just a creative lark. Each writer retains ownership over their individual novel, so their individual monetary success rests solely on their ability to craft a ripping good yarn. 100% risk, 100% reward. Yes, they will all benefit from come collective marketing, but at the end of the day, the readers will say which novels they like and which they didn’t.
Fourth, my sense is the writers are enjoying both sides of the creative process for this project. On one hand, they’re all essentially writing their own tales versus doing some kind of story-by-committee. This is the participatory storytelling and collaborative world building distinction I believe is critical for SSWs. On the other hand, they clearly enjoy the interaction and collaborative process of building the world and editing each other’s works. It’s a ready-build writer’s group, and they’re having a lot of fun!
So here’s my bullet-list take-away summary:
* Identify the right tools and processes appropriate for your project
* “Hire” the right team
* Communicate often but effectively
* Writing for money is a business venture as well as a creative venture
* Have fun!
There’s still a long way to go for the Drifting Isles project, and while it could still derail before their launch, I think the safe bet is on them succeeding!