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Story Behind the Story #46: Never Mind!

My twin sister, Emily Wortis Leider, is also a writer. An often published poet, she is a biographer as well, publishing books about such screen luminaries as Valentino and Mae West. Once I suggested that she write a biography of me. I even suggested the title, The Autobiography of my Twin Brother, with Corrections by Him. She responded like any good sister would: “I have better uses of my time.”

I shared that story with my writer friend, Rachel Vail.  Her response was; “I’ll write a book with you.”

Thus began our book project, Never Mind!, a story about twins.

Never Mind!

Neither of us had worked with another writer on such a project so we had to set up some rules.

(I was living in Colorado, she in New York City. This would have been impossible to do without e-mail.) We would write alternate chapters and send them on. I started off. Once I (or she) wrote a chapter, we sent it to the other, and then rewrote—back and forth—until we were set. Then we moved forward.

Rule number one: There would be no arguments, no, “You took out my favorite line!” Rule number two, each of us worked at our own speed, each worked with what the other had done or redone.

Nor was there an overall outline, but each moved the plot forward, as we saw fit, and shaped it accordingly. This constant back and forth meant that it was impossible to know who wrote what—truly joint authorship. I recall Rachel saying it was like the story of Rumpelstiltskin, in which you set out your partially made shoes at night, and then opened the door to find them finished.

At a certain point we spoke on the phone, and agreed on the final plot direction. The speed of the exchanges increased until we had the book. In the last couple of weeks, the book went back and forth on a daily basis.

At that point an editor—Elise Howard—joined in, thus making this a three-handed project.

To other writers, I heartedly recommend doing this with one crucial caveat: You must have complete confidence in the other writer. Obviously you have to discuss the book as you go forward, but NEVER, NEVER argue.

Final word: Rarely have I had such fun writing a book.

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