I’m Dave, and I help edit these blog posts.
This isn’t a new approach for Katja and me. We first developed it when writing a song together for a charity album. Later I coached her through a big piano audition, and gave her advice when she first started modeling and wasn’t sure what to do.
I didn’t know how to do these things myself (I barely play piano; I’m not a model), but I’d act confident, and give the best advice that I could from an audience member’s perspective. What value did the work give? What did I learn or enjoy? If she didn’t have confidence, she could lean on mine. I wasn’t an expert but I was asking hard questions and that was moving her forward. There’s probably a name for this kind of teamwork philosophy, but between us, we called it “audacious bullshit.”
So like many projects discussed on this blog, we started out by making it up as we went.
Our early editing sessions were pretty harsh. Katja would send me an essay that had its heart in the right place, but wasn’t quite sure how to say what it wanted to say. I would read it over, try and figure out what it was really about, and send it back to her with recommendations. These recommendations generally fell into two categories. “Strategic,” soul-searching probing questions about what the post was really about, and “tactical” edits where I thought the structure was there but the wording wasn’t doing it any favors.
This all took a fair bit of time and energy. Time because there was a lot to talk about, energy because improving an essay is a puzzle. It meant trying to put myself in her shoes, getting inside her head a bit. Trying to tease out what her real point was - often it was something more fundamental than what was actually on the page by that point. Once we had discovered it, we tried to think like a reader. What would stick with us? What would impress us more? If we had just read this essay over lunch, would it have been worth our time?
It took both of us, and it wasn't uncommon to spend entire evenings on these edits. This isn't an indictment of Katja's writing - quite the opposite. Usually she was most of the way there, but when your head's that far into a project sometimes you need some new perspective to get through the roadblocks. I think most worthwhile writing gets done this way. My job was to provide this in as much detail as possible. This gave her some new angles to work from, and some traction to work with.
It’s important to remember that we weren’t really writing collaboratively. Katja is the writer, I’m more like an opinionated consultant. At most I’d reword sentences or suss out hidden intentions, but she was responsible for coming up with ideas in the first place and she ultimately had the final say.
Unsurprisingly, this process sped up after a couple of months as we began to see patterns in our changes. For example, I’d often catch something that didn’t “flow” right for me as a reader, and we’d spend a while juggling ideas about how best to present it. But the final wording almost always came from her, seemingly out of thin air. We eventually realized that the discussion wasn’t that useful; she could fix it just fine on her own, I just had to point at what needed fixing!
Something else was happening, too. I spent less and less time reconsidering positions, until most of my work was just spotting awkward sentences. I didn’t need to make as many “strategic” edits because the essays didn’t really need them. Katja was maturing as a writer.
Katja has updated this blog once per week without fail since last July. In that time I’ve read and edited every one of these essays, save for one of the recent ones when I wasn’t available. I won’t tell you which (does it matter?). The point being, as wonderful as it is to not work in a vacuum, in a pinch she pulled it off. I don’t think she could have done that when she started; she learned that sometime this year.
Audacious bullshit is surprisingly effective. If you don’t know how to become a model, or a blogger, or anything creative, but you want to be, dive in and try it anyway. Bring a friend. Ask what you could do better, and how it is working. Put yourself in your audience’s shoes. What are you giving them? Do they like it? Could you do better? If so, try that next time.
Keep it up, and I imagine you’ll see yourself grow. This seems to work for Katja and me, so we intend to continue it. How are we doing?