Creative collaboration is a fine art -- just ask this week's featured players on our 15 Minutes of Fame column, married co-authors Clay and Susan Griffith. You can frame a lot of the background stuff that goes into successful teamwork, but suffice it to say that when it works, it just works. This week, we take a letter from a reader who wants to know how the Drama Mamas pull off downing the drama without creating their own tug-of-war behind the scenes.
Greetings, Ms Torres!
You and Lisa Poisso collaborate on the WoWinsider column Drama Mamas. (Yes, I really don't have to TELL you that, but it helps in framing my question...) I am wondering, what kind of process to you two use for coordinating your column.
I'm guessing that the two of you don't want to come out with essentially the same comments as the other, or you'd not have two separate takes. But on the other hand, I guess that you wouldn't necessarily want to be in each other's pockets before you got your own thoughts down, lest you succumb to group-think.
So... in preparing a column, do you two ... what, exchange your respective column segments for the other's review? Talk the letter over before - or after - writing a first draft of your respective segment? Peer over the other's shoulder at the screen and snicker at misspellings? Who chooses the letter-of-the-week? And have either of you wanted to throttle the other over some issue raised by a reader letter? (Even a little?)
Drama Mama Lisa: Thanks for writing in, Melvin! Rest assured (or sorry to disappoint -- depending on whether you were hoping for backstage drama or not, heh), there's no throttling involved. Robin and I see eye-to-eye on almost every issue we run across. Time and experience really are the keys here. Both of us are old enough to be moms to many of our readers, and we've both played MMOs for years and years and years now. After that much water under the bridge, you gain a certain perspective that makes sorting things out in a way that's fair to all the kids on the playground feel natural.
In truth, the most challenging part of writing together is coming up with dissenting opinions -- after all, it's pretty boring if all the second writer does is nod and agree with the first. Sometimes we engineer dividing up certain aspects of a reply (especially when we're more in agreement than not), but more often things remain organic. I have a feeling that I come from the devil's advocate perspective a little more strongly and frequently than Robin does, but neither of us ever contributes anything we don't believe is solid advice and stand behind 100%.
We used to bat preparing the column back and forth every week, but now that I'm mostly focused on editorial duties here at WoW Insider, Robin usually takes charge of the actual "writing." (This week's actually an exception; Robin's dentist dropped a grounding effect right on top of her, and my Leap of Faith is on cooldown.) If we see letters go by during the week that look especially timely, we'll forward them to each other with much anticipatory chittering; more usually, Robin picks something from our submissions, sends it to me, and I either agree or we fish for something a little different.
Robin usually answers letters first, then sends me the letter and her answer. At that point, my priority is to see if I can offer a counterpoint -- if not an outright disagreement, then at least an alternative viewpoint or strategy. The more options we can give readers, the better! I pitch the whole thing back to her, and she ties up any loose ends and puts the whole thing together for publication.
We used to go back and forth a little bit after our initial replies to review one another's responses and "edit" things. We're so cozy with the process now, though, that we just slide in and tweak things as needed, letting the other know if we change something so dramatically that a new angle or comment might be in order. I'm responsible for copyediting the piece anyway, so once Robin gets everything put together and then I copyedit it, we've both had plenty of opportunity for tweaks.
I suspect I'm the wrong person to ask about the whole "wanting to throttle her" thing ... I've been a writer so long that when Robin says something I vehemently disagree with, I'm absolutely delighted at the opportunity for a juicy debate! Any throttling is more usually tied to reader comments; I love it when readers disagree with what we've said (more opinions mean more options for the letter writer, right?), but I get completely frustrated with commenters who misrepresent what the letter writer or Robin and I wrote and twist things to their own short-sighted end. (But even those comments are educational, as they're pretty clear manifestations of the commenters' own issues and rationalizations.) What really steams me is when we hear back from letter writers themselves who then share some key detail that they "neglected" to mention in their original letter -- and which changes the whole tenor of the situation. In those cases, I think throttling could definitely be the order of the day ...
Drama Mama Robin: Since I've been doing the letter choosing for a little bit now, I'll talk about that part of the process. I read every Drama Mamas email as it comes in. If they're long, I'll just skim to get the gist of it -- but I find it really important to at least know what each one is about. I use Gmail, so I'll star the ones that seem like they might be interesting to go back to. Here are some of the criteria I use (though there are no hard and fast rules here):
- Has it been nagging at me since I read it? I find that if a topic keeps popping into my head without my trying to think about it, it will usually turn out to be a great topic to tackle.
- Which one is the most topical? For Valentine's Day, for example, I picked out four letters and sent them to Lisa, who narrowed them down to the two we chose for the Friday before and the one right after.
- Am I completely at a loss for an answer? Rather than ignore the really tough ones, I like to tackle those as soon as possible. Every problem has at least one solution, and the ones that seem completely impossible at first are often the most fun to ponder.
- Is it a topic that needs a refresh? When the Dungeon Finder was first released, Lisa and I spent weeks dealing with all the drama it caused. But that was a while ago, and PUGs are still causing drama, which is why we addressed the issue again last week. So just because we've covered something before doesn't mean we won't answer a similar letter later.
We get so many letters that we can't answer all of the ones that fall into the above criteria, unfortunately. If you would like a better chance of getting your issue on Drama Mamas, here are a few tips:
- Keep it as concise as possible. Sometimes it's necessary to go into a detailed history. As Lisa said, leaving out an important piece of data can severely skew the advice we give. But the longer the letter, the less of a chance we can fit it into our column. So do your best to keep to the most important facts.
- Ask a question. We get a lot of rants. Most of them are completely legitimate -- I'd be upset, too! But if you are only ranting and not getting around to an actual question, then we can't answer it. Captain Obvious smirks in agreement.
- Only email us if you want it published on WoW Insider. We just don't have the time to answer private requests. We also get a few letters that are then followed up with a "never mind" -- so you might want to sleep on it before writing in to make sure you really want a public airing of your drama.
When we answer a letter, we are of course trying to provide a solution to the letter writer. But we have an equal motive of trying to help everyone else in a similar situation. Everyone has his or her own side of the story, and we may not be getting the truth -- but that is really not the point. We are discussing the issue as it is presented so that more than just the letter writer may benefit. If it turns out the letter writer was actually the dramamonger all along, we're still helping the readers who see our answer as a solution to their own drama. And really, unless we get chat logs, screenshots or phone taps -- how are we going to know what actually happened?
Now, I'm off to beat the drama queens that are my teeth into submission with some painkillers. Have fun!
Dodge the drama and become that player everyone wants in their group with a little help and insight from the Drama Mamas. Remember, your mama wouldn't want to see your name on any drama. Play nice ... and when in doubt, ask the Drama Mamas at DramaMamas@wowinsider.com.