How We Wrote It: “The Reach of a Root”

Micaela Maftei and Laura Tansley

Successful literary collaborations are fascinating and rare. Recently, we published Micaela Maftei and Laura Tansley’s story “The Reach of a Root” on KRO. As part of our ongoing interest in exploring the writer’s craft, we thought it would be fun to learn more about their collaboration. You can read their story below. –Eds.

Fast, eager, a little breathless. Our aim was to write a story about adolescence, about the stretching and tense time before adulthood, calling out a number of stories that we shared with each other, memories and ideas and half-scratched-out notions of what it meant to grow up that we remembered feeling and believing, a theme we have pursued.

We write fiction and nonfiction together. It’s a good habit. Our styles are different but complementary, and co-writing has allowed for a richer process, a sort of in-built editing through response to the other, and even through anticipated response. There is nothing conjoined about the situation; we are free to wander off as separates at any point, to work alone with our influences or with others. But the voices we’ve created together linger. They have become, and continue to be shaped, but they are solid and have a tone that is ours, not mine or hers.

This story was different—it had none of the distance of research, less of the experimentation of other stories. Because it was so strongly rooted in our discussions of lived experience (despite the plot in no way mirroring our lives), it was more personal, and made for a keener writing process.

It had distance in other ways, though; I wonder if it tells in the writing that we weren’t in the same geographic location as we wrote it, or whether that’s negated by how we were in the same creative place, which seems to be all that matters.

Originally, when we were first separated by a trip around southeast Asia and a new job in Turkey, finding a time slot that suited us and the time zone we existed in was disorientating, particularly when we were desperate to share feedback, a rejection, an acceptance, something we just had to share, some piece of pertinent news. But we check our emails as regularly as our lives and jobs permit, and we find the need for immediacy dissipates. Patience suits us and, more importantly, the excitement stays with us.

We don’t question. We ask questions later, but we don’t question. We try, instead. This is not the opposite of questioning. But for us, trying usually prevents us from creating brick walls, because if we question too early we shock the writing into submission. Sometimes, though, we can’t help but. And when this happens it means that one or both of us is not happy. It means that what we’ve created will not work for us right now and that we need to reconfigure, reassess, readdress. That never happened with this one.

The process feels no speedier, nor slower, with two heads instead of one. But then there are always multiple voices involved in creative processes; some quiet, some pronounced, some critical, some responsive, some that have been imbibed from some other place. Writing is rarely a quiet process, and is never the product of the singular.

This story came like we were used to—one voice and then the next, and then one, and then the other again. But this time, perhaps because of our intense conversations beforehand, perhaps because of our growing comfort working together, perhaps for neither or both of those reasons, the voices blended, and before even preliminary editing we were diving into each other’s sections, moving and shifting and blending and trading and chopping.

The piece came fast, certainly less than two weeks of actual writing time. It didn’t matter; it doesn’t matter, and yet when thinking of that particular process the time it took always seems to come up, as though it adds some additional nuance or meaning to the story. It was quick and strong and pulsing, and perhaps the beginning of a new way of working together. We’re still finding out.

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