What writing collaboration should look like

My ideal collaborator was a dying man with a sense of humor, a great work ethic, nothing to lose and a literal deadline.

Truly collaborative writing? Until this year, it had eluded me so thoroughly that I nearly rejected the suggestion of a onetime Pentagon speechwriter that I read the journals of Lt. Col. Mark Weber, who needed help to write a memoir for his three young sons, who would soon be without a father.

Weber, in his early 40s like me, was dying of cancer.

“I probably ain’t the guy to do this,” I emailed Weber after reading the manuscript.

“I am not a ghostwriter,” I lectured Weber (who hadn’t asked for a ghostwriter). “I believe in the deep connection between thoughts and words. Your thoughts must start with your own words.”

Furthermore, I told him the book contained clichés that an editor would have to cut out “like tumors, painfully” and familiar phrases that would have to be “lanced, like benign polyps.”

Finally, I told him I doubted he had the energy or the time left to do the kind of rewrite I was demanding.

Now that, my friends, is how you treat a terminal cancer patient.

“I love it, David,” Weber replied.

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