Once upon a time, I had a class with a prof who argued that writers do not write in a vaccuum--and many times directly collaborate. Her main focus was on Romantic and Victorian literature. Lots and lots of emphasis on how Wordsworth and Coleridge were buds and eventually rivals. Lots of focus on the Bronte siblings and how they influenced one another.
A little sampling of the historical evidence:
1. Wordsworth and Coleridge
2. Byron, Shelley, and Keats
3. Shakespeare (we may not know the collaborators names but you cannot write plays without players...theatre and movies are collaborative arts)
4. Henry James, H.G. Wells, and Joseph Conrad
5. The Bloomsbury Group (including Virginia Woolf)
I was so fascinated by the concept that writers, for all the 'solitary genius' emphasis on writing, are not really solitary. In general, the writers we still read and today's published writers are not writing in isolation. There are groups. Agents and editors know this too. At a writer's conference I attended in April, agent Dan Lazar of Writer's House said: "Great writers write in packs."
Recently, I finshed Year Zero by Jeff Long. A blurb caught my eye. Here it is: "A superbly original thriller. Terrifying and exquisite in a single breath. Jeff Long writes with poetry, style, and pace...crafting his twists and doling out his delectable details with exceptionally gratifying results. Year Zero is first rate entertainment." -Dan Brown, author of Angels and Demons and Deception Point
In the timeline of events, this blurb came before Brown's skyrocketing bestseller The Da Vinci Code. I thought it was verrrrrrry interesting because Long's thriller explores the idea of Christ being cloned back into life. It throws a lot of questions out into the world that Brown also explores in Da Vinci. Do Long and Brown work together at all? Reading each other's work? Darned if I know, I'm only saying that there may be more than a little influence between writers living today.
1. Stephen and Tabitha King (also including the Rock Bottom Remainders: Amy Tan, Barbara Kingsolver, Mitch Albom, et al. They may not work directly together, but you can't argue against influences...)
2. Susanna Clarke and Neil Gaiman (She thanks him in the acknowledgements of JS and Mr.N and he thanks her in the acknowledgements of Stardust)
3. Chuck Palahniuk acknowledges his writing group (see Writer's Digest Interview)
4. Laurell K Hamilton also thanks her writer's group in one of her novels, I forget which one...
Basically, all I'm saying is that as much as we think we're in this writing thing alone--and we are when we physically put the words on a page, we're never really alone. So, pay attention to the conversations that you have with other writers and be open and constructive with what you say. And always write your best. You never know when you're helping to build a masterpiece. Or at least a bestseller.