September 20th, 2017

Writing Secrets from a Television Great

We can all remember that first moment we felt like we might understand “how to write a story.” The excitement, and the thirst to know more more more. The writing advice moment that turned the key for me came from the late, great mystery and TV writer, Stephen J. Cannell.

Trust me, most of you have heard of his shows: The A Team, The Rockford Files, 21 Jump Street, and a dozens of others. More than a decade ago, Stephen J. Cannell spoke at my writing chapter’s monthly event and there was a huge flurry of excitement. At the time, I hadn’t a clue who he was, but I still got caught up in the buzz.

So he gets up to talk and he just looks like a Hollywood guy: sexy in a lanky way, salt and pepper hair, snappy dresser. His easy smile and raspy voice commanded attention. He was mesmerizing.

Here’s what I know now that I didn’t know when I arrived at the meeting that day:

  • Cannell created or co-created nearly 40 television series, mostly crime dramas, and more than 300 scripts. If you look at his IMDb Bio, you won’t believe it.
  • He was dyslexic and overcame huge hurdles to be a writer.
    Example: he frequently had to dictate ideas or even complete scripts to a personal secretary and typed on an IBM Selectric typewriter unless he was doing research.
  • He would unlock the mystery of 3-Act structure for me. 
    This man had an enormous impact on me as a writer, and has shared the wealth with thousands more through his free video series.

Anyone who has hung around WITS for a while knows I’m a scene writer, a story quilter who can’t write linear. I have to put the story in order separately from the writing process, which means…

When it comes to my stories, 3-Act structure is everything.

I never really understood what the heck it was until that first day Stephen spoke. I’ll never forget that moment. He stood at a podium in front of 100 writers and broke down When Harry Met Sally in easy 3-Act detail.

A paraphrase of Cannell’s description of When Harry Met Sally:

When I ask young writers what 3-Act Structure is, they say it has a beginning, middle and an end. This is not the answer. A lunch line has a beginning, a middle and an end. The 3-Act structure is critical to good dramatic writing, and each act has specific story moves.

Take the movie, When Harry Met Sally. The First Act is all about the hook, or the premise. In this case, it’s that “men and women cannot be friends.” So you’ve got the set-up where they meet and then decide they’re not going to be friends.

Act Two opens with Harry and Sally meeting up again in the bookstore and slowly becoming good friends. Their friendship becomes the single most important thing in their lives and the worst thing in the world would be to lose it. The scene in the wedding is the dark moment climax of Act 2 because it is the end of their friendship as we know it.

They’re off to the side of the reception, speaking in furious whispers about why they’ve been at odds since the night they had sex. (See the video clip if you don’t remember.)

The scene ends with her slapping him across the face, saying, “F*ck you, Harry!” and storming away. The curtain closes on Act Two because the WORST thing has happened…the two of them are no longer friends.

Act Three is the “clean up” act, the resolution to your story. In this case, it’s all about Harry trying to get back into Sally’s good graces so the two of them can be friends again, just as they were. Sally’s having none of it.

Finally, on New Year’s Eve, Harry has his turning point and we get the final scene of the movie where he runs through New York City to get to Sally before midnight. When he sees her at the party, he gives his now famous “I love you” speech.

This scene is full of awesome. If you want to wallow in the brilliance of When Harry Met Sally dialogue, click here.

I don’t know if this quick breakdown turned the lightbulb on for you, but it sure did for me the first time I heard it. To see Stephen Cannell’s “official description” of 3-Act structure click this post.

More Stephen Cannell Trade Secrets:

Cannell discusses a myriad of “trade secrets” in this entire series on writing that he did on WritersWrite.com. But the main bit I remember, besides my 3-Act Epiphany, was the way he’d refer to the villains in a story.

He called his bad guys “the Heavies” and he was brilliant with them. It’s no surprise to me why his television shows were so wonderful. Whenever, he’d get stuck in a story, he’d ask himself, “What are ‘the Heavies’ doing?” Once he wrote the story from their angle for a while, he’d get back on track.

On WritersWrite:

Once we get past the complication and are into Act Two, we sometimes get stuck. “What do I do now?” “Where does this protagonist go from here?” The plotting in Act Two often starts to get linear (a writer’s expression meaning the character is following a string, knocking on doors, just getting information). This is the dullest kind of material. We get frustrated and want to quit. 

Here’s a great trick: When you get to this place, go around and become the antagonist. You probably haven’t been paying much attention to him or her. Now you get in the antagonist’s head and you’re looking back at the story to date from that point of view. 

If you’d like to hear his voice too, he’s got dozens of videos on his site. Here’s some simple, yet sage advice from the man himself. 

Advice for Aspiring Writers by Stephen J. Cannell

If Stephen Cannell is a new discovery for you, enjoy! He’s awesome. His mantra was: “be honest, be sensitive, be reasonable, be fair and you can succeed marvelously in business and in life.” Go, Steve.

Who has made the biggest impact on your writing life? (It’s okay, you can share more than one.) Do you have any other 3-Act or story planning tips to share with the rest of us?

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About Jenny Hansen

By day, Jenny provides training and social media marketing for an accounting firm. By night she writes humor, memoir, women’s fiction and short stories. After 18+ years as a corporate software trainer, she’s delighted to sit down while she works.

When she’s not at her personal blog, More Cowbell, Jenny can be found on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, or here at Writers In The Storm.

September 18th, 2017

If You Don’t Ask, The Answer is Always No

Aimie K. Runyan

It’s true, the vast majority of us writers are introverts. Interactions with strangers are uncomfortable at best… and when you have to ask for a favor? Fuggedaboudit. But the truth is that writers must also advocate for themselves in various ways if they want to succeed both artistically and commercially.

We can’t all hide away in our little utopian writing sanctuaries click-clacking away at the book of our hearts all day, every day. It would be bliss, but none of us—not even the big dogs—get away with this delicious reclusive lifestyle all the time.

We have to ask people for things, and it’s scary.

One thing we have to ask for frequently is knowledge. For nearly every book on the planet, be it an epic biography of the entire Plantagenet family or a dystopian Sci-Fi set in the distant future on Xerse, the homeworld of the Zarnak, you have to do at least a small measure of research. Sometimes a lot. Not all answers are going to be available online, or even *gasp* at your nearest major research library. You may need to experience what it feels like to be squeezed into an Elizabethan-era corset (much different from a Victorian one, I can assure you) or fly in a real honest-to-goodness fighter plane. Maybe, like me, you have to track down the personal diaries of a historical figure and hope they’re available through some sort of archive.

All of these things, unless you happen to have the money and experience to buy and fly your own jet, require you to ask people for things. Maybe reaching out to a theater troupe for a tutorial may not be daunting for you. Maybe you can find pilots who sell “flight experience” packages. That’s not a scary ask at all.

But when you find yourself having to ask a top mind in your field for assistance in finding how to access some key document or information, all the while hoping your project doesn’t infringe on their turf, it’s another ballgame. A bungled e-mail request could lead to a missed opportunity at a really important connection. It’s right to take these requests seriously. But the worst thing you can do for your writing career is not ask.

I had to do this very thing recently—and guess what? The person in question responded with the warmth and grace befitting a professional. I may not end up with the information I’m after, but at least I’ve made a connection that could prove very useful in the future.

We also have to ask our peers for help in various ways. We all know that in this day and age, all writers must work the sales angle as well as wield the pen. It’s easy to be intimidated by successful authors, bloggers, and other people in the field, but many are happy to lend a hand.

Don’t be afraid to ask that big-shot writer in your genre to do some cross-promotion with you. Don’t be afraid to ask some big wig blogger to read an ARC of your book in exchange for a review. You can convince yourself how unlikely they are to have time to read your work, but yours may be just the book they’re looking for.

For those of you in the traditionally published world, we have to learn to ask things of our editors and publicists. You may want them to put you up for a specific promotional opportunity, front table bookstore positioning, or more books on a contract. Those are only the tiniest sampling of the things you have to advocate for.

It’s hard. You know the squeaky wheel gets the grease, but you don’t to squeak so loudly they just decide to trade in the whole dang car. The nice thing here, is that many of these things may go through your agent if you have one. She will likely have a better idea of how much squeak power you have than you do. But again? You have to start by asking your agent to go to bat for you.

Will your publisher put you up for those key advertising opportunities? You won’t know unless you ask. And repeat after me: no is never the end of the world. And yes, my gentle wordsmith, a truth you need to get comfortable with is that noes will happen. But so long as you keep your requests reasonable, people are apt to respect you for trying. And you may learn some valuable things in the process.

Case in point. I asked one of my literary heroes for a blurb on my first book. Hero, as in, “one of the people I attribute as the reason I became a writer”-level hero. I got a lovely personalized “there is no way on earth I have time to read your book, but it sounds great. Good luck kiddo” less than 24 hours later. She was far more gracious and eloquent than that, but you get the idea.

It was an important lesson to me in several ways: I learned I had the courage to ask for the things I want, which is a huge first step toward success in anything. I learned that while “no” is never the answer we want to hear, it isn’t fatal (at least, you know, in most things publishing-related).

Perhaps most importantly, I learned from that lovely e-mail how vital it is to say no tactfully when the tables are turned. I’ve published two books and have another two coming down the chute in ’18. It’s fair to say, I get more requests for my time than I could possibly honor while maintaining my career, family, and the thin shard of my sanity I have left. (My husband keeps it safe in his wallet so I don’t lose it.) I endeavor to pay it forward as much as I possibly can, but even if someone asks for the ridiculous or impossible, I respond with grace. Yes, I’m kind even to the sweet, clueless writer newbie who begs me (usually while in an adjacent bathroom stall at a conference) to beta read a full manuscript on a moment’s notice. To paraphrase Winston Churchill, you can tell people to go to hell in such a way that they look forward to the trip.

So go forth and ask. Stop thinking of all the reasons someone will refuse your request—there will always be reasons to say no. If you don’t take a chance and put yourself out there, that no is guaranteed like death and taxes. Only in movies will opportunities come hunting for you.

But do remember, time and resources are valuable. If someone is kind enough to offer their time to critique your book, help with research, or share their expertise, be effusive with your thanks. Most experts in a field will be happy to share their knowledge with someone so keenly interested, but don’t take that for granted. At least offer to compensate them for their time in whatever way feels appropriate.

And when the time comes that your fellow scribblers ask you for a service, don’t forget that you are part of the writing community. Part of that privilege and responsibility is helping others up the ladder with you. There’s room for plenty of us at the top.

Your turn! What was the scariest thing you’ve had to ask for in the writing world, and how did it turn out?

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About Aimie

Aimie K. Runyan is a historian and author who writes to celebrate history’s unsung heroines. She is the author of two previous historical novels: Promised to the Crown and Duty to the Crown. She is active as an educator and a speaker in the writing community and beyond. She lives in Colorado with her wonderful husband and two (usually) adorable children. To learn more about Aimie and her work, please visit www.aimiekrunyan.com.

September 15th, 2017

3 Steps for Using Tarot For Your Writing

Sierra Godfrey and Kasey Corbit 

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not in any way spiritual or mystical. I’m also a pretty dedicated plotter, with some pantser allowances. But I’m always on the lookout for useful writing and plotting tools.

Then, one day last spring, I attended a writer’s retreat among the redwoods on the coast of California and with the ocean making gentle sounds far below. I learned of a new, intriguing tool: using tarot decks for writing.

Before that day, the sum total of my knowledge about the tarot equaled a pill bug’s. So when fellow writer and friend Kasey Corbit asked if we were interested in learning, I wasn’t all that excited. After all, isn’t tarot a bunch of mumbo jumbo?

Then she brought out her cards and we began playing around.

It turns out that the tarot is not weird at all. It taps right into your intuition and connects to universal human experiences. Heavy on story and imagery, tarot is almost like it’s made for writers. Maybe we already know who our characters are, but sometimes pulling out the details requires a little work. The images on the cards can be prompts in themselves. All good, right? And it turns out, tarot as a writing tool is not new to writers. According to author Corrine Kenner, Stephen King and John Steinbeck use/used them!

That day of the retreat, I liked what I saw enough so that when I got home, I purchased my very first tarot deck (a particularly pretty deck called The Wild Unknown, listed below). I would describe myself as a casual user, but was interested in using it more. In writing this post, I really discovered more and I’m glad I did.

Are you interested? Good! Here is a 3-step primer on tarot for writers, with some added help from my friend Kasey:

  1. Get a deck.

Find one that speaks to you: You can get a deck pretty much anywhere: Amazon, bookstores, online shops. A frequent recommendation is to get a deck with images that speak to you. I purchased The Wild Unknown by artist Kim Krans because I loved the artwork, the cards were large, and it also came with a substantial booklet, which I felt was key since I knew absolutely nothing beyond what Kasey told me on our retreat day. I didn’t like the darker ones. Kasey, though, has a whopping total of 20 decks. She told me she knows people with over 200 decks! (Her favorites are mentioned below under Resources.)

My second tarot deck purchase—because there is always a second (“like tattoos,” Kasey remarked)—turned out to be Tarot of Pagan Cats by Barbara Moore and Lola Airaghi. Because, cats.

You should choose a deck that has a full deck of at least 78 cards, and you want them with the major and minor arcanas. Still with me? Good, because even though I’m writing this post, I’m still not even sure what arcanas are. That’s okay. We’re learning together.

Don’t confuse them with Oracle Cards: There is something called an Oracle Deck, which has fewer cards, and you don’t want that because the meanings are different than the cards in traditional tarot. Kasey did note, however, that “While the tarot is more archetypal in the way it sets up its journeys, some folks REALLY dig oracle cards. Oracle decks are their own thing and don’t follow the same set-up as mentioned here, but for writing the goal is to switch out of that inner critic mode that shuts it all down and opens up the inner knowing and thinking.”

  1. Learn about the cards.

Okay, this step is admittedly a bit harder and takes a while, but you can learn as you go. You don’t need to be an expert. 

The 22 major arcana cards are used as a complete journey of the psyche—archetypes we carry in ourselves. The Word Hunter blog says in its excellent post on tarot for writers, “The minor arcana suites are also interesting as prompts go, because the four suites represent the four elements – earth, air, fire and water.” Kasey added:
  • Earth/Pentacles represents practical things like money, physical work, home.
  • Air/Swords represents activities of the mind. (The 9 of Swords I pulled below is about nightmare scenarios, but what we fear is usually a product of our own mind.) It also goes to communication and that includes writing. So, it’s not all bad (though air/swords has the highest number of “challenging” cards of any suit).
  • Fire/wands is about passion, creativity, and sexuality.
  • Water/Cups is the suit of our emotions. So these suits each include their own journeys, but they’re more the day-to-day dealings of life instead of the key archetypal moments.
  1. Do a few writing-centric card layouts.

 As you handle the cards, have a question in mind. Avoid yeses or nos, but rather “what” or “why,” like “why does my protagonist want to stay (or go)?”

Then, shuffle the deck by hand over hand shuffling. Finally, cut the deck into three.

In the book Tarot for Writers, author Corrine Kenner offers some classic spreads that go from easy to more complicated, like the Celtic’s Cross. She also offers writing prompts and a great way to use cards to look at the Hero’s Journey plot arc.

Here are three easy ones to start:

One card spread: General character or story card

  • What story do you see in the card you drew?
  • What does the card tell you about your character?
  • Can the card inspire a whole scene?
  • Does the card hint at the character’s past?
  • Does the location come through?

 

For purposes of this post, I pulled a card from my Wild Unknown deck and was horrified at all the eyeballs and worms! It was the nine of swords—a dark card indeed. (See Kasey’s note about the minor elements above.) In this card, I saw a complicated mess of things for my character to sort out. If she doesn’t sort out her issues, then she’ll die (worms?) a spiritual death. That is—she won’t move on with life. The character battles with herself and must act to find joy.

Okay, so far, so good.

Two-card spreads: Best and Worst Traits

Pull two cards to represent the best traits and the worst traits of your character and see what you get.

I pulled the 6 of wands for best traits and the 7 of swords for worst traits. Right off the bat, I liked that there was a pretty butterfly for my character’s best trait. She can move and change. For her worst trait, there’s an intriguing fox peeking out from its tail. The guide kook says that fox is all about keeping secrets either from yourself or other people. My character needs to admit things to herself in order to move on.

Three-card spreads: Past, present, and future

For this illustration, I switched to my Pagan Cats deck because it’s so cute.

For my character’s past, I pulled the knight of swords—a very fetching image of a cat on an owl. What on earth could that mean? It means someone who acts decisively when confronted with ideas. Hmm. Interesting –I’ll give that some thought. This card is also about influences from the past that could still affect your character today.

For my character’s present, I pulled the Knight of Pentacles, which is a tabby sitting on a goat. (I don’t know, either.) My booklet says this is someone who acts carefully when dealing with the physical world, finances, or resources.” Okay, that’s definitely interesting—especially because in my current manuscript, the character’s present is the one I’m grappling with the most. This card is also about the elements that surround the character now, either positive or negative.

For my character’s future, I have the king of swords with a very royal long-haired cat on a chest. This is someone who has authority or makes decisions and is a pro at dealing with things. I can get with that. That’s certainly where my character needs to go. This is all about where she needs to end up at the end of her story.

Maybe what I would do with these three cards is see if I can work in a line about my character’s desire to be more in control of her world or her problems, and at the end, in the resolution of the story, she is.

Plot Structure Spreads: any plot structure—the Hero’s Journey, Save the Cat beat sheet, three-act structure—can be used as a spread. Pantsers can flip through cards to generate ideas for scenes and fit them together afterwards.

I liked the idea of trying to use the Hero’s Journey spread because I was having trouble developing the Refusal of the Call scene in my manuscript (also known as Debate). I used the cards and thought about what I drew.

I made a worksheet for you for this on my website – the Hero’s Journey Tarot worksheet. Download it free.

Another idea is to pull a card with a scene or story beat in mind and study the image. What would happen if you stepped into the card? What do you feel, taste, smell, see?

In sum

I hope this post has sparked your imagination or expanded your writing toolbox. I think one of the most important things about using the tarot that I’ve learned is to be causal if you want to. You don’t need to wear a caftan and set off the fire sprinklers with a hundred lit candles from being mystical about it. Some people only spread cards on a velvet cloth—but man, I don’t have time for that. Kasey says she usually does it on her wood kitchen table, and she’s also done it on her desk at work and a bar. I used my mostly-cleared desk. For me, it’s enough to know about it, and use it when I can.

Have you used the tarot for writing? If this is something new to you, do you think you’ll give it a try?

Resources:

Books:

Decks I like:

Kasey’s Deck Recommendations:

Links:

Bios:

In addition to writing fiction, Sierra Godfrey is also a graphic designer specializing in author websites and Swag (sites she’s designed include Pitchwars.org and ManuscriptWishList.com.) She is a member of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association and moonlights as a sports writer covering Spanish football. She lives in the foggy wastelands of the San Francisco Bay Area with her family and way too animals. Visit her at www.sierragodfrey.com or tweet to her @sierragodfrey.

Kasey Corbit spends her days weaving narratives in one form or another, be it to readers, to other lawyers, her tarot clients, or her own children. She aims to bring a little more cheer and a little more justice to the world every day. Find her at https://thedharmadiva.wordpress.com/ or on twitter @thedharmadiva.

September 13th, 2017

How to Survive a Confidence Crisis

I learn something new with every book I write. Usually, it’s craft-related, or characterization, high concept–concrete things. 

But this next book taught me something deeper and more important. I’m hoping something in my pain and suffering will keep some of you from the same.

First, a bit of backstory. The past almost two years, I’ve taken huge hits in my career as an author. I love romance, but have wanted to break into women’s fiction fo-evah. So:

  • I wrote the book of my heart. I loved it. NY loved the writing, but eventually turned me down – not a large enough audience for a Western Women’s Fiction. Okay, fine, I self-pubbed it. (Days Made of Glass).
  • I started a hard-hitting, Jodi Picoult-esque women’s fiction proposal. I slaved over every word. The editors loved it. Except. It was too sad. So I rewrote the proposal and synopsis. They still thought it was too sad. Ouch. I’ve put the book in the drawer until I can find a way to appease NY, and still write the book I want.
  • I took time out of chasing NY to write a romance novella for an anthology with some friends of mine. (Cowboy Karma).

I was lost. I had a heart-to-heart with my agent and she suggested I go back to what I know NY wants – my brand of romance. My publisher, Grand Central, wanted more books from me (thank God).

This book. It started differently. The character came to me – a funny, irreverent voice that is so not me. She came with an opening scene that just flew off my fingers. But that’s all I had. I could have just smiled, and put it in a drawer. Except, I really liked it! 

So, in my normal pantser style, I dug in and started writing. I didn’t know anything about this woman except her town, and surface things. And the plot wasn’t developing with the writing, as it usually does. 

That’s where everything fell apart.

My critters didn’t like it. They usually make comments, I fix it, and move on. This time, they didn’t like my character – they didn’t ‘get’ her.

Do you have this fear? That the ideas will dry up? that you’ll never figure out what comes next? That your editor will line the bottom of her bird cage with your pages?

Yeah. That’s where I was. 

Thank God I have amazing writer friends who buck me up, and talk me off the ledge. I called, and they helped. But if I called a lifeline every time I was lost in The Pit of Despair with this book, they’d be dodging my calls.

 

Then vultures showed up

I was freaking out. Literally. Nightmares, depression, thinking about backing out of the contract. I was out of options.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. This crisis pushed me places I’d never been before. See, I’m a doer. I believe that the best way out of a mess is action. As my Alpha Dog says, ‘Do something, even if it’s wrong.’

What To DO?

I did what scared me the most. I sat with the fear. I sat with the looming possibility of disaster. 

I. Sat.

You know what I found? There’s an eye in the middle of the storm. When I stopped fighting, expected nothing, and just sat with the story, a calm came over me. I wasn’t afraid. I was almost disassociated from the mess, seeing it from the outside. 

Did I have an epiphany? No. Did I unravel the plot? No, I didn’t. 

I got something better.

I remembered that I can do this. Those eight books weren’t a fluke. I remembered – I’m a goddamn WRITER! I’ll figure this out, type The End, turn it in, and go on to the next. 

It was like my brain sent me my own lifeline. But it didn’t do it until I was willing to fail. Until I was willing to take on my worst fear in a stare-down. 

I’m now writing the second half of that book. I know the end, but not how I’ll get there. But I’m no longer freaking out, because I have my confidence back.

If you’re stuck in this horrible place (and I pray you never are), try it. The weirdest recommendation ever:

Just sit.

What do you think, WITS readers? Have you ever tried this? Are you willing to?

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For a limited time, Laura’s RITA winner, The Sweet Spot, is on sale at all retailers!

September 11th, 2017

The “W’s” of Successful Writing Partnerships

Piper Bayard
of Bayard & Holmes

We writers tend to be an odd and solitary lot, lurking in the corners of libraries and coffee shops and playing with our imaginary friends. Though most of us are content with our solitude, we periodically meet up with writer friends or migrate like spawning salmon to conferences, where we bounce ideas off each other like ping-pong balls. Usually, we hit these ideas back and forth and then take our balls and paddles back to our corners, where we once more play with imaginary friends.

Sometimes, in the course of batting around ideas, something magical happens. That rare successful writing partnership is conceived and book babies are born like little miracles.

Let’s take a look at how those little miracles can come about by examining the “W’s” of Writing Partnerships – the What, Why, Who, Where, When, and How. Yes, I know. “How” doesn’t start with a “W.” Which brings me to . . .

The Cardinal Rule of Writing Partnerships: Be flexible.

What #1

A writing partnership is a business partnership, and the purpose of business is to make money. I want to be very clear about this. Writing is an art. Publishing is a business. Writing partnerships for the purpose of publishing are businesses.

Business partnerships require controlling documents that establish the nature of the business, define the scope of the partnership, spell out how expenses and profits will be divided, and establish a legal method for the partnership to dissolve. I highly recommend you talk to an attorney in your home state and get them to draw up these essential documents. Even if the two of you are only working on a single project rather than going into long term business together, if it involves money, have a contract that defines the expectations and the financial specifics.

Bottom Line: Lay the foundation of the writing partnership in writing.

What #2

What are you going to be writing?

Make sure that you and your partner are on the same page, so to speak. If one of you is writing a romance and the other is writing a literary dystopian high fantasy thriller, you’re going to need the Dissolution Clause from the “What #1” in short order.

Bottom Line: Know what you are writing.

Why?

Why would you write with this person?

A. Because we’re friends.

B. Because we came up with the idea together.

C. Because it was my idea first, and I’m afraid they’ll steal it if I don’t tag along for the project.

D. Because each of us brings something to the partnership that the other person doesn’t have.

“D” is the only answer that is likely to bring you a successful business partnership that spawns book babies.

For example:

I am half of Bayard & Holmes. My writing partner is a 40+ year veteran of field intelligence. Together, we write factual fiction spy thrillers and non-fiction books about espionage, history, and current events. I bring the writing skill. He brings the espionage experience.

As a partnership, our finished fiction products are the result of our stories, his experience, and my writing. Our finished non-fiction products are his experience, his research, our writing, and my editing. We each have something to bring to the table that is wholly independent of the other, and it results in 1 + 1 = 3.

In another example, it’s a thing now for big name writers to team up with lesser known writers to produce books that have BIG NAME WRITER and lesser known writer on the cover. What that often means—though not always—is that the lesser known writer actually wrote the majority of the book, and the big name writer did some degree of editing and directing of the project. The big name writer brings the audience, and the lesser known writer brings the sweat. Each has something to give that the other doesn’t have.

 

Actual photo of two writing partners with the same strengths and weaknesses by Canstock.

 

Trouble starts rapidly when two writers are wearing the same dress to the writing party. When two writers have the same strengths and the same weaknesses, they are lopsided in their overall potential. Competition over the same tasks will arise, and at that point, 1+1= 1/2. Not the best equation for a successful business venture, and Dissolution Clause of “What #1” is imminent.

Bottom Line: Writing partners who enhance each other’s abilities are going to be more successful.

Who?

Our best writing partners are people with the same ambition, ability level, and work ethic.

 

Meme by 7amad1994 at MemeCenter.com.

Nothing is more frustrating than being the only horse in the team that is pulling the wagon. Don’t look at what your potential partner promises they will do, look at what they actually have done.

If they have been writing for five years, but they have never completed a manuscript, they’re not a good bet for finishing a book in the next six months. If the manuscript they have completed is not fit to use as kindling for small fires, they aren’t going to magically start writing bestsellers.

If they are aiming to one day self-publish their memoirs, while you are shooting for the bestseller lists, you’re going to be at What #1 before you get through the first draft. Partners need to be able and willing to work at the same pace and at the same level.

Bottom Line: If you’re a draft horse made for heavy hauling, don’t hitch up with a Shetland pony. If you’re a Shetland pony, stick with those who will match your pace.

Where?

The where of partnerships is not a physical where. Technology puts us all at each other’s fingertips, which is kind of a creepy thought, but moving right along . . .

The “Where” of writing partnerships is “Where is this project going?”

Every business needs a business plan, because the saying “All who wander are not lost” never applied to a business. You need to spell out and agree to timelines for plotting, drafting, and editing, and you need to be on the same page about the delivery details of your book baby. Are you going to self-publish, go indie, or seek out an agent and one of the Big Five? Any of those paths can work, but you both have to be on the same path.

Bottom Line: Make a business plan that suits you both at the beginning of the partnership.

When?

The “When” can be the true beauty of the writing partnership, or it can be the killer blow. Even in the best of partnerships, it’s hard to say which it will be. That’s because Life happens when we’re making plans.

Well-matched partners can produce better work faster than the solo writer. Tasks can be divided and accomplished in three-fourths or even half the time.

For example, Holmes and I often divide by non-fiction and fiction tasks, with him working on our non-fiction titles, while I draft our fiction and ask him lots of questions about the sound of bodies dropping and the finer points of jungle warfare. Together, we have compiled eighteen non-fiction and fiction manuscripts over the past few years, ready to take to market at the time of our choosing. But that’s when things are going well.

In real life, even if we are diligent and write something every day, every writer has down times—times when our creativity is sapped, our kids are sick, we are sick, house guests are visiting, we’re dealing with storms or other natural disasters, or a loved one has died. Those down times can set our plans back, and with two people, those down times can be doubled.

If one partner has a child in the hospital, the other must do double duty to keep to the schedule, or they must agree to let the schedule slip. And sooner or later, the time comes when both partners are down. At that point, it can take monumental commitment to each other and to the project to stay hitched as a team.

Bottom Line: Partnerships can produce twice as much, but they can experience twice the drag.

How?

How do successful writing partnerships work? With communication, humor, and, above all, respect.

You and your partner have to find a way to work together without crushing each other. We all have egos, or we wouldn’t sit down at the [eventual] page thinking it’s okay for trees to die if that’s what it takes to get our words out. We also all come up with different ideas, and many of those ideas suck. Blurting out “That sucks!” at the wrong time can end what would otherwise be a successful partnership.

Diplomacy is always an excellent alternative to crushing condemnation, but style for successful communication depends completely on the individuals in the partnership.

For example, I grew up in the rural Southwest, which means direct verbal confrontation was unheard of unless you were ready to take it outside and mix it up. When I’m off in what Holmes calls My Little Pony Land with my fanciful tangents, and I throw out a horrific idea, he says, “Let me chew on that a while.”

Inevitably, I call him back a few hours later and say, “That idea sucked. Let’s not do that.”

“Yeah. It was epic.” And then we both laugh—hence the humor part of the equation. All writers have to be able to laugh at their stupid ideas if they are going to survive.

Holmes, on the other hand, grew up in a part of New York City where the cops only stopped in to get freebies from the brothels. If he comes up with something that doesn’t work, I say, “That won’t work.”

He says, “Okay. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work.” And we move on. He has worked hard over the years to get me comfortable with skipping the diplomacy and going straight to direct contradiction.

You’ll notice, though, that I still don’t say, “That sucks!” Because even hard core Yankee city boys require a certain modicum of . . .

R – E – S – P – E – C – T

Let’s get straight to the bottom line on this point. If you don’t respect each other, or at least become a master of behaving with respect even when you don’t feel it, the partnership, IMHO, is a non-starter. I’m not saying you have to like each other, but you do have to keep top of mind that you chose to work with this person for reasons, and if you took care of your “Why,” they are good reasons. We can’t let any impatience or differences overshadow our respect of our writing partners, or the partnership will not thrive for long.

That takes us back to The Cardinal Rule of Writing Partnerships . . . Be flexible!

 

Have you ever worked in a writing partnership? What was your experience? What tips would you give?

 

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About Piper

Bayard and HolmesPiper Bayard is an author, a recovering attorney, and the managing editor of the Social In Worldwide network. Her writing partner, Jay Holmes, is an anonymous senior member of the intelligence community and a field veteran from the Cold War through the current Global War on Terror. Together, they are the bestselling authors of the international spy thriller, THE SPY BRIDE. You can find Piper at BayardandHolmes.com.