I’ve been talking a lot about collaborating on a novel and also in anthologies these days. (I co-wrote my latest book with Hazel Gaynor). I wasn’t prepared for how many people would be fascinated by what it would be like to work on a book with someone else so I thought I’d share that with you all today.
Writing is a solitary and very personal process. Alone at our writing desks, we struggle with word count and plot, accompanied only by our self-doubt and determination. It’s no wonder then, that the prospect of sharing some of that isolation with another writer is so appealing. Yet, a collaborative novel is a relatively rare, and slightly mythical concept. How do individual writers, with unique styles and voices, come together to produce a cohesive novel with seamless prose? Are the challenges worth the rewards, and what - if anything - can we learn from working so closely with another writer? Let’s take at look at how this might work.
TIPS FOR COLLABORATIVE SUCCESS:
Choose your writing partner wisely. Your best friend is not necessarily your best writing partner—just like they often don’t make the best roommate. Besties can become lazy in their communication because they assume you know what’s going on in their lives, or they assume you know what they’re thinking, how they feel, etc. To make this work, you need a satisfying working relationship in which you can trust each other and drive a hard business line if necessary.
Have a clear vision for the book. Make sure you are on the same page from the start to avoid in-fighting or any sticky issues down the road. In other words, you need to both agree on the shaping of your main character as well as the revolution of the story, etc.
Agree on a writing schedule you can both commit to. It’s incredibly important to set a schedule, dividing the work time in a way that makes sense. Each person must commit to this schedule--treat it like a business appointment--or the book won’t come together in a timely fashion. (And you might also tick off your partner for not following through on your end of the bargain.)
Leave egos at the door. Co-writing isn’t about who is right or wrong, or who is the best writer. You’re combining your strengths and bringing out the best in each other, at least this is the goal. Make the right choices for the story, not which makes you feel like “the best”.
Be flexible. This may be the most important aspect of co-writing. You’ll learn a lot about your co-authors’ kids, pets, and family life! Expect the unexpected. Being a control freak while working with another person will cause a lot of unnecessary friction. Above all, be open to suggestion.
Meet/chat regularly. Continual communication is vital. Never assume you know what the other is thinking, or feeling. Again, set a schedule in which you touch base if not daily, weekly.
Commit. If it is your day to work on the book, work on the book. When it comes to promotion, if you say you’ll write an article, write an article. If you don’t feel like you can commit solidly to this plan, don’t. And maybe you should consider working only on your solo projects.
Have fun. This is a unique experience. Enjoy it! If you aren’t having a good time, why bother doing all the work involved in co-writing?
Celebrate milestones. This is the best part! When drafts are finished, covers are revealed, and foreign sales come in, toast your accomplishments! All that hard work should be rewarded.
Have you ever worked on a collaborative effort? What were the pitfalls? The strengths? Would you try it again—or does it not appeal to you at all?
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Heather Webb is the international bestselling author of historical novels Becoming Josephine, Rodin's Lover, and Last Christmas in Paris, which have been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, France Magazine and more, as well as received national starred reviews. In 2015, Rodin's Lover was selected as a Goodreads Top Pick. To date, Heather's novels have sold in multiple countries worldwide. She is also a professional freelance editor, foodie, and travel fiend. She lives in New England with her family and one feisty rabbit.
Hazel Gaynor is the New York Times bestselling author of The Girl Who Came Home, A Memory of Violets, The Girl from the Savoy, and her latest release, The Cottingley Secret. She is also the recipient of the 2015 RNA Historical Novel of the Year award. Hazel lives in Ireland with her husband and children.
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