June 8th, 2018

Why Co-Writing May Be My New Favorite Thing

In our last Pimp and Promote, I mentioned that I’m working on a joint project right now with my critique partner, award-winning author Christina Delay.

What I’m really doing is having so much fun writing right now, it should be illegal.

Not that writing isn’t still work — it certainly is — but Christina and I recently hatched an idea to co-write a novella, and so far this experience has buoyed my spirits and refreshed my soul. I didn’t think co-writing would be a good idea for me, but as it turns out, this endeavor has hit on so many aspects I enjoy about writing.

© Javier Sánchez Mingorance

The excitement of brainstorming

You know those moments when your novel and your characters are coming together enough that you can see them, but nothing is set in stone? That’s when you get to brainstorm all the great directions your story could take. And having someone to bounce ideas off can really help you hone your characters and your plot.

But now we’re bouncing back and forth, playing off each other’s ideas, feeling the synergy of two minds instead of one. And what we’re coming up with together is better than we would have done alone.

The advantage of collaboration

In some areas of writing, we are both strong, but in other areas one is weak and the other is strong. So while I struggle to write powerful viscerals, my critique partner is phenomenal at that. And I’m not half bad at dialogue and especially banter. By collaborating, we can turn out a story that shows both of our strengths.

We’re also able to edit one another in real time, so that we stay on track and draw out each other’s best writing.

The efficiency of word count

Writing a novella on my own means having to write 20k words or more. But having a partner means I’m only responsible for 10k words. You know how quickly this means we can turn out a book? In half the time! (Yes, writers can do math when it benefits us.)

There is more coordination required in plotting, characterization, scheduling, etc., but it’s more than made up for by the efficiency of getting the writing itself done. With each of us writing about 5k a week, we could conceivably turn out a first draft in two weeks. Even taking twice that long — which is probably more realistic — it’s still one month to reach a full novella, working together.

The element of surprise

Whether you’re a plotter or a pantser, there’s a point where you don’t know what’s going to happen next. And when you discover that, you feel surprised by the turn your story took.

But the way my partner and I are writing, we each just go in, add words, and edit one another—no holds barred, total trust. And instead of opening the WIP the next time and thinking, Oh no, what the heck did she do to my book?! I’m nearly giddy reading how she has twisted one of my phrases in a better way, deepened my characterization, taken us down a path I didn’t quite see.

Now we have enough of a plot that neither of us will go too far off the path, but there’s a delicious element of surprise as I experience our story both as a writer and as a fully engaged reader.

Will the fun continue at the rate it has been thus far? I’m sure we’ll have speed bumps along the way, but I’ve had that by myself with every book I’ve ever written. This time, however, I have someone right there to not only sympathize but empathize — and then resolve the issue and move on with the story.

If you’re considering a co-writing relationship, here are some tips we’ve already embraced:

  1. Partner with someone you’ve read a lot. Know what their voice and style are, so you can make sure you’re a good match.
  2. Decide your characters’ goals and themes early on. What’s driving this story or series? You need to be on the same page about the story arc.
  3. Discuss your strengths and weaknesses, so it’s clear where you want your partner to carry some extra weight for you and vice versa.
  4. Trust each other with your words. Be willing to edit each other and embrace the changes your partner makes. If you don’t agree, talk it out, but it’s often best to let the synergy happen.
  5. Touch base often. Tag each other when you’ve written something, or ask them to take a look at a scene you’re not sure about. Make sure you’re still on track with the plot and characters.
  6. Have fun. Brainstorm with excitement, let yourself be surprised by your partner, embrace the story that unfolds as the sum of your two parts make something bigger than either of you could do alone.

Is co-writing for everyone? I doubt it. But if you’ve been thinking about it, maybe it’s worth giving it a shot. Even just writing a short story for fun and seeing how it goes—no pressure.

You might be as gobsmacked as we’ve been at how wonderful this experience has been.

Have you tried co-writing or considered it? What tips do you have for a successful co-writing relationship?

ABOUT JULIE

Julie Glover writes mysteries and young adult fiction. Her YA contemporary novel, SHARING HUNTER, finaled in the 2015 RWA® Golden Heart®. When not writing, she collects boots, practices rampant sarcasm, and advocates for good grammar and the addition of the interrobang as a much-needed punctuation mark.

Julie is represented by Louise Fury of The Bent Agency. You can visit her website here and also follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

15 responses to “Why Co-Writing May Be My New Favorite Thing”

  1. I really enjoyed this article, Julie! Thanks for sharing your experience.

  2. Laura Drake says:

    Glad it worked for you, Julie (awesome partner you've got there!) Me? Never. Not because I don't think it could work - but because writing is the one place in my existence that I. Am. God. i create a world, and characters, and no one can tell me I'm wrong.

    Even if I don't know what I'm doing most of the time.

    I don't want to capitulate, negotiate or collaborate. Even if it would help me. Does that make any sense at all?

    p.s. I'm not good about sharing food, either.

    • Julie Glover says:

      Hahaha! Yes, I do believe this isn't for everyone.

      When I was singing in high school, my dad always wanted me to do solos — he didn't want me to share the mic, because that was his personality. But I enjoyed singing in small ensembles or even duets — because I just liked the harmony part. Maybe that's analogous to this? Some people work best as solo acts, some like to perform ensembles, and others do a bit of both. Keep performing your solo act, Laura! It's a great one.

  3. christopherlentzauthor says:

    Unlike Laura, I'm good about sharing food. Like Laura, I feel a strong need to be in control. At least at this early point in my writing career. By all means, I take advice and suggestions as the gold nuggets they are.

    But navigating the uncharted territories of an unwritten plot...um, I think I need to hold the compass and lead the wagon train.

    In the future, I'm sure I'll be open to collaboration. In fact, I LOVE collaborating. Right now. Nope.

    • Julie Glover says:

      Oh yeah, I definitely think this is a timing and project-specific idea. My writing partner and I also write solo and would not share those projects. We will continue to write (and control) our own books, but add this co-writing gig on the side. And if/when collaboration happens is different for everyone.

      But keep leading your wagon train! Love that metaphor.

  4. I'd love the brainstorming element and the quicker pace. Early in my writing life I did a novella with a close friend that we never published but it was a blast~

  5. Jenny Hansen says:

    As an extrovert who thrives on deadlines, I would LOVE to co-write with another author I respected. I think a similar writing level would be key, and a super clear-cut picture of the theme and the story would make all the difference in the world. Good for you!

  6. dholcomb1 says:

    One friend had a nightmare experience, and another had a great experience. I don't think it's for me.

    denise

  7. katzap says:

    Glad to read this! Years ago, I co-wrote several romances with a like-minded writing friend/CP and it was all positive. I loved the experience and learned so much! One novel we co-wrote even finalled in RWA's Golden Heart.Then life stuff happened, we both moved, etc. Eventually both of us published individually, but we remain close and speak fondly of those times. Currently, I'm co-writing with a family member on another project - in addition to solo projects - and it's all positive, too. It's definitely not for everyone and not an endeavor to be entered into lightly.

    Julie, have you found any books or articles that deal with the contractural/legal aspects of co-publishing? I've seen articles that discuss the writing/creative bits, but not much on the nitty-gritty of the publishing/accounting end.

  8. Fae Rowen says:

    You make co-writing seem like so much fun! I can't wait to see the finished product.

  9. jagrout says:

    Julie: How did you get the gumption to try this? It seems antithetical to everyone's idea of the lone writer plotting or pantsing away in the attic hide-away.

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