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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- Discuss your strengths and weaknesses, so it’s clear where you want your partner to carry some extra weight for you and vice versa.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
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.