When I tell people half of my writing career/focus is a co-authoring gig with a friend of mine, I get one of two reactions:
The blank stare, followed by the rapid fire triple blink of dawning horror. “H-How do you do that? Why would you do that? I have a hard enough time writing with myself, never mind someone else.”
The eager, bright eyed look, accompanied by flailing hands. “Oh I’ve wanted to do that! My friend/critique partner and I talk about writing together, but how does that work?”
The answer is it’s not always easy, but it’s definitely worth it.
This is the first in a two part post for those interested in (or just curious about) co-authoring. I’ll cover how people end up writing together and how they keep writing together without slowly going insane. Feel free to comment with questions. I’m happy to have my brain picked.
I began writing with my buddy, Brit, simply for fun. We were mutual fans of a particular series that shall remain unnamed. This particular series took some turns we didn’t enjoy. As a lark, I emailed her the re-write of a scene with how I thought it should progress. I believe her response was something along the lines of: @ )*#$()*LKFJDNF! OMG YES! THIS THIS THIS!!!
A day or two later, I got another reply from her. She’d taken that scene, added a few things, and continued it on into an original follow-up scene that floored me. I remember seeing our voices intermingle and thinking, “D*mn. This is good!”
Keep in mind, at that time, I was also writing my own manuscripts. I was growing as a writer and this was – and continues to be – a part of that growth. One day I blurted out (via text) “Y’know, we should do this for real. We should write an original novella.” Her response? “I was thinking the same thing! Let’s do it!”
So we did, but it turned into a full length novel. Then we wrote another one. Now we’re writing our third.
How does this happen without hurting a friendship/critique partnership? Here are the first vital steps to successfully partnering with someone for writing.
1) Make sure your voices are complimentary and you both want to write the same thing for at least the foreseeable future. You can’t write witty or light erotic historicals with a co-author who’s voice is strictly literary historical fiction. On that same note, you can’t produce one erotic historical and then want to switch gears with book two just because you want to pursue that literary historical fiction book after all. That’s breaking the number one rule in creative collaboration. Best selling rock bands have split up over such things! If you want to venture into a new genre, do that on your own time. If you decided, as a duo, to write erotic historicals, then that’s what you write.
2) Write with someone you know and like and have known and liked for a year or more. It’s similar to the advice you get for marriage. Date for a year, make sure you can stand each other through a few seasons, and then move to something more permanent. Also, there’s an intrinsic familiarity when going through the creative process with a friend. Think of how your critique partners know you, know your writing, your strengths and weaknesses. They will understand where you’re coming from and, when times get tough, give you the benefit of the doubt instead of throwing you overboard.
3) Write with someone whose yin compliments your yang. I like to think I’m good at characterization and character arc, dialogue, internal conflict and feels, sex scenes, banter, and some grammar. My co-author is also stellar at motivations and backstory, action, sex scenes, characterization, and nitty gritty police and medical procedure. My weakness is her strength and vice versa. We remain envious of each other, but both of us have improved because of writing together.
4) Write with someone who has similar goals, drive, and motivation. You cannot be on the path of prolific book churner with a partner who wants to write one book a year. You’ll end up killing each other. If you’re a little more Go, Go, Go! than your partner, work on solo projects to stay productive.
Next Thursday I’ll blog on the operational side of co-authoring and the basic steps of how we write together. Until then, write on!