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Thoughts on Collaborative Writing

A writer creates and writes alone. It’s the nature of the craft.  Even when you collaborate, for vast portions of the actual writing each of you is writing alone.  And that’s a good thing.  If you’ve worked in the corporate world, you know that decision by committee is the norm, but definitely not as agile or decisive as a single decision-maker.  Needless to say, writing a book by committee is not a good idea.

Still, under the right circumstances, the idea can have merit.  Look on the shelves in bookstores.  There are a number of books (yes, even fiction) attributed to two authors, and even more that use a single pseudonym for a pair of writers.

In the course of my writing life, I’ve written two complete novels with a partner.  While I’m glad I had the experience, it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to live through.  My partner was a close friend.  We had similar sensibilities, and established guidelines for how it would work.  And yet there were times (at least on my part) where the tension escalated so high I was ready to walk away from everything, including the friendship.

Things to think about if you’re considering collaborating:

  • Decide who is in charge. There has to be a decision maker, someone who has last call.  There could be a lead writer, who has overall say on all of it, or an alternate arrangement.  When I collaborated, my partner wrote the odd chapters and I wrote the even ones, so we set the rule that whoever created the chapter had last call.  That worked well for the most part.
  • Be clear on work styles. Differing work styles will frustrate and potentially destroy the partnership if everything is not clear from the beginning.  At the time I was collaborating, I was a full-time mother with two young kids at home.  Getting a chapter completed in a week was a push for me.  My writing partner was prolific and could slap out a chapter in a day or two.  We knew going on we had differences in this area, but we never actually discussed how that might look and feel to the other.  It wasn’t good.
  • Talk about expectations each of you may have. Before you write a word, be sure that each of you understands what the other expects of you.  The only way you can negotiate if your partner’s expectation exceeds what you can do, is if you know about them.
  • Draw up a roadmap. When you’re writing by yourself, you can go with the flow.  Things change.  You adjust.  When you’re collaborating with a partner, you need to know where you’re going, so you can gauge when you’re off track, which should stimulate a conversation on whether the roadmap needs to change, or stay the same and the off-track pieces get rewritten.
  • Come to agreement on what the writing process is going to look like. I know this ties in with work styles and expectations, but you both really need to be clear on how the process will work.  Will you write the whole thing and then edit?  Edit as you go along?  Will you meet weekly, biweekly, monthly?  How should the documents be formatted?  What software will you use?

This is just a starting point to the discussions you should have with your collaborator.  Preferably, it should happen up front, but you’re collaborating now you can call pause and have these critical discussions.  It was save you both frustration and stress.

As for me, the husband and I have been talking about collaborating on a novel.  But not until I finish this one.

Categories: Writing

1 reply

  1. I’ve considered writing a book with a friend. Those are good guidelines. If I ever do a collaborative project I will consider them.

    The one thing that I find most difficult with collaborating is blending writing styles. Everyone has a unique voice. Often when I read published books written by two people I can point out where one author stopped and the other author started. It really bugs me.

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