Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Delia Latham: Team Writing - Who’s Pulling the Plow?

In the beginning was me. Just me. Me alone, writing my novels and being…me.

I couldn’t imagine co-writing a book. How is it even possible? Do the authors take turns, chapter by chapter? Do they argue over events in the story? How do they agree on all the little details involved in making a book work?

Lea and CowboyThen I became a part of Heart’s Haven. Mary Manners, Marianne Evans, Tanya Stowe and I write our own, individual stories in each 4-book collection, but they’re all set at the same time period, in the same location, and often with shared characters. These projects gave me a taste of the coordination necessary between writers to make an entire collection of books flow together, with all the details coinciding smoothly. I liked it. I liked it a lot.

Somehow, from the relationships formed writing those collections, Tanya and I discovered that our strengths and weaknesses played well off each other. During a time when I was physically weak and fast approaching a deadline for four contracted books, I enlisted her invaluable assistance to make it happen. She and I co-wrote two of those crunch-time books—both novellas, and both Christmas stories.

Tanya is a top-notch, wonderfully skilled plotter. I’m a pantster, and my stronger skill is in crafting words—making them pretty, seeing that they flow properly, and adhering to writing rules and mechanics. Does that mean Tanya can’t make words pretty? Absolutely not. Does it mean I’m a failure at coming up with a plot? No. But recognizing our strengths and weaknesses helped us form a great team as co-writers.
If you’re interested in giving co-writing a whirl, maybe these tips will get you started on the right foot…er, feet.
  • Choose a writing partner you admire, respect, and trust implicitly. Through Heart’s Haven, Tanya and I came to highly respect each other’s individual writing skills. We also learned enough about each other as people—just one woman to another, writing completely aside—to know that we had quite a bit in common. We found that we could count on each other as strong prayer partners. A series of personal events convinced me that I could trust Tanya with private matters. All of these things combined to create a relationship strong enough to handle the pros and cons of co-writing—because, as in most worthwhile undertakings, there are some of each.
  • Find out if you can accept critiques from your prospective partner.  We critiqued a few things for each other, and found that our critique styles were compatible. That’s incredibly important now, as we write together. A lot of back-and-forth critique-type comments are involved, and if your writing partner’s manner of delivering a criticism offends, hurts, or angers you, it’s never going to work. You both need to be able to point out problem areas without hard feelings or bruised egos.
  • Know and own your strengths and weaknesses.  Are you strong at characterization, but a little shaky with description? Do you love dialogue, but deep POV ties you in knots? There is no shame in admitting your weak points. And there’s nothing wrong with knowing you’re good at the things you’re good at. You must be able to recognize and own your strengths and weaknesses, so you can properly balance them against someone else’s.
  • Recognize and embrace your writing partner’s strengths and weaknesses.  Tanya is well-traveled. I am not. She’s a history buff. I have never been, and can’t imagine myself ever becoming one. So her life experiences lend something to our writing that I could never accomplish on my own. I’m character-driven, and do very well at creating strong, likeable, believable characters. Detail-oriented, I easily pick up on spots in a storyline where bits and pieces don’t agree from chapter-to-chapter, or where they just don’t work, based on other parts of the story. Combined, our strengths and weaknesses “play well” together and create a harmonic writing relationship.
  •  Do a trial run.  If you and a prospective partner think you’re ready to form a team, try writing one book together. Make it a novella—they’re faster and easier for a first effort. Agree ahead of time that you’ll both feel free to cry off if it isn’t working for you, without straining your relationship. Just a simple, “Hey, we gave it our all, but I don’t think this is my cup of tea.” As mature adults, and certainly as Christians, your friendship (or whatever you choose to call your relationship) should be able to survive without a problem. If not…well, thank God you didn’t plow ahead into a bigger project!
  • Have fun!  If co-writing really does feel like you’re hooked to a plow, and it’s all about hard, grueling work…something’s wrong. A little light-hearted fun and laughter goes a long way toward making the effort work and work well. Turn around and look at the crooked row the two of you just plowed, and make a joke about it. Laugh together. It’ll ease the weight of the halter, and you’ll find yourselves pulling with a little more togetherness on the next row.
Happy co-writing!

Delia Latham (c) January 2014

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