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?
Then 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.
Delia Latham (c) January 2014