How to Survive Co-Writing

The idea of co-writing might seem great at first: “Hey, I only have to write half a story!” “Yay, I have someone to push me through my slumps!” And come on, what’s better than an awesome writer friend who wants to work on the same project. Heck, you can even become a less-funny version of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler.

Sisters movie film funny dancing

But co-writing is a lot of work. You’ve put two very creative minds to the same work and it’s not always going to be perfect harmony. Yes, you have someone to bounce ideas off and sometimes you won’t have to deal with writer’s block because you’ve got a partner, but you’re not always going to agree.

I recently started co-writing a project after writing three projects by myself. Here’s what I’ve taken away from it so far, and it’s going smoothly.

  1. Have a Good Reason for Co-Writing

It is tempting to co-write because it seems easier. But if you have a good idea on a project and think you may need help, turn to your critique partners. If they’re there every step of the process, they’ll be able to help you when you’re stuck or having revision issues. But at the end of the day, it is ultimately your decision. If that sounds better to you than sharing your project and ideas with someone who can say no to them, then choose to do so.

For this project, I could have gone on my own, but it wouldn’t have felt right. And this is why:

My co-writer and I have a long history. And I mean long. We met in grade school during “writing time.” That’s where we created this adventure of four siblings. Of course, as all childhood fantasies must do, this came to and end. Or at least, that’s what we thought. The other year, we learned that both of us both still used those four characters in some of our side writing. They’ve really become a part of us. Now that we’ve hit an age where we won’t let our characters be eaten by a werewolf and survive by slicing open his stomach from the inside, we decided to give them a new story. Because she was an integral part in the creation of these characters, I wouldn’t want to write their story by myself. So, we’re a team.

high five alyson hannigan how i met your mother anniversary jason segel

 

2. Dividing the Writing

Okay, so you’re decided you’re going to try this co-writing out. Well how do you do so? It’s not just as simple as sitting down at your computer and typing whatever you want. First you’ll need to figure out how you and your partner will divide up the project. There are many different ways from chapter to chapter, scene to scene, even co-writing the whole thing together.

For us, we split it by characters. I mentioned earlier that we’d created four siblings. Well, they’re no longer siblings, but there are still four. So, we each took two. What’s nice about that, is we each understand one of our characters very well. The other one is a nice challenge. What we do is whichever character is describing the scene, that’s the writer who writes it. Of course since these four characters interact with each other, we have to make sure the other one understands all of the characters.

 

3. Plotting

Okay, I’m a pantser. Hands down, I can’t plot anything. I usually have an overall idea, a beginning scene and the resolution. Though not always. I just came up with a new project and I described it to my critique partners as “A girl who works with magical animals, chaos ensues.” I have the first scene already in my mind. But that’s about it.

pokemon dumb psyduck weezing

Now, you can’t do that while working with a co-writer. My co-writer and I rely heavily on Google Docs. We’ve got a document with major plot points listed, then the scenes we’ve created so far. Each scene is color-coded for the certain character POV. Since we’re writing a high fantasy, we have a lot of world building and backstories. So, we’ve got a document for the countries of the world and their political and natural aspects. There’s also one on gods and another with a legend. One of the more important documents we have is the one on character development. It allows both of us to see not only what’s happening with our main characters, but the minor ones as well.

We’re both still struggling through world building, but these sheets are helping us so much.

4. Communication is Key

Writing with a partner means you can’t just sit down one day and write three or four thousand words. No, the two of you not only need to plan about how the project is going to look, but you also have to plan the specifics between scenes.

We Skype once a week, normally on Wednesday nights. Now, that can change if the week has gotten hectic for one of us. But normally Wednesdays are our days. We’ll spend about two hours plotting, talking about where we’re going and whose scene is next. Then during the week as we plan, we text each other about ideas.

Recently, I had a brain spurt about one of my characters. Really excited, I texted my partner. Of course, I didn’t exactly present it in the right way and she was wary about it. So after a full day of discussion, I gave in to her. I didn’t want to make her uncomfortable with this decision and I know that it’s still on the table if later down the road she figures she’s okay with it. I mean, it’s either that, or I challenge her to a fight. And that’s wayyyy too much energy wasted. Expect if it’s with Light Sabers. Everyone loves Light Sabers.

fight lightsaber drake and josh

5. Patience

Again, unlike writing by yourself, you can’t just sit down and write a couple thousand or so words. You need to work with your partner, and there’s a good chance your schedules don’t match.

My last manuscript I wrote in under 2 months. (I participated in NaNoWriMo.) But I know this project will take time. Especially with the two of us.

A lot of the scenes in our project we can’t write without reading the scenes prior. So when we meet each week, the person who has the next scene talks about her plans and then spends the week writing that scene. Then the other one can read it and write her scene from that. Of course, that also gives both of us the time to work on other projects if we need to.

6. Lots of Give and Take

Like I said, you and your co-writer won’t agree on everything. And that’s okay. However if there is a very specific reason one of you believes something, it’s best to let them keep that belief. Who knows, it might make for a good story.

Prior to beginning this project, I already had a base for a world in my mind. Since it was there, my partner let me create that world, but she still has a say in how things go. We really try not to argue with each other. Though I do have to say, while she may win a verbal fight, out of the two of us, I’ve got more strength. So it might be a good thing for her that we live two hours away from each other when she disagrees with my ideas.

reaction atla come at me bro katara the chase

I hope I didn’t scare anyone away from co-writing. Really, it’s awesome to have a partner to talk to about a specific project. It’s also bringing me closer to an old friend. Just remember, co-writing is a team event while normally writing is a very solo activity. If you’re the type who can handle a group project, then I encourage you to try.

Have you tried co-writing? ARE you co-writing? Share your experiences in the comments! And share this post with your partner. 😉

Related Post: Adventures in Co-Writing by Jen Malone

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