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Collaboration: Three Rules You Can’t Break

Apr

19, 2011 |

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**This post is remaining up longer than usual. I’m away camping! Hope you have a great break over Easter.**

Is writing with someone else twice as much work, or half?

What do you do if you disagree?

How do you write? Line by line? Scene by scene? Together at the keyboard?

This week, we’re trying something a little different! I’ve invited my writing partner, the terribly clever Meagan Spooner to come and collaborate with me on this post about collaboration. Meg is represented by Josh Adams of Adams Literary, and writes YA fantasy and science fiction. Together we’re currently working on WRECKED, a YA sci-fi romance.

So today, here’s a Three Ways post that’s a little different. You’ll hear from both Meg and I with our top three tips for writing with a partner. At the bottom, some useful links!

Work Out The Rules Ahead Of Time

Meg says: Sit down and figure out the rules for how you’re going to go about collaborating ahead of time. Don’t assume your partner is on the same page as you. Figure out who is going to write which part, and whose creative vision trumps whose in which parts of the manuscript. Ideally when you disagree you will be able to discuss the section in question and work out a solution that appeals to both partners, but if you can’t, who makes the final call? With Amie and I, we each “own” a half of our romantic pairing. So my word trumps hers when it comes to the character whose point of view I write, whereas she gets to call the shots when it comes to her own character. Sorting out the rules ahead of time will prevent bruised egos and festering issues. And if this communication starts to break down, TALK to your partner the second you feel something’s not right. The emotions involved in writing are so intense that tiny things lead to big things far more quickly than in other relationships. Don’t let it catch you unawares.

Amie says: Meg’s dead right when she says that writing together is like being in a relationship. It’s all about compromise, and though I’m a little biased (after all, I’m a mediator by profession), I really think that compromise can make your work so much stronger. Once you know who’s going to have a say and when, look for the gifts those decisions can bring. If your partner needs a part of the story to run a certain way, what new possibilities does that wake up for you that you didn’t see before? Take the attitude that if a door closes a window opens–however cliche, it’s true. To Meg’s more concrete rules, I’ll also add a couple: work out what you’ll do with the book if one of you wants or needs to stop work on it. If you’re represented, work out whose agent might sell the work. Make contingency plans, even if you think you’ll never need them.

Pick Somebody Who Complements Your Strengths (and Weaknesses)

Amie says: Meg’s writing is beautiful, lyrical stuff that hauls you into the story and won’t let you go. She knows how to get you turning pages (I still get shivers, and I’ve read THE IRON WOOD approximately twenty-three and a half times), and she never hesitates to inflict the worst on her characters when that’s what the story calls for. Her settings are vivid, and she sketches them out for the reader by using the cleverest of small details. I’m terrible at inflicting the worst on my characters. I’m a big softy at heart (and on the outside, too). I usually spend my revisions fleshing out drafts that suffer from White Room Syndrome. When I write with Meg, I find myself rising to the occasion. I strengthen the areas of my work where she excels, and when she edits my sections, she takes them to a new level. Finding somebody who can do that for you is priceless.

Meg says: Amie has this incredible sense of humor that shows up even when she’s writing dramatically, and it gets me every time. Though I recognize that some of the most dramatic and affecting stuff out there uses humor as a contrast, I find it really difficult to find the funny when I’m hanging my characters out to dry and shoving them down cliffs and tearing bits of them off. The way Amie sprinkles it in is genius, and it makes the tragic parts of a story so much more poignant. I regularly end up crying when we’re working on our book, as she can attest. She also writes the most amazing male characters of anyone I’ve met. I challenge anyone to read her writing and not fall instantly, helplessly in love with her fictional creations. She makes it so easy to write about hopeless adoration, because that’s what you genuinely feel for these guys! If I could kill someone and steal their abilities… ahem.

Know Your Goals

Meg says: This ties in with the aspects of good communication in the first rule, but it’s more to do with the practical side than the creative side. It’s really important to know what your partner wants to get out of the situation. Talk about best and worst case scenarios–in an ideal world, what’s your hope for the book? What’s the absolute minimum you want to get out of writing it? What’s your timeline for the project, and by what points do you want to meet certain benchmarks? This is especially true if you aren’t as familiar with the writing process–and speed–of your partner. If your partner wants a relaxed meander down Creative Lane and maybe have a first draft in a year or two, while you want to churn out a finished book and be ready to query in six months, that’s a problem. Collaboration in any arena is about communication and compromise.

Amie says: So true! We have the advantage of living together, so if Meg’s dying to see what happens in the next section I’m writing, I get lucky and she cooks me dinner so I can sit down and get to work. Not everybody’s so lucky, though! Knowing how often you’re going to see sections from your writing partner and what state they’ll be in is important. Letting each other know if you’re straying from the schedule is important too. Make regular times to IM, Skype or even get together face to face and chat so you keep the communication channels open. Although it may feel a bit pretentious to talk about The Great Future of Your Book before you even get started, knowing where the journey’s heading for each of you is important!

How about you? Would you try it? Any questions for us? (And psst, jump over to Meg’s blog to check out her great post on the future of dystopian fiction.)

Collaboration Three Ways

Jon S. Lewis has ten great rules for writing with a partner.

Jessie Harrell discusses how she set up her co-authoring relationship.

Elise Allen talks about collaborating on scripts, with Hilary Duff and points out you’re collaborating with your editor!

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