My friend and I are writing a book together. Every time I mention this to someone who writes, I see a spark of curiosity light in their eyes. It seems that cowriting a novel is an idea that many writers have, but few follow through on. They’re afraid of how it will impact their relationship with their cowriter and they’re not sure how to handle the creative conflicts that might arise.
We’re about 60,000 words into what we anticipate will be about a 90,000 word project. While we certainly don’t have all the answers, I can share what we’ve learned so far for those of you considering cowriting a novel.
Choose the right cowriter
Just as there are plenty of people I love to hang out with who would drive me crazy if we shared a cubicle, there are many writers who I love dearly but would never attempt cowriting a novel with. Mutual respect is a vital first ingredient, but there’s more to consider. Seek out someone with a similar writing philosophy. If you’re a detailed plotter and your cowriter breaks into hives at the sight of an outline, you’re going to have problems right from the beginning.
This philosophical compatibility should extend even further. Do you share similar goals for your finished work? Some authors write because they have something to say. Others just enjoy the process. Some believe they’ll become a world-famous best seller if they hustle hard enough. While all of those outcomes are possible, it helps if you and your cowriter are on the same page from the beginning.
Select the right project
Pick an idea you’re both equally interested in but you don’t think either of you could or would write on your own. My co-writer and I are working on a project that requires both of our unique perspectives. Could I write it alone? Maybe, but I wouldn’t want to. We worked together to create this idea and it belongs equally to both of us.
Make sure that whichever project you pick fits within your genre and area of interest. My co-writer and I both write modern fantasy and speculative fiction. We both approach serious subjects with humor and whimsy. Writing a hero’s journey type story set in a modern world touched with magic makes sense for both of us.
Make a plan
I self-identify as a pantser (one who writes by the seat of her pants rather than plotting out stories ahead of time) so this might sound strange coming from me, but: Start with an outline. When I’m discovering a story on my own, pantsing isn’t a problem. I’m as surprised as my readers by where the story goes. However, as a co-writer, if my co-writer and I aren’t on the same page we need to at least be in the same story. Knowing what happens next means you’re both working toward the same goal.
To keep the project from languishing for years (like ours did before we got serious about it), set deadlines. Agree on a target date for a completed first draft and other milestones. Then decide how you’ll divide the writing duties. Will one person be responsible for a particular character or particular scenes? In most classes, you’ll write alone then come together to discuss what you’ve written. We work in a shared Google Doc so each of us can see (and edit) what the other is doing.
Cowriting a novel takes collaboration
This isn’t a competition; it’s a novel. Every decision you make should be for the good of the story. The writing and editing process might require you to kill your darlings, cut your favorite jokes, and remove characters you love. Don’t take it personally. Your co-writer will probably be more ruthless toward your work than you are. That’s a great thing. It means the finished product will be that much better.
Recently, my cowriter and I attempted to identify which parts of the 60,000+ word manuscript each of us had written. We failed. Both of us have gone over each other’s work, added things, removed things, adjusted scenes to the point that I don’t remember which words are mine and which are hers. That’s awesome, because it removes ego from the equation. I can’t get overly attached to a section I’m not even sure I wrote.
I can’t wait to share this story with the world. For updates on this and other projects, join my newsletter. You’ll get a monthly email with news, tips for authors and random insights from my random brain.