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Collaborative Writing?

June 16, 2011

When I saw this month’s theme of “collaborative writing” I felt about as uninspired as a romantic comedy starting with two people who initially hate each other, then fall madly in love after extraordinary circumstances throw them together.

Not only that, it made me realised how much I have shied away from the opportunities I’ve been given to experiment. Even though my stories have appeared in several anthologies which have had active communities behind them, I’ve never joined in. People were open about struggles they were having, keeping everyone updated about their progress, but I just couldn’t do it. It’s not that I don’t know how to socialise online, I do far too much of that in fact, and jump in and out of Twitter and Facebook all day.

I wrote for the Red Book and the Yin and Yang books, both eMergent Publishing projects which actively encouraged collaboration between writers, but again, I didn’t join in. Once I had the material I had to work with to create my story, I went away and wrote it, whilst others worked closely together, weaving story elements together and discussing characters.

Off with his head!

I’m a tyrant. I like total control over my dominion, which means I always write alone. Yes, I prefer to write short stories to prompts, but once I have a prompt I like, the doors close and the rest happens in private, like a dictator shooing advisors out after reports are made.

This isn’t because I have a dislike of collaborative writing, I simply don’t understand it on a fundamental level. I can appreciate how a plot could be discussed, even characters, but for me, there is a world of difference between discussion and writing them into life. The idea of sending work to another author, to make their changes and add bits, confuses me. Won’t it be like two people trying to talk at the same time? Perhaps this never happens, I am ignorant after all.

Editing as collaboration

The closest I have come to writing collaboratively is being edited. Jodi and I had discussions about each story in From Dark Places, sometimes as comments in an annotated document, sometimes over email, sometimes over Skype. I found the process exciting and challenging. It wasn’t just a matter of tightening up the prose or smoothing rough edges, it was about excavating those last details, revealing the whole story, sometimes even changing the feel of it in places. But at no point did I feel like the stories were any less mine. I think that shows how good an editor Jodi is! And probably how possessive I am…

How does it work?

I’m recording an audio book at the moment which is a historical romance, the first in the genre I have ever read. It has two authors listed, and as I record each chapter, I wonder how they worked together. Did one provide all the historical details, whilst the other wrote? Did one focus on dialogue whilst the other focused on the narrative prose? Or did they both discuss, but only one did the actual writing?

I don’t know. Do you write closely with another author? How do you do it? What do you love about it and hate about it? Please enlighten me, I’m genuinely curious.

Emma Newman is recovering from the launch of her short story anthology ‘From Dark Places‘ whilst preparing for the release of her debut novel ‘20 Years Later‘ in hardback next month. In a vain effort to retain a modicum of sanity, she blogs and gets up to all kinds of writing mischief at

  1. June 17, 2011 1:36 pm

    I’ve done a number of collaborative pieces, including the Chinese Whisperings ones you’ve been involved with. I am currently co-authoring a stageplay script.

    The strategy for “how” to write with another author probably varies for every pair of writers out there. It comes down to “do what works”. It’s probably easier if the writers’ styles are very, very similar or very, very far apart. The reason I say that is that if you’re too similar, you’ll probably end up arguing over nitpicky stuff.

    The way I see it, when collaborating you agree on some high-level plot areas, perhaps the overall story arc. You agree on a process for how to write it. For items I’ve been involved with, it’s usually been a situation where I wrote one chapter and the other author wrote another (rinse and repeat). For this script, we outlined the scenes at a very high level, basically to agree on where the story would be at the END of any given scene. Then we just started taking scenes and writing them. We wrote whatever scenes called out to us at the given time — we could do this because we knew where the previous scenes would bring us and where we had to get the current scene to be by the end of it so that the story would be in the right place.

    My coauthor and I are very different in terms of our writing process. He tends to plan, I definitely do not plan. He writes at night, I am useless once the sun starts heading down toward the horizon. He compromized on timing and met me early in the morning to write. I compromized on the outline.

    This strategy does put us into an editing frenzy, though, especially given that it is a script. We have to make sure the voice, language, word choice, etc. all matches for characters throughout the play. We need to make sure the jokes are consistent, the physics laws are consistent, etc. But it seems to be working well for us.

    My opinion: You should try something simple. Try it as a game. Sit down with a writerly friend (or do it online) and each of you write something for a bit, then swap stories and continue the other’s work. No pressure, no right or wrong answers… just good interaction.

  2. June 17, 2011 7:20 pm

    I can really relate to this Emma. I too wonder how people do it, and I consider myself to be a bit of a control-freak Virgo tyrant with my writing so the thought of relinquishing control to someone else is daunting. What Rob says about writing styles seems to make a lot of sense… and starting small also sounds like a good idea!

  3. June 18, 2011 5:38 pm

    I got myself into a bit of trouble with a friend earlier when she believed I was saying she was a lesser writer than me for being able to write with other people when I couldn’t do it personally. My issue is the one mentioned, the tyrannical control issue. I like crafting my own world, sculpting things in it and letting my characters tell their own stories. I enjoy all that; I don’t want to relinquish any of it to another writer with their own ideas. Editing is a different kind of relationship I think; they have their own territory and you have yours.

  4. June 18, 2011 9:35 pm

    Writing a collaborative novel a book co-written by you and another author can be great fun as well as hugely rewarding.Not only are you getting twice the amount of work done but you also have the benefit of a built-in motivational partner to keep you writing – even when your Muse deserts you inspiration fails or you just dont feel like it.The best part about writing with another author is that you always have someone on hand to brainstorm with toss about ideas create characters and just chat about your work..

  5. June 21, 2011 4:21 pm

    I too feel that my writing process is a very private matter until it’s time for editing. Only in my latest novel-in-progress have I shown my WIP to something of a beta reader, and even then, I requested opinions on content and pace rather than grammar, syntax, suggestions for change, etc. Working with another writer, or even a few writers does not fly well with me. I’ve tried and it didn’t work out. Some thoughts, impressions, and ideas can’t be expressed, and when the other writer(s) misinterprets, presumes, or just goes ahead and does his/her thing, well, I don’t see the point of collaborating. I’m sure it’s enlightening and good practice, but I feel my time could be better spent doing something more constructive. Just IMHO, of course.

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