Friday, 16 March 2012

5 Tips for A Successful Co-Writing Relationship

People are always asking Violetta and I how we do this co-writing thing, so I've decided to do a series of blog posts discussing the ins-and-outs of our method. First on the docket, how to get along with the person you're about to split your royalties with.

1. Put a sock on the doorknob

Even if you're writing with a very good friend (like I am), being successful at co-writing means acknowledging that you are entering a professional relationship with one another. Have you ever been roommates with a friend? You have this picture in your head of the two of you baking cookies together and having America's Next Top Model marathons in your underwear (okay maybe just me), and then suddenly she's eating the food you bought or leaving hair in the shower drain or bringing over her drunk friends when you've got an essay due the next day and... you've got to somehow enforce your boundaries while maintaining your personal relationship. You don't want to be that person that just rolls over and lets their friends take advantage of them, and you don't want to risk your friendship by being too strict about your living rules... 

Co-writing is a professional venture. You will have artistic and financial disagreements, and sometimes these will prove to be a strain on your personal relationship with the other person. Plan for it. Before you write a single word together, talk together about what your expectations for your co-writing relationship are. Talk about the money, but also talk about how you want to handle creative disagreements (and you will have them, so don't kid yourself). Talk about how you're going to deal with professional disputes in a way that doesn't hurt your friendship. Talk about boundaries. Talk about how you'll make business decisions. Write a contract. Most of all, be prepared to work around the fact that even if you are BFFs who finish each other's sentences, when you stretch the definition of your friendship (like living together!), there's going to be some conflict. Be ready for it.

2. On Wednesdays, we wear pink!

Violetta Vane and I are both full-time moms, and when we wrote our first book, we were both working day jobs as well. Every Sunday, I go to my mother's for a family dinner. On Tuesdays, she volunteer teaches. Thursday night is my husband and I's date night. She's two hours ahead of me timezone-wise, so she goes to bed two hours earlier. Her son's sick. My daughter's teething. And so on, and so on, and so on. The long and short of it is, when you're co-writing, you suddenly have two people's "real lives" getting in the way of your writing time. 

When a deadline's looming (like it is for us right now... several of them!), this can be very stressful, but it can also be dangerous when there is no deadline, because there's no urgent motivator forcing you to make time for your writing. And every writer knows how unproductive you can be when you get that "eh, it can wait" attitude about writing. Schedule time for writing together. Set goals. Share a calendar with pertinent deadlines. When we're super busy, this can be as little as "separately write 100 words each a day", but it can also take the form of "barring child-vomit emergencies, Saturday is a day for editing and nothing else" or "Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 6pm-8pm we will both log on and write". We keep a calendar that lists our deadlines, our wordcount goals, our real-life commitments, and schedules in time specifically to simultaneously write. When you have two people and their families and their jobs to wrangle, a little organization goes a long way.

3. You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake

I'm an author too. I know about our tendency to get a little bit... difficult as artistes. When you're co-writing, there often isn't room for that desperate clinging to your artistic vision. The reality is, sometimes you won't see eye-to-eye on something, and sometimes you're going to have to compromise on something you would have originally kept had you been writing on your own. For Violetta, I once poo-pooed a car chase scene she was itching to write. She didn't want to write a captor/captive narrative for Riptide's Roman Warriors call. Sometimes something that you are super in love with, your co-author just can't get behind, and at those times you have to relinquish control a little. 

We're all used to compromising our vision with an editor, but co-writing brings that to a whole new level. Ultimately, a good editor will make your work stronger, but will do so in a way that doesn't compromise your style. They want a story that's your style at its best not... your story in their style. In co-writing, though, sometimes your co-author really does want your story in their style, and that's their right. They're an author too, which means sometimes they're going to exercise creative control in a way that is far more fundamental than tightening your pacing or fixing your comma splices. They might even... change your characterization. If you're not willing to do this give-and-take, you're going to have a very hard time maintaining a working relationship unless you find someone who is willing to cede you majority creative control. Violetta and I both have strong visions for everything we write, which means sometimes something's gotta give. Leave your ego at the door for this one, kids.

4. Let your co-author's freak flag fly

In keeping with the above rule, sometimes you have to just have to let your co-author try something you totally don't get... at all. For Violetta and I, when we disagree I have a tendency of saying, "Let me try and sell this," which is basically my way of saying "I know you're not hot on this idea, but let me actually get it down, and then decide if once you see it on the page, you understand where I'm coming from." Sometimes she sees what I've written and goes "Oh, now that I see it in context I love it!" and sometimes I get to delete everything while we try a new strategy. Both people have to be willing to let the other take risks, and also accept that sometimes those risks might not pan out. 

Remember! You're writing with your co-author for a reason. They have a certain special spark, you love what you make together, they bring skills to the table that complement your weaknesses, they're incisive or witty or creative or just plain fun to work with. Keep that admiration in mind when they come up with an idea you're not too sure about and let them give it a go! When Violetta came back at my captor/captive idea with "How about a gladiator having to train an ensemble cast of ragtag gladiatrices?" my first response was "Oh god what?" but now that we're in the thick of it, I wouldn't have it any other way. I love the concept, I love the characters, I love knowing that the story we're writing is really going to set us apart from other Roman-themed M/M. You are working with a brilliant person! Let them be brilliant! And if they're not brilliant... why are you working with them?

5. Houston, we--

Communicate communicate communicate! Remember in that first point when I said to hash things out before you start? Keep hashing them out. If you're worried about a deadline and want to pick up the pace, say so. If you're frustrated that you're always footing the bill to mail contracts, say so. If a chapter just totally isn't working, say so. If you've lost interest in a certain WIP, or don't know where it's going, SAY SO! Co-writing requires a lot of compromise, probably more than most authors or artists are willing to give. But compromise doesn't mean being unhappy or feeling taken advantage of or silently stewing over things you don't like. Keep it professional, of course, but remember that your name is on this book too. You are the only one who can advocate for yourself in this relationship, so do it! And just think: if you're anxious about a deadline and writing two nights a week isn't cutting it, or if you're burnt out editing a chapter, your co-author might be feeling that way too. And don't feel like you only have to speak for yourself. Take the initiative and ask her how she's doing, too: "What do you think of chapter 9? How are you feeling about this deadline? You seem kind of stressed, do you want to take a couple of days off and have an America's Next Top Model marathon?" 

Keep the lines of communication open from start to finish: write a professional contract together, plan a schedule together, plan the story together, sketch out characters together, share the workload of writing, editing, and promoting together. Stress together. Complain about synopsis writing together. Angst about the wait period to hear back on a submission together. Look at reviews together and whine/cry about the bad ones together. And then, at the end of it all, celebrate together. You overcame conflict and schedules and egos and day jobs and googledocs crashing and wrote a damn book! 

1 comment:

  1. I'd totally forgotten forgot about the car chase. And I had it visualized so perfectly in my mind's eye. DAMN YOU!

    (In hindsight, oh yes, it would have been a terrible idea!)