Many people are flabbergasted by my high word counts. Few realise the bulk comes from projects I am writing with my co-author, Meg. We regularly do 100, 000 new words a month and we divide the word count 50/50, giving us 50, 000 words each, on top of what we have done on personal projects.
So I wanted to do a blog post about co-authoring this week. This is just a short introduction to the pros and cons, and how Meg and I do things, which is different to most other co-author teams.
Four things to remember:
Firstly, you need to realise that co-authoring relationships sit somewhere on a sliding scale between best friends and strictly business. Where you are on that scale will depend on you and your co-author, but you have to be on the same page.
Secondly, if there is anything writing/business related you feel uncomfortable talking to your co-author about, DON’T WORK WITH THAT PERSON. You need to be able to discuss rights, money, editing duties, plot structure/twists, character motivations, all of it. Bones to polish. If you don’t feel you can speak up about something, you either can’t work with people in general, or you can’t work with that person, depending on why you feel you can’t talk about that issue.
Thirdly, you need to have a really good method of dealing with conflict. What that is will vary depending on the people involved, but it needs to be quick and painless. No sulking, no manipulation, no hidden agendas. If you can’t stay level-headed and compromise, don’t co-author. Because there WILL be conflicts. Constantly. But they won’t feel like fights or debates if you have good communication and conflict resolution skills.
Fourthly, you need a contract. It needs to be a signed contract, which you wrote together, both completely agree on and both completely understand. It needs to cover rights, right reversions, money distribution, what happens if one of you dies, what happens if you have an irrevocable falling out, etc. Plan for all the worst case scenarios you can imagine, even if they seem impossible. If you don’t want to talk about those things and put them in a contract, once again, don’t co-author.
So how do Meg and I actually do the work?
You should know our first drafts are embarrassingly rough, full of unnecessary fluff, poorly written, full of plot holes and littered with abandoned sub-plots. So the majority of the work happens in the editing stage. And that’s fine and normal.
When writing a first draft, one of us comes up with the idea for the plot and setting and they we are each assigned characters to control/direct. We then take turns writing scenes, passing them back and forth all day. Often, the non-plotting writer has no idea where the story is going, and only has information about the next few scenes. It’s the back and forth that gets us the high word count. We’re excited to see what happens next, so we want to write our own section to see what the other will say. Because the sections we are writing are quite short, there is only a small amount of work before we get a reward—the next part of the story. Because we always share 1:1, we’re constantly motivated, all day, to write a little more. One more scene. One more page.
Obviously, for this to work, you have to be very enthusiastic about the other author’s writing. You also have to be very excited about the plot. What Meg and I have done is essentially gamified writing. So writing becomes a process we are slowly working on, between other things, all day. Seven AM to seven PM, averaging 300 words an hour, gives us 3600 each a day. Which, doubled, gives us the aforementioned 100k a month.
This may sound huge, but you need to understand this is a side thing—a quick 300 words between doing a load of dishes and a load of washing for me. And Meg manages her words, even while working full time.
The editing process is a whole other animal. We read through the first draft alone and make notes. Then we come together and discuss those notes. Then the first writer does the developmental edits/second drafting. The developmental edits are handed to the second writer to give feedback, and we come together to discuss changes we want to make based on that feedback. When we are happy with the second draft, the second writer does line edits and polish.
Our method will be successful for very few people. I would even hesitate to recommend it to others. It is rare, particularly in younger folk, to have two people who are not only close enough to talk for 12 hours every single day, but who are also be capable of a sensible business relationship.
That said, working with another author can be one of the most rewarding and fun writing experiences there is. I sincerely hope to be working with Meg for many decades to come and look forward to opportunities to work with other writers in the future.
Writing doesn’t have to be a solitary pursuit and having someone else equally invested in a project gives it double the drive, double the love and double the experience. Don’t ever be afraid to give it a try.