Writing with a partner has so many joys, and with the right partner the results can be magical. However, even with the best of friends it’s not always plain sailing. Here’s my experience of why you should definitely consider writing with someone else, and the lessons my partner and I have learned in making it work.
- It’s half the work
Technically this isn’t true, as you will spend a lot of time sharing information that’s in your head, and going over stuff together. But in theory you only have to actually write half the number of words as you would if you were writing on your own. We won’t mention that you only get half the money for doing so, because the benefits totally outweigh that. (Although right now if you asked me if I’d rather have a writing partner or swimming pool I would totally choose swimming pool). Also, the responsibility for characters and plots doesn’t lie completely with you, you get even more creative input.
2. Someone else cares about your book as much as you do
If you’ve had kids you’ll know that after the initial interest from family and friends the novelty of your precious child quickly wears off. If you are really lucky you’ll have 2 other people who care as much about how much your baby pooed, that its first tooth is poking through, or that you think it might have said mama or dada, and that person is the kid’s other parent, and the second one is your mum, who, if she is anything like my mum, will love your child with a vehemence that she never showed to you and proclaim that the is a special grandmother-grandchild bond that supersedes that of parent-child. That is what having a writing partner is like, and how you find yourself in a supermarket café talking with your partner about the ‘journey’ your character is going on as if she is a real person. Or as, my partner put it “I’m reading this chapter and getting really engrossed in the story and want to see what happens, and I get to the end and go ‘oh crap – I’ve got to write the next bit’”.
3. You have a built in editor for free
If you’ve got a great relationship with your writing partner and are both committed to creating a quality product, you will edit each other’s work. They will be able to highlight the gaps or tell you if they dialogue is off, because it’s essential to getting their part right. Even if you are self-publishing you should still seek a professional editor, but it’s good to know that someone else has gone through it first.
4. You can share the tasks according to your preferences
This is more than number 1 which is essentially having to write fewer words. This is about all the other stuff that surrounds writing and publishing a book. As my writing partner likes to tell me “the writing bit is only a small percentage of the process”. We argue about exact percentage, but he is right in principle, especially if you are self-publishing. There’s the plotting and planning, proofing and layouts, the cover, marketing, commercials, and all the other things you do to boost your profile as an author. My partner hates interviews, but I love talking about myself; he is much more IT literate than me and has design experience so is dealing with the cover and the formatting. Don’t be afraid to take different tasks, even if it feels like one person is doing most of the work at first, the other person will put their time in at the other end while you enjoy the fruits of your labours.
5. It’s just so much fun
Batman and Robin, Thelma and Louise, Mulder and Scully…partnerships are the best, everyone should have a partner in crime, someone you can get told off for drinking beer in a public place with (while in charge of your children) – totally happened to us last week! Someone who will tell you your writing is amazing when you feel like it’s crap. Someone who will push you across that finish line when you want to give up at the final mile.
Writing can be a lonely endeavour. Writing with someone else makes it a different experience. But there are some things that can help you do it well from the off, things that we have learned from experience…
- Make sure your goals are aligned
This actually hasn’t been a problem for us, as we both have the same aim, which is basically to take over the world (starting with a small South American country). But I can imagine that if you are both writing for different reasons you may come unstuck. If one of you is wants to be published, and the other just wants to write for fun you may not be driven to completion in the same way. Ask each other what your outcomes are. Is it just to be published? Is it to write a critically acclaimed book? Is it to write a mass appeal book? Is it to make money? Different goals are not insurmountable, but you have to have some ground rules. My writing partner’s only rule is “it should be fun”, and if we’re not having fun we should examine what we are doing. This sometimes means having difficult conversations where you point out things that aren’t fun for you. As painful as these are they are essential to a good working relationship. My partner and I annoy each other on a regular basis, but that is completely normal, and we resolve it by talking to each other honestly. Which brings me onto the next point…
2. You cannot talk to one another too much
The temptation is to just get stuck in and write, but when you are writing with someone else communication is key, not just about the story, but about the process too. Be clear about your needs and expectations. Are deadlines hard deadlines or just aspirations? Do you need your partner to prioritise writing a certain scene? Talk to them. You need to be able to articulate the visions and ideas that are in your head; your partner is not a mind reader (though after a while working with you they might seem to be). Also, be clear on the financial arrangements; how will you collect payment? How will you pay any upfront costs? Talking about this early on will save upset down the line. This isn’t always easy, sometimes the conversations are difficult. I am super sensitive and my partner has learned the hard way that I need delicate handling. But if you do it kindly and with good intent (e.g. focusing on what would be helpful to you rather than what you think they have done wrong) these conversations will make you into a stronger and more successful partnership.
3. Recognise and use each other’s strengths
Your noble intent might be to do things equally, half and half, after all, both your names are going to be on the front of the book (you can argue about whose goes first). But writing a book is a holistic process and you will each be better at different parts of it. Which of you is the social media guru? Who can knock out a first draft quickly? Who’s better a negotiating for services like editing and book design? If you’re like me you will want to know how to do every part, but with so much to do around publishing a book recognise where you can add the most value.
My writing partner is always working on a zillion projects, and is easily distracted (“look it’s a duck”). But as frustrating as I find that, I know that means he is full of ideas, and the projects he is working on are all successful, so he brings the experience and determination I lack. I am impatient, demanding and sensitive, but he knows that I can write quickly and pretty well, and I won’t let him off the hook for anything.
4. Use collaboration tools
There are so many amazing tools that you can use to collaborate. Your absolute essential is a shared document and shared storage. We use Google Docs which you can both edit live as well as separately, and you can create Power Points and spreadsheets as well as text documents. That may mean that you are mid-way through writing and a sentence saying “you’re so weird” pops up in your paragraph (hmmm, maybe tip no.6 should be ‘try and pick a partner who doesn’t have the sense of humour of a 12 year old boy….’). A video chat tool is also really helpful, as like I said in point 2, you need to do a LOT of talking.
In addition, you may want to think about some sort of project management/Kanban tool to help track your actions and hold each other to account. We use Asana, which is really easy to use and helps you break down tasks and set deadlines. Other collaboration tools are beer and biscuits, but they’re optional.
5. Be prepared to compromise
No matter how much you heed points 1-4 you will at some point have to compromise. This may be because a) turns out you don’t always know best, or more likely b) it’s just easier to give in. Seriously though, if you want your partner to consider your needs and drivers, you are going to have to consider theirs too. For us my partner’s compromise was to be better at writing things down because I couldn’t see into his head, and using a planning tool with timelines. For me it was not expecting things to be done to my deadline and being more flexible around timings. This became a lot easier when I recognised all the other things I could be doing to contribute to the process (like writing this blog), that weren’t just about getting the words on the page.
Working in a partnership will help you learn about yourself as well as the other person. I learned how much I need to plan and be in control of what is going on, which I never thought was that important to me till faced with my whirlwind of a partner.
Bonus tip: Don’t ignore your non-writing partner
You can have this one for free because it’s super important. Writing can take up a lot of time and make us disengage with the real world for long periods. It’s easy for partners to feel neglected in that. And as soon as they breathe a sigh of relief that you’re done, you’re on to the next project. That escalates 10 fold when you are working with a partner who isn’t them. Not only are you not paying them attention, but you’re also spending all your free time working with someone else, building a world with that person, something only the two of you have. I won’t tell you how to resolve that one as it will be different for different relationships, but the things that I have found have helped are including my husband in the process, asking for his opinion on the cover and getting him to read extracts. My husband and are also going to work on a writing/illustrating project, something that we will do together and is just ours. That’s going to be exciting too, though expect an imminent blog post “5 things you need to know about co-writing with your significant other”.
So, cheers to my writing partner, the Robin to my Batman (yes, NGK, you read that right), the Thelma to my Louise, the Mulder to my Scully (we need torches…). The best writing partner I’ve had. Also the only one.