A Completely Different Take on Collaborations

In a recent post, I explained why I thought collaborating on a novel probably isn’t a good idea. It turns out that two wonderful writer friends of mine have a totally different opinion. I thought it only fair to present their side of the issue. Herewith are Doris Reidy and Don O’Briant on this volatile topic!

Why Co-Writing is Fun (Her POV)

Doris BW CU
Doris Reidy

I was the Lone Writer. When in the process of writing a book, I’d go into my room, figuratively slam the door behind me, and have at it. I didn’t divulge theme, plot, or characters to anyone. When asked, I’d say, pompously, “I don’t discuss a work in progress.”

          And I didn’t, because if I talked it out, I lost enthusiasm for writing it out. It was a process that worked for me for ten books. It worked less well for my critique group, who would groan and try to hide when I dropped 60,000 words on them at once.

          Then I acquired a co-author. He’s a friend of more than thirty years, a life-long journalist, and an excellent writer with several books notched on his belt. We kicked around an idea for a novel one evening, and the next morning I e-mailed him the first pages.

          “I didn’t think you meant it,” he said. “Are we really going to do this?”

          “We are. You write the male, I’ll write the female.”

          And so we began. Both pantsers, we had a vague idea of what the story was about, but no outline. We tootled off in opposite directions, corrected course, wrote some more, got lost, spent hours spreading pages around on the floor, did timeline after timeline, got back on track and wrote some more. Does it sound agonizing?

          It’s fun! It’s fun to have a writing partner who is as invested in the work as I am. We’re about three-quarters of the way through the first draft and feeling alternately pleased and despairing with the results.

          We’re basically telling each other a story. When a scene involves both characters, we talk it out and transcribe the conversation verbatim. Fortunately, we write in similar, informal styles and share the same writing work ethic. (“Yeah, I’ll get to it pretty soon. Tomorrow, probably.”) So far, no major spats, although there have been moments when each of us growled, “You write your character, and I’ll write mine.”

          What will become of our brainchild when we finally send it out to play in the big world?  We know what we hope will happen, and we’ll do everything possible to make it happen, but there are no guarantees of success.

          But we’ve already had one kind of success: we’ve developed a deep friendship during this process. Fictional characters carry traces of their authors’ DNA in their back pockets. So when we ask each other, “What would you do in that situation?” “How would you handle a problem like that?” our answers take us into personal territory we might not have explored otherwise.  

          Does co-writing work for everyone? Apparently not, judging from the paucity of double names on book jackets. It works for us, at least thus far, and we accept it as a gift from a smiling universe. We’ll continue to write independently, but even as we finish the first collaboration, we’re ping-ponging ideas for the second.

          Will we need walkers by the time the “Today Show” calls to book our appearance? If so, I’m getting an air horn for mine.

Thank you, Doris!

Co-writing a novel (His POV)

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Don O’Briant

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

           Two seasoned writers with several books under their belts were talking a few months ago when one of the unnamed authors (the woman) suggested that they write a book together. The male (me) readily agreed. “That sounds like fun,” I said, hungrily eyeing a Belgian waffle with whipped cream and strawberries. I’m not saying I wouldn’t have gotten the waffle if I had declined the joint project, but I wasn’t taking any chances.

          “What kind of novel shall we write,” I asked, plucking one of the whipped-cream-drenched strawberries off the waffle. “A mystery? A spy novel? A Southern Gothic? Something like Where the Crawdads Sing?”

          “Nope,” she said. “A love story. I’ll write the female character and you write the male character.”

          “Oh,” I said. “A romance suspense novel where a body is discovered in the wall of a house that’s being renovated. Or one about a dark family secret from the past involving murder and incest.”

          “No bodies, no incest. Secrets, maybe,” she said. “Just a good, old-fashioned novel about two older lost souls falling in love with each other.”

          “You mean like The Notebook only with an old geezer and a menopausal woman?”

          “Mature adults,” she said snappily, moving my Belgian waffle out of my reach.

          “OK,” I said hesitantly, gazing at the waffle. “Let’s do it.”

          As it turned out, it was a good idea. We quickly developed our characters, making them deeper and more complicated as we wrote. We bounced ideas off of each other, made suggestions, rewrote some of each other’s passages, and had the most fun ever.

           Unlike my normal habit of procrastination, with this book I couldn’t wait to start writing every day. We inspired each other. Yes, there were times when we didn’t agree on something, but we compromised and I did what she wanted to do.

          As we explored our character’s personalities, we discovered that we were delving into our own long-hidden fears and secrets. It was like free sessions with a clinical psychologist. In the process, our characters became so real that we lost sleep worrying about them. Sometimes they behaved predictably; other times they surprised us.

          Yes, I know writing is a lonely craft, best done solo with no one looking over your shoulder. And I know that double-teaming a book can be a nightmare if the writers are not in sync with their personalities and writing style. But it can work. Just be prepared to compromise and agree with your partner even when you know she’s wrong.

Thank you, Don!

And there you have it, an alternate view. Don’t let anyone tell you I’m biased.

–Josh

About joshlangston

Grateful and well-loved husband, happy grandparent, novelist, editor, and teacher. My life plate is full, and I couldn't be happier. Anything else I might add would be anticlimactic. Cheers!
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8 Responses to A Completely Different Take on Collaborations

  1. Vikki Yoder says:

    I enjoyed hearing these points of view. My thirteen year old granddaughter loves to write & so do I.I happen to be with her today!! I think I will present this idea after breakfast! Hello to Josh & Doris! I enjoyed the class I had with the two of you back a few years ago.
    Vikki Yoder

  2. Doris Reidy says:

    Thanks for our fifteen minutes of fame. As co-authors, we each get 7 1/2 minutes.

  3. Lou Knight says:

    I can see the drawbacks, but writing with a partner intrigues me. Finding the right one with the same writing style and personality is key, so I will think about my writing friends and their weird personalities. Has anyone collaborated with four people? That would be wild but fun. Maybe.

    • joshlangston says:

      Or maybe it’s just… you know… kinky. [grin] You might want to start a Round Robin where each participant takes a turn writing a story. The word count is limited, so writers can only take the story so far, then they pass it on to the next person. The fun part is trying to leave the next writer with a difficult plot situation to resolve. Gotta love cliffhangers!

  4. Lloyd Blackwell says:

    Amen, every coin has two sides. A point of view depends on where YOU are standing. Another person with a different view will have a different take than yours. Example: I was in the insurance business. It is a fact that if you have three people who observed and accident, you will get what they thought they saw from their position at the time of the accident.

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