Writing with Friends

Co-authoring can be daunting. My first experience with co-authoring was especially intimidating because I idolized E.M., the girl I approached for fan-fiction co-authoring. I pitched the idea as a half-joke half-dream, not expecting her to even take me seriously and her response was, “Let’s do it”.

Not even a year later, that project is nearing a close, but it has become the springboard for so many other projects. We’re doing a four-person co-authoring project, which comes with it’s own challenges and concerns, but it’s certainly a lot of fun. E.M. and I are also taking our fan-fiction when it’s finished and turning it into an original work, re-working it to be something completely our own which we intend to publish someday.

Natalie and I also have a Hunger Games fan-fiction project in the works. Of course, we haven’t had an opportunity to start it yet because my original work comes first, but planning it has been a blast and I can’t wait to get started on it!

My tips for co-authoring:

1. Define boundaries. Sometimes you know the person very well (like Natalie and I), sometimes you don’t (like E.M. and I when we first started out). Either way, this is someone you will be working with quite a lot over the course of the project. If you live near each other and you’re doing your work in person, set limits to when you can see each other about the project or it will take over your time together (especially if you’re friends). If you don’t live close to each other and you’re doing this online, figure out a way of communicating that works for you and stick with it. E.M. and I live a couple thousand miles apart and we email CONSTANTLY. Literally, we’ve got about a thousand emails back and fourth over the last six months or so. We occasionally use Facebook, but only for quick things, chatting to clarify something. Email is our work medium.

2. Outline the project. Figure out how you’re going to divide the writing, keep a general outline at least a few chapters ahead of where you are to make sure you’re on the same page of where you’re headed, make comprehensive character profiles early and revise and expand them often. It’s important to have the same idea with where the story’s headed when you start the project, which means what the major plot developments are going to be, how the conflict will resolve, how the story is going to end, and the general tone of the piece. One big difference between my writing style and E.M.’s is that she likes happy endings and I love to leave the reader uneasy and unsatisfied, wishing it could have been happier. My biggest compromise with our project is that our final ending will be in a happy place, and so I wreck all sorts of havok throughout the actual story instead. She also doesn’t like having as many character deaths as I do, so while I have a trademark of killing Mary MacDonald in almost every single Marauders Era fan-fiction I’ve ever done, we already had a student death and an adult death necessary within our plot so I gave those up and just got to make a character go a bit loopy for a few chapters with drug issues. It was a fun, lighter version of what I usually right and it was worth stepping out of my comfort zone to do, which brings me to my next point….

3. Step outside your comfort zone. Part of the fun of working with someone else is the rush of trying new things and stretching yourself as an author. There will be compromise, there will be disagreement even among the most compatible of authors, and there will be times when you will look at a chapter you have to write and think, “I absolutely don’t want to do this.” That’s okay, it’s a part of the experience and overcoming those obstacles can be a fun challenge, if you look at them the right way. Just like in any other discipline, you can only improve by having tried something new. Yeah, I’ve not lost my love of the tragic by working with the much happier E.M. or Natalie, but I’ve got more experiences from having done so and I know I CAN be funny, happy, sappy, etc, for when I need those skills.

4. You are not always right. This is actually a very true statement about writing in general, especially if you’re going to have someone edit your work. E.M. and I absolutely get each other and we’ve very quickly gotten to the point where we can anticipate how the other is going to react to something we’ve done. I don’t temper it, even if I don’t think she’ll like it, but I let her see how it hits her before making whatever changes she finds necessary, which have grown less with time. Part of that is because I’ve learned to adapt my style to suit both of us better, part of that is because she’s adapted her tastes a bit. Just like when you exchange fashion ideas with a friend, or when two chefs share cooking secrets, we’re sharing our writing styles, and that’s more useful than many of the expensive, impersonal workshops you could do. Find writers, write with them, write for them, read their work, and then find more writers and do it again. Which leads to my next bit….

5. It’s a learning experience. You will realize that you are a very, very slow writer. You will realize you HATE semi-colon overuse. You will realize that you never want to write with someone ever again who doesn’t understand your peppy characters and their fighting for causes. Whatever it is you realize, you will realize something and it will change the way you write, the way you look at writing, the way you read and edit and think about literature as a whole. It’s a valuable learning experience, and if you look at it that way you can get a lot out of it.

6. HAVE FUN. This is all about trying something new, enjoying a new experience, and maybe strengthening a friendship or making a new one. E.M. and I have gotten to the point where we’ve literally expressed that we can’t imagine not writing together.  It should be enjoyable, and if you aren’t enjoying it than something is wrong and you need to figure out what it is, because you don’t want to spoil your relationship with your co-author. If you’re not having fun, they’re probably not either.

Cheers,

C

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About Charlotte Blackwood

Charlotte Blackwood is a self-employed aspiring author working on perfecting her first novella/ first novel. She is a current student at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, CA. If you're looking for a reading list (someday she'll add her own works to the list), she's currently supporting Anna Karenina, anything by Dickens, anything by Tolkien, anything by JK Rowling, A Song of Ice and Fire, and The Hunger Games.

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