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Collaboration - Working with a Writing Partner
by Tina Morgan

Writing is generally considered to be a solitary occupation - but it does not have to be. I work with writing partners on a weekly basis. While my non-fiction is written alone, 90% of my fiction is written with a partner or two.

With a close friend of more than 20 years (assistant editor, Ciara), I've written a 140,000-word fantasy novel, 5,000 words of the sequel, 20,000 words of another fantasy novel and have outlines for four more novels in the works.

With my senior editor at Fiction Factor, Lee Masterson, I've written seven chapters of our humorous/sf novel. Lee and I have only known each other for a year and a half, and we've never met in person. Yet we write very well together, our "meetings" frequently degenerating into hopeless giggle-fests as we discuss the next plot-twist or new character to be introduced.

Lee has a long history of writing alone, locked in a room with only a computer and a hi-fi stereo for company, while her family tip-toe about outside the office door so as not to disturb her. She's never written with a partner before so this 'collaboration' is a new experience for her -
(one she is finding surprisingly easy to handle - Ed.)

Working with another writer is not an unusual occurrence. Screenplays are often written and brainstormed by a team of writers. Check out the credits of your favorite TV show or movie. Most of the time, you will find a long list of writers noted there.

But some writers wonder why they would ever want to work with a partner at all. Indeed, there are many writers whose pride would not allow a successful collaboration to work for them. The vast majority of fiction-novel writers fall into this category. Their manuscript is their baby, and writing is an intensely personal experience for them.

Let's look at some reasons why a partnership can be beneficial.

A lot of writers complain about not being able to finish longer works like novels. Often this is because they are stalled by a gap in the plot or characterization. Having a partner to read over your work and make suggestions can get you moving again on a story you had given up for impossible.

There is also a certain rush from bouncing creative ideas around in a group or with one partner. Brainstorming is a common practice in research and development in a lot of companies, in advertising, in screen writing (for big and small screen). It can work for you in your writing as well.

Mix and Match
Working with a partner is not quite as easy as choosing your favorite author and inviting them to jump into your fictional world. You do need to have a few ground rules in mind before you jump in alongside another creative mind. You also need to build a relationship with that person.

I am not implying that you need to be best friends and share life experiences. But you will need to recognize the professional ability of a partner who has similar goals as you do. You will also need to realize that every person is different, and the input that person has is likely to differ from your own. Respect those differences, and your writing will be richer for it.

Often a second opinion can help to clarify any plot inconsistencies or spelling errors, pick up any uncharacteristic actions from your protagonist, and generally help to keep the story on the right track. It's much harder to deviate from a set plotline when another writer is already involved with the story with you.

When choosing a writing partner, you should also consider the aspirations of the author you select. Is the person writing for fun or profit, and does this match what you have in mind for the final product? Will you be proud to present the finished work with all names (or a pseudonymous representation of all names) on the cover, equally responsible for the creation of the manuscript?

The most important factor in writing as part of a collaboration is the ability to trust and rely on your partner.

Trust them:

~ With your creative vision.

~ To carry their share of the workload.

~ To be able to compromise and settle conflicts.

~ To handle the story with their own style and creative flair

~ To bring a unique perspective to your story

So how do you go about finding a suitable writing partner?
One of the best places to look is an online writer's group or workshop. This type of forum gives you a chance to get to know other writers and evaluate their style of writing before jumping into a partnership.

However, before your collaborative efforts begins, you also need to set a few simple ground rules:


1) Who will be responsible for writing each portion of the story/novel? Will you write this together? During phone conferences, in person or through Internet chats? Will each person write a chapter at a time? Will one partner do most of the writing and the other partner follows behind doing clean up and any rewrites that the story requires?

2) Set a deadline for each portion of the story/novel. When one member of the team falls behind, it can be frustrating for the other to wait until they catch up. Alternatively, working too far ahead of the deadline can be just as frustrating as lagging behind. This should be a team effort - the entire team should be working to a schedule that mutually suits you.

3) Any editing or alteration of the manuscript or characters should be agreed upon (where possible) by all authors.

4) Have a written agreement for how payment for the story/novel will be divided. This should be decided up front and before any writing is done. If this can't be agreed upon then there is no point to writing together. You won't be able to market the work without a legal battle.

5) Decide who gets control of the finished work, who will be responsible for marketing the work and where. Who will find an agent, editor or publisher for the work?

Writing is deeply personal for a lot of writers and allowing another person in on that creative process isn't easy. You have to be able to communicate your desires and ideas for the shared work. Then you have to be willing to trust the other writer to have the best interests of the writing in mind when they make suggestions. This isn't a time for egos, but a time to share equally.

Writing with a partner isn't suited to everyone. If you are the type of writer who needs to control every aspect of your writing and don't want to share your plotlines or characters then you probably may not be able to work successfully with another writer. If you find it difficult to accept suggestions and changes to your work, then working with a partner may be more frustrating than it's worth.

It doesn't matter how good of a friend you think you've found - if you set the ground rules before you start then there is very little room for miscommunication that could cause hard feelings and ruin not only the friendship but the writing partnership as well.

Some of the rules can be flexible. If you find it's not possible to write the story together at the same time, then switch to writing alternate chapters, and perhaps editing through the completed chapters together. Most writers are going to have a difficult time writing together one sentence at a time, and the alternating method will work best.

A collaboration can teach you much about your own writing and can be a very rewarding experience - both for you and for your writing career. Just be sure you look carefully before you leap!

Copyright 2002 Tina Morgan


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