Thursday, December 20, 2012

Getting in Bed with your Co-Writer

For us, successful collaborative writing is like good sex.

First comes foreplay:  we begin to brainstorm, teasing out seductive story lines to see if there’s something that we both want to spend time developing. And we’ve been doing this long enough that we already have a pretty good idea of what turns on our partner. As the passion for our story builds, we become excited as character and plot flesh out. We then get into the rhythm of storytelling, thrusting ideas from our sweaty little brains deep into the body of our tale. The heat finally culminates in an orgasmic release when we write the words “The End.”

But before you rush out to find a co-writer, remember that not everyone is going to be a willing (or a satisfactory) partner. The chemistry has to work. That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to find someone who’s good in bed, but rather someone who possesses similar mental, emotional, and professional writing compatibilities. One of the greatest advantages to co-writing is that two minds are always better than one when it comes to solving problems and bouncing ideas off one another. One person can temper the other. A plot point may not sound as workable when it’s verbalized to a co-author.

Of course, everyone engages in some level of co-writing to get that story into print. Even adamant solitary writers. Agents, editors, and publishers are all going to give their two cents’ worth, and you’re going to want to listen to at least some of it. Once your work reaches the hands of readers, and you develop an audience, you’ll want to consider what works for them so they continue to support your habit. That doesn’t mean that you sacrifice the integrity of your writing, but you’ll want to tailor your books to sell. A good friend of ours had a collection of short stories accepted by a university press, but after they insisted on drastic changes, he withdrew the collection. In this case, the two failed to strike a satisfactory partnership. When he finally found the right press for his words, did they suggest changes? Sure, but they were ones he thought improved the overall work. 

In yet another situation, a publisher paired a different friend of ours, a well-published science fiction author, with an aeronautics specialist. The specialist focused meticulously on the science while our friend just wanted to tell a good tale. Inflated egos weighed heavily on the whole project, and we listened to our friend complain for a year as the book trudged toward publication.

As in all forms of co-writing, ego has to go out the window. No drama queens or kings allowed. If you’re going to partner up with another author for that next book, you both must feel free to offer ideas the other can shoot down or spin in a different direction. Ideally, neither party takes offense. Both authors must possess similar work ethics, demonstrate a willingness to meet deadlines, and stay on task. 

[This is an excerpt from an article by Mark and Kym that was published in an anthology entitled An Elevated View: Colorado Writers on Writing, by Seven Oaks Publishing. To get your hands on this excellent collection of writing advice, see the link on our blog to their Website.]


  1. While my writing partner and I haven't gotten into bed together (yet), we do have a certain creative chemistry that has recently resulted in two feature-length screenplays and plans for more. Collaborative writing isn't a lot like having good sex; it is sex, always. And when you've found the right partner, you want to be having it all the time. Your ideas copulating with their ideas, an orgy of ideas, and some of those ideas procreate and their progeny spring forth to first wobble on their own two (or more) legs, then to run along of their own volition and locomotion. Then the best you can do is try to keep up, have more sex, create more progeny for them to play with, and soon enough, the project you're working on is a fully populated world of strange offspring, composites of both writer's imaginations and therefore singularly unique, something neither writer could have dreamt up on their own. And in this way, both writers become parents to their offspring, with all the attendant responsibility, worries, hopes, and fights over what to do about them when they don't behave as we think they ought to.

    For us, my writing partner is definitely the parent more likely to let the children do whatever they want, granting them full free will. See, we're not just parents but also gods. And I'm the parent/god more likely to steer (shove) our children along the predestined path of plot and story structure. This dichotomy has created a nice sort of balance for our creative process. When you have someone pushing back against you creatively, you're forced to come up with more elegant story solutions and to not take the easy, obvious route. I credit my writing partner for calling me out on a stupid, illogical plot point, or an inauthentic character motivation/action. The process of talking out story with my writing partner has been one of the best, most fulfilling and fruitful experiences of my writing life. The two screenplays we've written together are by far better than anything we've done solo. And I believe our next project will surpass the first two. Why? Because our brains are getting a lot better at having sex together, learning where all those erogenous zones and hot spots are, knowing now how to bring a shudder of climax with just the right touch. The more you do it, the better at it you get. Why wouldn't you want to do it all the time?

  2. Great article --so glad to see a blog! I'm on board and am looking forward to future posts.

  3. John, we're impressed that you able to sustain the extended metaphor so convincingly throughout you posting. And we really like -- and agree -- that you have to feel free to call out the other writer on a lame idea. That may well be the No. 1 requirement for successful collaboration.