All good? On to Part 2…
Benefits of Co-Writing
1) Somebody else cares (about your current project)
At least for me, and I don’t think I’m alone here, the most exciting writing phase is the idea phase. The idea phase is impossible to share outside of cryptic social media posts people will either ignore or pretend their hardest to be excited about. But a co-writer is automatically excited about your ideas! A co-writer has the context to understand your ideas! A co-writer is coming up with her own ideas! This is my favorite part. In some ways, having a co-writer is like being in a fan fiction community of two.
Plus, a co-writer can read a first draft and see the potential. Readers are lovely, but they only come in after a few layers of polish when the mad excitement of a new idea has already been muted to socially acceptable levels.
Somehow, Laura and I finished a 91,000 word novel in a year where we barely found time to breathe, let alone write. Halving the responsibilities helped, sure, but there was something motivating about knowing somebody else needed me to finish my part before she could continue on. Plus, the sooner I finished, the sooner I could share my new writing. (See Point 1)
3) Unexpected twists
Imagine driving to Denver and handing your buddy the wheel around Omaha while you take a nap. Maybe when you wake up, you’re in Fiji. Suddenly, you get to explore a Fiji plotline you never could have touched in Denver. Or sometimes you need to stop the car and request a boat and a detour to Minneapolis on the way to nearby New Zealand. Co-writing is exactly like that.
4) Keeping the smallest bit of distance and objectivity about the project
Objectivity makes the revising and editing process that much easier, and distance helps an author absorb or blow off criticism as needed. Maybe this is the equivalent of a mom throwing up her hands and declaring, “You sure are your father’s child.” I mean, I love my project, but sometimes it’s going to cut its own hair right before picture day. It happens, and it usually makes for a better story.
Drawbacks of Co-Writing
Most of the “drawbacks” I could come up with are those fake ones a job hopeful would give in an interview to make themselves sound better. “My weakness is that I work too much!” Nobody needs that, so I’ll try to avoid selling you on flexibility and added pressure and constant communication as drawbacks when they ultimately force writer growth.
1) Coordinating schedules
Sometimes Laura had the ball, but she was out of town for the week. Sometimes Laura needed an answer right away, but I had no cell service for the day. Sometimes we missed messages. Sometimes we were inspired to work but couldn’t carry on with the next part on our own. Sometimes summer break* happens. All of this leads to inconsistent writing progress, sometimes to the extent where one or both of us would forget plot points or what we were working on.
2) Shared disappointment
If you’re in the “misery loves company” camp, I guess this might be a benefit. In that case, I lied about the fake drawback thing. But for me, when a project doesn’t take off, it’s so much harder to handle the disappointment for two people instead of just my own. It’s always worse to feel like you’ve let someone else down. The Co-Ed Files couldn’t find a home, and that was disappointing. This time around, the “prequel” is getting quite a few requests to be read by the agenting community. It’s a great feeling, but if they all decline, then what? Since we share the project, we can’t very well take it in a completely different direction without both of us agreeing and understanding what that looks like. We ended up taking a lengthy break between Co-Ed and this latest project, even though be both had plenty of ideas.
Obviously, I can think of plenty of drawbacks based around co-writing with an incompatible author. Perhaps matching another author’s writing style would be nearly impossible, or I’d snap the 800th time another person rewrote an entire section for me. Maybe Laura and I should co-write a story about two horribly mismatched authors trying to co-write a story**. Even though Laura is particularly easy to work with, having our own distinct point of view characters and splitting chapters was a must for my sanity. Every team is going to function differently.
*To stay-at-home moms, “summer break” is code for “see you in September.”
**Note to self: do this.