Readers, Writers, and Friends,
I recently had the pleasure of guest blogging on author E.A. West’s website. I’m re-posting it here in case you missed it.
After completing my third novel, I sat brainstorming ideas for a new project. I kept returning to a series that I had read years earlier, The Potluck Club books, by Linda Evans Shepard and Eva Marie Everson. I remember them fondly since I read them with a book club. We ended each by holding a potluck dinner using their recipes.
As a plan began to form. I approached a colleague to see if she had any interest in collaborative writing, and together, we gave birth to Camellia House.
Co-writing has been a wonderful challenge. Does that sound like an oxymoron? Maybe, but it has a ring of truth. There are pros and cons to be aware of when entering into a collaborative writing project.
Let’s look at the plus side.
Two people can accomplish twice the work in half the time. Although each chapter represented one of four main character’s POV, we designed it not to be repetitive, but to advance the story. It amazed me how quickly the plot developed.
Accountability breaks through barriers that hinder writing progress. It’s difficult to become complacent when someone is waiting for your chapter. The easiest way to overcome writer’s block is to get writing. Co-writers offer support as well as accountability.
Each partner comes with different strengths and weaknesses. With any job in any field, I believe there are things that you love and things that you dislike. Chances are that your areas of challenge may be your partner’s area of strength. Here’s my big secret. I hate technology. You might wonder how that’s possible when I worked in an administrative position for many years. And the answer is—I just called tech. I told them what I wanted, and tada, it magically appeared on my computer. I didn’t want to know how to do it. I just wanted to make a phone call and have it done. I’m really good at making phone calls. My writing partner is tech savvy and a Pinterest guru. Praise God.
I bring other strengths to the table. Primarily, I finish. Good, bad, or ugly, I have three completed novels, all contracted and awaiting a release date. I plow right through, often ignoring laundry, cleaning, and grocery shopping. My husband may argue that this shouldn’t be on the plus side, but it gets the story done.
Two writers will typically approach the writing process differently. Wait—is that a pro or a con? I believe that it’s both. Let’s talk about the benefits. When we sat down to plan, I quickly discovered that it wouldn’t be a quick let’s talk, then we’ll write, session. My ‘plow right into it’ method didn’t work for her. She’s far more meticulous. While we didn’t create an outline in the 1,2,3, A,B,C format, we did plot out our storyline on paper. I had always trusted the plot in my head to be sufficient. Additionally, as the story took shape, we built a file of character traits, physical characteristics, and secondary characters. I found it to be far more efficient that doing a word search to remember what I had once written. I guess that’s why she’s called The Efficiency Addict.
The absolute best discipline that I learned from my partner came through our private Pinterest board. We identified characters with pictures, and throughout the writing process, pinned elements of the story. Our characters are artists, all with different mediums. You’d love seeing our board, but sorry, it’s private. We’ve displayed quilt patterns, Irish lace, paintings, and upcycled art. Our Victorian house is pictured there as well as some inside features. This is more than a nice keepsake, it’s designed so we can see the same things. We were blessed when all three of our beta readers commented on the unity of our writing. We hadn’t told them who wrote which characters, and they couldn’t discern two different voices.
So what are the challenges of collaborative writing?
Two writers will typically approach the writing process differently. Yes, I already said that, but as noted, this can be a pro and a con. As in any job where people interact, much compromise is needed. Sometimes the story doesn’t develop in the manner that I had anticipated. While I might have preferred a slightly different plot path, there needs to be some give-and-take. It’s hard to admit, but my way isn’t the only way. We talk it through and reach an agreement. I don’t dig my heels in unless it’s something I can’t live with.
The timing may hurry or hinder the writer. As I said, when I get writing, I can forget everything around me. I love the process, and sometimes the words are begging to be written. When I can’t sleep at night, it’s typically because scenes are playing a movie in my mind. My writing colleague has other life commitments. She needs to pace writing slower than I would normally do, but maintains the pace that we agreed upon. We’ve fashioned our planning into four chapters at a time, so I can’t move ahead of the process.
Co-authors face a special challenge in character development. We have four main characters, and each chapter represents a different POV. There’s a false sense of control if we assume that we have free reign in developing two characters each. The story advances with each chapter, meaning any or all characters may be present in each chapter. It takes some serious critiquing to maintain the personality, nature, and voice of each.
Would I recommend collaborative writing? Yes! It’s been a learning and growing experience. The lessons go beyond writing, to include working with others and respecting their ideas. Camellia House is in the hands of our agent, looking for a forever home. We’ve designed it to be a series of three. Book Two is two chapters away from completion.