7 Tips for Collaborative Writing
Chapter 7 “From Story to Art” – Section 10 “Co-Writing”
With Links to Supplementary Material
It has become increasingly popular for writers to want to collaborate with another person in order to create a story, and with good reason. Having another person cuts down the amount of work each of you has to do, gives you new perspective, challenges your style, and can help you improve tremendously. That being said, it is also has about the same likelihood of succeeding as a business venture of selling Popsicles in Antarctica. Today, I'm going to explain the flaws in writing collaboratively, as well as some tips for traversing its murky waters.
Tip 1: Know the risks.
It may seem difficult to envision, but writing is a very intimate activity by which you infuse your soul into your art—constructing everything to make the beautiful pyramid you have been dreaming of. Now what happens when somebody else joins you in constructing the lovely modern skyscraper of their dreams? You mean pyramid, right? No? I'm pretty sure we're making a pyramid; they're much better than skyscrapers! The most likely thing to happen, is that the project will never finish due to hurt feelings, misunderstandings, life standing in the way, different visions, different skill levels, and different standards of quality. But there is also the very high likelihood that you will lose the friendship altogether, as you crush his/her soul on paper by trying to put a 4 ton pyramid stone on his/her carefully stacked cinderblocks.
Tip 2: Know the disadvantages.
Not only is the venture of collaborative writing risky, but it also usually turns out to be terrible. I can't number the times when I saw that two of my favorite authors were teaming up, only to find that it was one of the worst things I'd ever read. And it makes sense. Alone, you have the ability to meticulously create the pyramid of your dreams. However, in collaborative writing, you are going to have to make compromises—to have a satellite dish and tacky lights on that pyramid, which is now made of steel.
Tip 3: Keep a great amount of distance between yourself and the story.
If you want to avoid the hurt feelings that will lead to the death of your story and possibly your friendship, you need to force yourself to have a distant attitude towards the story. Do not utilize for it, the characters, and world that you have been dreaming of since childhood. Do not think of it as your baby, your art. The story should exist, in your mind, on a free-floating plain where either writer is allowed to propose the destruction or creation of any part of it—with the deciding factor being whether the destruction adds to the quality of the story. This attitude will not only increase the quality of the work, but also create a shield by with you can simultaneously cut into the stone while staying emotionally protected.
Tip 4: Makes sure the collaborative story is never your sole project.
Write something by yourself at all times. Most artists need an intimate attachment to their work, as well as a place to safely create everything they ever dreamed. So long as you have a place where you can do that, then you can easily return to the collaborative effort and have fun destroying and rebuilding it until it is perfect. As added benefits, the solo works will increase both of your skill levels and give you something to work on in the times when your partner has to work on the collaboration by themselves.
Tip 5: Plan a unified vision of the story.
Communication is the most important thing when writing a collaborative story. Whether you are the type of person who like outlines or not, you need one to make sure that you are both writing with the same end-goal in mind. Few things could be as bad as writing an entire novel, and then one writer feeling strongly that the hero must die in the end, with the other believing that this would ruin the story. Such a creative difference would cause a need for compromise that would make one of the writers, or both, feel like the entire effort was for nothing. Avoid that by planning in intimate detail and sharing one vision for which to work towards.
Tip 6: Create a structured form of criticism.
When you write your first draft, and second, and likely third, many of both your and your partner's ideas are going to be terrible. Thus is the nature of writing, even for professionals. When you are beginning the editing process, create a detailed system for criticizing the other person's work as effectively and as honestly as possible. Mark what doesn't work, kindly explain why you don't think it does, and then work together to come to a solution. It is important that you critique everything that the other person does, that there is a mutual understanding of this necessity, that there is a standard for doing so kindly and respectfully, and that there is an open form of communication by which either writing partner can feel free to voice their specific problems.
Tip 7: Clearly define each writer's roles.
Take into consideration the many skills involved in the writing process, and the many elements of the story you're about to write. Maybe one of you is better at describing scenes, at editing, at composing, at writing for villains, at writing for broody characters, at plotting the novel. Perhaps it is not so much a level of skill as a level of interest—with both parties picking out the things that matter most to them. Whatever it is, create clearly defined roles for both collaborative partners. This will not only give each person a clear knowledge of what is expected of them, but improve efficiency. And remember to maintain the open line of communication and criticism, even here, so that you can be free to critique and help improve elements of the story that are a part of the other writer's role in the project.
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