Writing with a Coauthor: 6 Smart Strategies

Thinking of cowriting a novel? A lot of folks have done it. Some recent YA examples include Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, Will Grayson, Will Grayson, by John Green and David Levithan, Doon by Carey Corp and Lorie Langdon, Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, and my personal favorite, My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg!

Cowriting can be a blessing…and a curse. On the pro side, you only need to write half a book and you have a built-in brainstorming buddy. On the con side, think of how agonizing it is to write your own first draft, and then imagine having to share that with another human being who is writing an equally agonizing first draft. Or consider having to make compromises when you really, really don’t want to. Sounds like a recipe for disaster.

Avoid disaster with the six strategies below that will help you make cowriting work.

1. Start on the same page. (Not literally. That would be redundant.) Before diving into the meat of the writing, create an outline or a general plot you can both agree to. This will give you each a roadmap for the book and confidence that—even if you take some detours—you’ll be heading in the same direction. Also talk about end goals. Do you want this to get published? Are you going to get an agent (or two)? Whose name would go first on the byline? Etc.

2. Tech up. Unless you live in the same household and work on the same computer, you’re going to need to pick a technology that helps you share your work as you write. Email is an obvious go-to, but you can also explore programs like Google Docs or cloud-based systems that will allow you both to write and edit at the same time.

3. Divide and conquer. There’s a reason most coauthors have their own chapters and characters…it’s just easier that way! If your book is meant to have multiple points of view (POV), cowriting can feel like a very natural fit. That isn’t to say that writing a single narrator with two or three authors is impossible. Just be sure you both understand what your role in the process is so no one ends up getting their toes stepped on or their creativity crushed.

4. Set goals together. Maybe it’s a chapter a week, or three chapters a month, but it’s helpful to create a schedule of sorts to keep you both on track. When you’re writing a novel on your own, you’re not beholden to anyone. You can bounce around in the book, write ten words one day and two thousand the next—it doesn’t matter! But your writing partner depends on you to keep up your end of the bargain and keep the story going. So make yourselves accountable for a certain amount of progress each week or each month to stay on track.

5. Make room for grace. Remember earlier when we talked about agonizing first drafts? Yeah, it happens to all of us. You’re not always going to love what your coauthor has written, and vice versa. Be sure to have reasonable expectations for drafting, editing, and revising in mind as you two work together. Prepare yourself for compromise and change. And never miss an opportunity to give your partner kudos!

6. Finally, have fun! It’s a wonderful to share a writing journey with someone, to brainstorm and discover one another’s talents. You automatically have someone who is as invested in the book as you are, and that’s hard to come by. So when you’re feeling like cowriting might be more trouble than it’s worth, remember to enjoy the good thing you have going. To use a tennis metaphor, playing singles might be simpler than playing doubles, but there’s no one to give you a high five out on the court.

To learn more about working with a coauthor, check out these links:

How to Collaborate with a Co-Writer

Co-Authoring: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

How to Co-Write a Book

What to Consider Before Agreeing to Co-Author a Book

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