An update on my co-writing project

So…as many of you know, since last October I have been co-writing a middle grade novel with a colleague, Susan Montanari. This is the first time either of us has co-written something, so it has been something of a literary adventure.

Now that we’re “co-finishing” a readable draft, I think we have a somewhat better perspective on the process at large. I admit that once we decided to embark on this idea, we had to google “how to co-write a book” to figure out what to do next. Luckily, a gazillion writers just like us had already co-written books, giving us more advice than we would ever need.

What it all boils down to is this: determine your strengths and weaknesses, make a plan, and proceed with caution.

Here’s how it went for us:

1. We created a very loose chapter by chapter outline ie. two or three sentences for each chapter that tell what happens to move the story forward (most of the gazillion seemed to agree with us on this one).

2. I wrote the prologue and then Susan re-wrote it. That made me a little grumpy but her revision made sense.

3. Susan wrote the rest of the chapters and focused primarily on the plotting and action. She writes very fast.

4. I revised all of the chapters and focused on adding descriptive details, internal voice, and pacing. I write very slow.

5. We shared chapters with our critique group and then together revised those chapters.

There’s still more writing/revising to do until we’re finished, but it’s fair to say that as writing partners, we’re on a roll now. So…

My lessons learned:

1. A partner can be a great asset. Both of you are invested in the project and your mutual obsession means that it’s got a double-whammy of energy, creativity and forward motion. For a slow poke like me, it’s amazing to realize we’re already nearing the finish.

2. Co-writing does not mean co-composing. It’s important to allow yourself the space to write alone, to let the muse channel your brain, heart, and words, and then to come together to revise.

3. When we do revise, some days are easier than others. Sometimes we argue longer than we should over a word, or an idea. Sometimes we arrive in bad moods that have nothing to do with the work. And I have been known to reverse a decision weeks later. But what keeps us going is our love for this story and the mutual respect we have for one another as writers.

Learning to work with someone else can be a big adjustment at first, but once you get going, once the rhythm of the story starts to zip, it’s really a lot of fun. One of the best compliments we received from someone in our critique group sums it up: “I can’t tell who wrote what.” Perfect!

About Page McBrier

Page McBrier is the author of 43 books for young readers, including the award-winning picture book, Beatrice's Goat. Her work in the schools as a teaching artist keeps her close to her readers and inspires her to write stories that bring the world near.
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