You need to find someone who not only wants to write, but wants to write collaboratively with you. If you’re planning to split the writing in an even way, then they should be matched with you in terms of ability, experience, and perhaps some other ways that we’ll explore later.
By the way, for the sake of convenience, I am talking mostly about a “writing partner”, assuming you’re in a collaboration of two. The same principles apply if you plan to have a larger number of collaborators, with the added difficulty that you must all be able to get along as a team.
It sounds like quite a tall order.
One thing is clear. The chances that someone will come to you are very small, unless you are a well-known and successful author, in which case you are probably beating them away with a stick.
If you do nothing, you will not find a writing partner; you are going to have to take some action.
I will list some suggestions, and you will find that some of them appeal more than others. Some of them may even sound quite unappealing, and I bet I can guess why.
They will all involve socialising with other writers!
Gone are the days when writers can be antisocial hermits. That stereotype is not going to work in today’s climate, where self-promotion is expected of all authors. It is true though, that writing is a solitary pastime, and it might not be the easiest thing for every writer to cultivate writing friendships. I urge you to swallow that pill, because it will benefit your sanity and your writing in ways that you might not even realise.
This isn’t a book about overcoming your fear of socialising, but I can offer you a couple of thoughts on the matter. Remember that we all have the same basic need to be accepted by others. If you find yourself faced with a group of unfamiliar faces, there’s every chance that many of them are as nervous as you are. If you can be brave enough to introduce yourself and be friendly to someone, then you have overcome the hardest part. They will probably be grateful that someone else took the initiative. Be interested in who they are and what they do, and you’re away.
On the other hand, if it’s a group of people who already know each other and you are the outsider, then you have a slightly harder task. Hopefully, if they are courteous and friendly, they will invite your comments, otherwise you will need to find a way to gently nudge into their conversation. Pull up a chair. Smile and nod at your neighbours. Try to imagine that you’re already a part of the group. A nice way to be in with the in-crowd before you even get there is to make friends on Twitter if you can anticipate who this group will be. It’s not as tough as it sounds; the writing community is a finite pool, and you will spot many connections between those who chat online.
However difficult you find socialising, it’s key to your search. Even if some enterprising whizzkid puts together a dating website to match potential collaborators, you won’t really know if you’ve found the right person until you get to know them.
So you need to seek out other writers. How can you do that?
Writers Groups as a way to find collaborators.
I will make no secret of the fact that I am a big fan of writers groups. If you find one that is local to you then go along as a guest and see how they operate. If they are well-structured, then you should find that they offer a great opportunity for your development as a writer, whatever level you’re at. I have been to a number, and the activities and the format will change, but you might typically find that there is an opportunity at a meeting for you to submit a piece of work for criticism. Whether you read it on the day, or ask people to read in advance, you will get feedback from the other writers in the group, and you will be invited to feed back on the other pieces submitted. There is quite a skill in giving (and receiving) criticism, and a writers group is a great place to see it in action, and develop those skills.
As for finding a writing partner, that will be a longer game, as you get to know the people in the group. Do any of them write in a genre that you’re fond of? Could you picture your styles blending? You will get a good idea of how much time they spend writing. If they turn up week after week and only bring a piece of writing every three months, then don’t expect that they will keep pace with you, if you write every day. Most importantly of all, you can get to know them as a person. If you can get along as friends then there’s a much better chance of you working well together.Maybe your writers group has social evenings.This is great, as you will see another aspect of the members. If they quibble about the bill when you go for a meal, will they become difficult when you share (as you must) your plot ideas, characters and writing methods?
Maybe your writers group takes part in other activities, like putting together an anthology, running a competition, participating in an arts performance or running a workshop. I would suggest that you pitch in, if it interests you at all. You will be working alongside others, on a writing-related project, which is not a million miles away from what you’re looking for. You will glean much useful information on the people you enjoy working with.
Most importantly of all, do they have any urge to collaborate? You could find this out in various ways. You can state that you have an interest in collaborative writing when you first meet the other members, and you will gauge from their reaction if they have any appetite for it. If you have any input to the group’s programming, then you could suggest that they hold a workshop on collaboration. There are activities, like the Round Robin, discussed later, that lend themselves to groups, but even an open discussion about collaboration will be very revealing in terms of who wants to try it out. If you feel comfortable that you might have found someone, then you can ask them directly if they would be interested in collaborating with you.
Conventions as a way to find collaborators.
If you enjoy genre fiction, either as a reader or a writer (I really hope it’s both, by the way, if you write something you’re not prepared to read then you should re-think what you’re doing) then you will find conventions a lot of fun. I know you’re thinking that I’m planning to bossily send you out into the heaving throng to socialise until your feet are sore, but you will find that it comes with less effort at a convention. While it’s certainly true that if you put in lots of effort, you can meet lots of people, it’s possible to just do the things that you find enjoyable, and see who else is doing those things. Attend workshops that interest you. You’ll be interacting with the other attendees, and might find that you spark a conversation that you can carry on afterwards. Conventions are designed to make it easy for people to meet each other. Make sure you have a notebook to jot down email addresses, and try to add in some context when you do, as you may find that you collect a dozen contacts and can’t remember which one is which.
Another idea, if your convention publishes a list of attendees, is to follow as many as you can find on Twitter before you go. It can be a handy ice-breaker, if you recognise their face and can remember some detail from their Tweets. You can get a feel for the people you have more in common with as well.
The internet as a way to find collaborators.
Can you find a collaborator on the internet? There is no reason at all why long-distance collaboration should pose a problem with the many tools that we now have at our disposal. Many of the same rules for finding a collaborator still apply. You should not leap into action and commit to a large piece of work without having a fair idea of what your partner is really like as a person. Bear in mind that what a person reveals of themselves on the internet might be a carefully honed persona. Not everyone is straightforward about who they really are. Respect people’s right to privacy, if they want to maintain it. You should also be circumspect about giving away too many personal details in a public arena. Let common sense prevail.
It’s a much larger pool of people to choose from, so how might you go about it?
Online writing groups. There are online equivalents of writing groups, which have similar aims of mutual support and constructive criticism. Look around to find one that aligns with your interests, and spend some time seeing how the members interact with each other. If it seems like a place that engages you then join in, and keep your eyes open for other writers that you think you could work with. If it’s the kind of group that has forums or chat, then you can mention that it’s an interest of yours and see who comments, but it should not be your only reason for visiting the site. Take part in the core activities as well, and try to get to know the other people.
Have you noticed that there is a theme here? I firmly believe that finding a collaborator, while it might remain your main goal, should become a secondary activity to getting to know other writers, however you seek them out.
Favourite author websites. Some authors have elaborate websites where fans can hang out with each other and discuss their work. If one of your favourite authors happens to have one of these, then it’s an obvious hunting-ground for potential collaborators. You must remember that not everybody there will be a writer, they are primarily there because they are readers. A surprising number will be writers though, and you already know that they enjoy similar fiction. This can be a great short cut to sharing worlds, sharing styles and sharing background knowledge. You’ll hopefully be striking out and writing something unique, but having a common reference, vocabulary and mindset can make that easier.
If you like the idea of finding other writers who enjoy the same things as you then do consider looking at fan fiction. There are many people who enjoy their favourite fictional worlds and characters so much that they write their own stories to fill in the blanks, or put the same characters into different situations. You won’t be able to sell fan fiction, it’s written for pure enjoyment, but you will find like-minded writers. It is very straightforward to track it down. Websites such as www.fanfiction.net have it organised into intuitive categories so you can find what you’re looking for very quickly. There are discussion forums too, for people to discuss their common passions. If you are planning to write genre fiction and want someone who shares your taste, then why not take a look here, where you can instantly drill down to exactly those people?
Pigeon Park Press’ new collaborative writing project Ten To One is currently looking for participants: http://pigeonparkpress.blogspot.co.uk/p/ten-to-one-collaboratively-written.html