Getting to know your co-writer

An excerpt from ‘How To Write A Collaborative Novel’ by Heide Goody and Iain Grant, to be published by Pigeon Park Press in 2013.

You’ve found someone who has the time, inclination and ability to collaborate with you. It’s celebration time! Mission accomplished. What’s stopping you from starting right away?
Well, just stop and think for a moment. You’re starting from a good place, but you’re starting on a journey where there are many decisions to make. There will be times when you don’t agree. How are you going to handle those situations? Every time there is a decision, you have the potential for conflict.
You’ve already examined what kind of a writer you both are, but what kind of people are you? Do you know each other well enough to determine whether your personalities are going to help or hinder with your collaboration?

If you have no idea of each other’s personalities, then here’s somewhere to start. Look at the list below and each choose three of the words that you think reflect the kind of person you are. When you’ve each chosen, discuss what they mean to you, and how they might affect a project where you work together.

Optimistic – Pessimistic – Controlling – Realistic – Organized – Disorganized – Intolerant – Impatient – Sarcastic – Bossy – Aggressive – Changeable – Flippant – Moody – Selfish – Submissive – Sulky – Nervous – Neurotic – Adaptable – Stubborn – Self-important

It will be invaluable if you can talk about conflict at the start of the project. If you know each other (and yourself) well enough, then you might be able to guess where you’ll encounter problems, and work out a non-confrontational way to get through them.

Or to put it another way…
See if you can imagine yourself saying any of these things.

  • “I know I can be overbearing. If you want me to let you have a say, then please nudge me by calling ‘timeout’, and I promise not to take offence.”
  • “I need you to tell me if you think I’m being over-critical.”
  • “I never share what I genuinely think. I just keep my feelings bottled up inside.”
  • “I get attached to ideas sometimes. If you think that something needs to be removed, and I grumble about it, please remind me that I promised I’d try to avoid doing that.”
  • “Let’s schedule a special conversation every fortnight to talk openly about anything that we think might lead to a problem.”

If they sound like you, or your partner, then MAKE SURE you have that conversation!

Think of what other personal habits or traits cause problems. You need to talk openly and honestly about these things before you start. If you prepare in a way that fully expects arguments or disagreements, you are likely to find that you can prevent them before they even occur.

What about while you’re working together? You can help the process by applying common sense and courtesy. Treat each other like adults. Don’t gossip or grumble about your writing partner. If they are doing something that frustrates you, then decide whether it really bothers you. If it doesn’t, then just get over it. If it does, then you need to talk to them about it. Hopefully you have prepared a strategy with them to do this painlessly. If not, then you will have to find a way to get it out into the open, without upsetting your partner. You’re a writer, so think about your language. You’re looking for something that makes it clear what the problem is, without sounding accusatory. Make sure it’s understood that you are trying to improve things.
Consider the difference between the following two ways of saying something:

“You always hog all the action scenes.”


“Can we mix up the writing schedule a bit? I’ve realised that I’d like to write some of the action scenes.”

Call me over-polite, English or whatever, but I’d rather have the second conversation, which is much less likely to turn into a bust-up.

As I’ve already said though, I’d much rather you had some kind of a conversation up front, however awkward it feels. If you go into your collaboration with your eyes open, expecting that there will be conflict along the way, then you will be much better equipped to recognise it and deal with it.

Pigeon Park Press’ new collaborative writing project Ten To One is currently looking for participants:

Posted in 2013, Books, How-to's, Writing Tagged with: ,