On Cowriting, Part 2

So, if the previous post made cowriting sound ever-so-enticing, here are 5 things to consider before you call your best buddy from elementary school (you know, the one who was best at pretend).

  1. You need to have a strong enough relationship that it can survive literary disasters; OR you need to have a professional enough relationship that disagreements won’t get “personal.”
  2. You should write something that you’ve envisioned together from the beginning. Sure, one person is going to have the initial idea, but the groundwork should be laid together. What I mean by this is, don’t try to convince your best friend to help you write the novel you’ve always wanted to write because you’re probably so emotionally attached to it that you’ll be a pain to work with — and get your heart broken when your novel doesn’t go your way.
  3. Before you begin writing, have at least a rough idea of the story arc that you’ve envisioned together — what will happen at the beginning, the middle, and the end, and what possible climaxes will occur within the story. This will serve as a road map so that, whatever detours you might take — apart or together — you still know that you’re generally going in the same direction. And if, after writing, you think you should change your travel plans, it’s not the end of the world. Just don’t run off in another direction without discussing it with your cowriter.
  4. Have a clear plan for who will write what, and why. Will you switch off by chapters? Will you divide scenes up depending on the character’s perspective? Will one of you be the main “rough drafter” while the other is the main “rewriter”? Without a clear plan about the division of labor, your cowritten masterpiece might be one more great idea that never goes anywhere.
  5. Realize that, unless you’ve signed a contract with a publisher (and if you have, lucky you!!), neither of you are legally bound to finish this story. Understand that circumstances may change, and that you or your cowriter may need to back out. I’ve been on both sides of this before, and both are difficult. But if you do need to back out, have the decency to talk about it with your cowriter rather than just refusing to do your part and leaving her hanging. And talk about what happens next; are you OK with your cowriter taking over the story without you? Will you still be available for feedback, consultation, or brainstorming? Going your separate ways in a cowriting relationship doesn’t have to signal the end of your friendship or your creative collaboration.