Periodically I get asked my opinion about writers working collaboratively.
It’s a topic that interests me, so I thought I’d set out some of my views here.
In principle, I like the idea of working with a collaborator. Writing can be a lonely business, so the prospect of working with someone else is attractive for the human contact aspect alone.
Plus you have someone else to bounce ideas off (many of the most successful comedy writers work in duos and I’m sure this is part of the reason). And, not least, having a collaborator means that they will do some of the work instead of you!
Of course, there are drawbacks to working with collaborators too. If you don’t get on with your partner or constantly disagree with them, the savings in time and effort may evaporate. Instead of being entirely free to pursue your own artistic vision, you may sometimes have to compromise. And any payments resulting from your labours will have to be shared with your partner instead of all going into your own pocket.
I have worked with writing partners on various occasions over the years (and am still open to the idea if the right project comes up!). The person I’ve worked with most often is my old friend, the poet and performer Simon Pitt.
One of our first collaborations was a sketch show called The Naked Apricot (a satire of the then-famous book by Dr Desmond Morris, “The Naked Ape”). This was performed by a local amateur theatre company, and in financial terms anyway was their most successful show ever (admittedly, it probably helped that we didn’t get paid a fee for it!).
More recently I collaborated with Simon on a couple of non-fiction books: Fifty Great Ideas for Creative Writing Teaching and How to Invite Any Writer, Artist or Performer Into Your School (currently out of print).
The way Simon and I work is to take a project, divide it into chapters or sections, and then allocate each of these to one of us or the other. When we have completed our assigned chapters, we pass them over to the other one to read, edit and add his own input. In addition, I tend to handle the IT-related aspects, as I’m sure Simon would agree that this is not his strongest suit.
One thing we don’t do (or at least hardly ever) is sit down together and go through our draft manuscripts line by line, word by word. Apart from being horribly time consuming, I could imagine this putting our friendship under strain. In my experience anyway, it’s easier to accept (and give) criticism in the form of a quick note rather than face to face.
My number one advice to anyone thinking of working with a collaborator is to agree how you will work together first. If your collaborator expects you to sit down and write together while you prefer to work alone and just meet for planning, marketing and so on, it’s doubtful whether the partnership will succeed.
Likewise, it’s important to discuss the proposed topic of your book, screenplay or whatever in detail, to ensure you don’t have totally different perspectives on it. That’s not to say you have to agree in advance on every point, but unless you have certain basic assumptions in common, the writing process is likely to become a test of endurance. This applies especially in fiction-writing projects.
One other important consideration is how much each person can contribute to the project. This is partly a matter of time, and partly one of skills and expertise.
Clearly, if one person has more time available for the project than the other, this could be a problem if the ultimate rewards are to be divided 50:50. You could, of course, agree a different division of the returns, but this really needs to be discussed beforehand and agreed by both partners. Attempting to negotiate a change mid-project if you think your partner isn’t pulling their weight is not an attractive prospect for either party.
As regards skills/expertise, I’ve sometimes turned down offers of collaboration when I couldn’t see what particular contribution I would be able to make to the project – how I could “add value” to it, in other words.
I think it’s important to know how your skills and expertise are going to mesh with your writing partner, and what input each of you expects from the other. Ideally there will be a synergy when you have complementary skills and expertise. But if one partner doesn’t have any distinctive contribution they can make, the project is unlikely to survive through to completion.
Finally, if you do decide to go ahead, it’s worth looking into the growing range of online resources that can facilitate working collaboratively.
One tool I have used quite a bit is Google Drive. This free platform lets you publish documents on the web where they can be viewed and, if you allow it, edited by other selected individuals (i.e. your writing partner/s).
This means it is feasible to work collaboratively with people in other countries and even other continents. I used Google Drive when planning and writing The Wealthy Writer, the downloadable course on making money writing for online markets I co-wrote with Ruth Barringham, who lives in Australia. The Wealthy Writer is a little outdated now, by the way, which is why I don’t actively promote it any more.
So what are your thoughts on collaboration? Do you actively seek out writing partners, or does the idea fill you with horror? I’d love to hear your views and experiences! Please post your thoughts below as usual.
Note: This post is an updated version of one first published a few years ago on my old blog at www.mywritingblog.com.