Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Writing With A Partner

Some people warned us, it couldn’t be done.  Writing a book with a partner could potentially end a decades long friendship.  However, undaunted by nay-sayers, my writing partner, Wendy Warren and I, (Carolyn Zane) landed a contract with Entangled Publishing and set about proving the party poopers wrong. 

And, I’m happy to report that—thus far, anyway—we did it!

Why work with a partner, you ask?  Good question.  It is not for everyone. 

There is a bit of a learning curve.  We stepped on each other’s toes as we felt around for our territory.  However, we are thick-skinned from years at the mercy of various editors and reviewers and eventually we began to trust the process. 

Wendy and I are also fortunate to have a similar voice, similar publishing history and complimentary skill sets.  Wendy is wonderful at plumbing each scene for its emotional depths and engaging the reader’s heart and interest in the internal life of our characters.  I, on the other hand, am fond of the rough draft process.  I think visually and can see the movie playing in my mind and enjoy moving the plot forward. 

Our process took some time to refine, and there were one or two false starts, (we didn’t really like those chapters anyway) but now it goes something like this:  We start with a premise, then toss out ideas.  When we have a really rough synopsis, we break it down into chapters.  Then, scenes. 

Once that is accomplished, we take one scene at a time and fill out this really cool form we concocted called the Discovery Sheet.  When we’ve answered all those questions, we start getting to the emotional heart of the matter.  What is the character’s vision of a better life?  That’s Wendy’s forte.  Then, we figure out where they are and plug in some description.  That’s my area.  Together we role play out the dialogue.

When we’ve done every scene, I go to work on the rough draft and start organizing the huge jumble of stuff in our notes and put it on Google Docs.  Then Wendy jumps in and begins adding in the emotional elements and in some scenes, performs some major surgery.  Usually, the patient is better off when she’s done, but if I have an idea, we’ll toss it around and sometimes I’ll rewrite her rewrite.

Wendy says working from my rough draft speeds up her process, because she is not staring at a blank page and trying to reinvent the wheel.  I like my part because I don’t have to let the polishing stall my momentum. 
When we have a chapter that we feel has arrived, we read it aloud and then go into the polishing process together.  It is critical by this juncture, that you check your individual ego at the door and look at it as a product written by your mutual pseudonym and don’t take criticism personally.  Several key phrases I like to use—and hear—when we are at this stage are, “YOU ARE BRILLIANT!  I COULD NEVER DO THIS WITHOUT YOU!  THIS IS THE MOST FUN I HAVE EVER HAD WHILE SOBER AND FULLY DRESSED! 

When it comes time to polish the other guy’s stuff, it helps to ask permission before you begin making major/sweeping changes.  It’s also Kosher to say, “Though what you did is FREAKING FABULOUS…I was thinking that perhaps killing the hero in chapter one might stall the romance and we might look at another hook?  To this, the answer should look something like, “Hey!  You know, come to think of it…YOU’RE BRILLIANT!  I LOVE IT!  I COULDN’T DO THIS WITH OUT YOU!  I’M SO GLAD I’M NOT DRUNK AND NAKED BECAUSE THIS IS SO MUCH MORE FUN!”


Paty Jager said...

It sounds like you two have the process down! I've written with two people. The first time it was with a friend and we were more of less writing a story as therapy for her. She wrote the heroine's POV scenes and I wrote the hero and villain's POVs. That story went nowhere. Then I was asked to write a sister's story with another author. She wrote one sister's story and I wrote the other. We'd get together on IM and discuss the background of the characters and the plot then write our own stories and put them in the book For a Sister's Love. Which has done very well in sales.

I bet you two have a lot of fun writing together! Thank you for an insight into how you do it.

Danita Cahill said...

Fun to read about your process. It's sounds like it's a good partnership for you both!

Wendy Warren said...

I'm on vacation and had no idea you were blogging about us! Is being drunk and naked really an option? Why didn't you tell me?

Seriously--this is an excellent description of our process! AND IT IS FREAKING FUN!!!!!!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

I can definitely see you two doing this. What a kick in the pants.

I have had only one time I wrote with a partner, it was for a non-fiction book. I admired him and his work. He was intelligent and I'd done several presentations with him. However, in the end it turned me off writing partnerships. Our expectations around the writing process were SOOOOO different. We made the mistake of dividing up the chapters based on skills and expertise. My chapters were 40-50 pages long. His were 20. The publishers expectations was 40-50 but he just didn't see the need. :)

We did get the book published and it did decently, but I swore never again. I still think he's brilliant and we are still friends, but I learned a valuable lesson about my own process and my ability (rather inability) to be firm in the expectations. When he balked on more pages, I simply did them rather than fight or cajole.

I greatly admire you both!

Susan said...

I have seen Carolyn and Wendy do this, and it is hilariously funny to watch :) Just having a conversation with them has you rolling on the floor, but try taking a road trip through New York, Connecticut, and where else did we go? :D