A lot of people have told us with wide eyes and shocked expressions that it must’ve been very difficult for us to co-author a novel, especially one with a plot as intricate as the one in Ocean of Storms. But really, the book was a labor of love—to use a cliché—and one that never felt so much difficult as challenging. So if you’re interested in co-authoring a novel, here are our top ten tips for co-authoring:
This guest post is by Christopher Mari and Jeremy K. Brown. Mari was born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, and was educated at Fordham University. He has edited books on a wide variety of topics, including three on space exploration. His writing has appeared in such magazines as America, Current Biography, Issues and Controversies, and US Catholic. His next novel, The Beachhead, will be published by 47North. Jeremy K. Brown has authored several biographies for young readers, including books on Stevie Wonder and Ursula K. Le Guin. He has also contributed articles to numerous magazines and newspapers, including special issues for TV Guide and the Discovery Channel, and recently edited a collector’s issue on Pink Floyd for Newsweek. Jeremy published his first novel, Calling Off Christmas, in 2011 and is currently at work on his next novel.
1. Suppress your ego.
Not every word that drips from your pen is liquid gold. In fact, the best thing about having a co-author is that you have someone there to look over every draft and snag dull sentences, faulty logic and weak characterizations. You have a built-in second brain!
2. Edit each other’s work.
We found the best way to create a single narrative voice was to have each of us write a first draft of alternating chapters, then have the other guy come in and revise those first drafts. In fact, such a method not only helped us maintain a single narrative voice, it also enabled us to add depth and texture to characters and scenes and to fully flesh out the story.
3. Listen to each other’s ideas, no matter how crazy.
Sometimes each of us would come to the other with a truly bonkers idea, something that totally did not make sense when it was initially proposed. But rather than abandon any idea outright, we tried to work each one, to see if it made sense in the overall narrative. A lot of crazy ideas fell at the wayside; many others wound up helping create some of the tension and many of the plot twists in the novel.
4. Trust each other.
This is almost a given. Without absolute trust you can’t work with anyone else in writing something as intimate as a novel. Writing a novel is inherently a selfish thing: you’re creating a world out of your own imagination and are insane enough to think someone else would care to read about your imaginings. So it’s hard to sacrifice some of that ego and intimacy in order to create a story that is, right down the line, a creation of two minds. But co-authoring isn’t as difficult a creative endeavor as a marriage—and not as long lasting. So if a marriage has the chance to last a half-century, when two parties work together toward a goal, you have to conclude that co-authoring a novel wouldn’t be as difficult—so long as there’s trust.
5. Put the book away for a time and come back to it.
This is probably a cruel one to advise to authors itching to get their novels out there, but believe us, it is way better to set each draft aside for a time—maybe even just a week or two—and then come back to it with a fresh eye. You’ll be amazed by what you’ll see that you had never seen before—and you’ll have new ways to improve your work.
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6. Pick Your Battles.
The reality of writing a novel with another person is that it’s not all about you. Each of you has thoughts and ideas about where the book is going and where it will end up. Hopefully those ideas will gel, but sometimes they won’t. And sometimes you have to be willing to let a certain idea go in service of the story you’re both trying to tell. Save it for the sequel! Or, better yet, your first solo novel!
7. But Fight For What You Want.
That said, there comes a time when you have to plant your feet a bit and stick to an idea that you know works. But, if you’re going to do that, make sure you have a good reason. “Because it’s what I want” is OK when you only have to answer to yourself, but when there’s another brain in the mix, you have to make a case and make it stick!
8. Keep Challenging Each Other.
One of the most fun elements of working on Ocean of Storms was coming up with a sequence or plot twist that was guaranteed to blow the other’s mind. And then getting back the next chapter with an even more mind-blowing development. That sense of one-upmanship and friendly competition kept the novel’s stakes rising higher and higher and also challenged us to keep the ideas flowing.
9. Strike the Right Balance.
Both of us have strengths and weaknesses as writers. Everyone does. But, when you’re working as a team, you can come together, Voltron-style, and makes those strong points even stronger. There were many times when we’d pass something to the other one because it was an idea or a theme that played to their strengths. Of course, sometimes we also pushed ourselves and each other to work on something that might be outside our comfort zone. It made the book better overall and also made us stronger writers for it.
10. Have Fun.
This should be rule number one. No matter what hurdles you encounter or bumps in the road you hit, at the end of the day, you and a friend are working together, pooling your imaginations and creating something no one has ever seen before. What could be better than that? If you let yourself have fun, relax and enjoy the journey, when the book is done, we guarantee your readers will as well.
Check Out These Great Upcoming Writers’ Conferences:
- Oct. 28–30, 2016: Writer’s Digest Novel Writing Conference (Los Angeles, CA)
- Feb. 16–19, 2017: San Francisco Writers Conference (San Francisco, CA)
- Feb. 26–March 3, 2017: Writers Winter Escape Cruise (Miami)
- April 22, 2017: The Kentucky Writing Workshop (Louisville)
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Brian A. Klems is the editor of this blog, online editor of Writer’s Digest and author of the popular gift book Oh Boy, You’re Having a Girl: A Dad’s Survival Guide to Raising Daughters.