How to Write a Novel With Your Very Good Friend
Make sure you like your writing partner. If you don’t like the person you’re working with, put the pen down. If you do like the person you’re working with, good things may lie ahead—both in your collaboration and in your friendship.
Think about your similarities and differences, and how they can fuel your work. Having similar senses of humor, or a tendency toward close observation, can serve you well. Having different life experiences and specialized knowledge can also be helpful. Different writing styles can even be useful—maybe one of you feels more energized by forging ahead and writing rough drafts, and the other prefers to edit and pay close attention at the line level.
Order a Pizza Together
Liking your writing partner is important, but it’s not the only piece of the puzzle. You also have to make sure you can be happily productive. For insight into this, order a pizza together. Was it easy or difficult? How long did it take to decide on the toppings? Did one person insist on adding anchovies? Did you resentfully accept the anchovies, knowing that the flavor would remain even after you picked them all off?
This may seem like a silly metaphor, but the point is: Pay attention to how you and your potential collaborator make decisions together, because it may tell you what’s in store for writing a story collaboratively. If you’re friends, you likely already have a history of planning and compromise to think about. Once you’ve graduated from ordering pizza, try to pick a movie to watch together in under five minutes.
When it comes to writing collaboratively, it’s more interesting to say yes than no. At worst, you’ll write something that you eventually cut, but even if that’s the case, you’ll learn something about the story from the experience. If you feel the urge to say no to an idea, first ask yourself why.
Use a road trip as a metaphor: Is it that you think you’re driving in the wrong direction? Or that you think you’re driving in the right direction in the wrong type of vehicle? Use this framework to help you through these moments: “I see that you’re trying to achieve (humor, suspense, character development, etc...). What if we tried a different strategy?” Then, suggest concrete alternatives.
Let It Go
On the flip side of saying yes is being OK with letting go of your own ideas. Sometimes your favorite images, plot twists, sentences, or dialogue don’t end up fitting into the novel. You don’t want to cram a square peg into a round hole. If you find yourself trying and failing to let go of an idea, take it as a good sign; your characters (and perhaps your co-writer) have wrestled some control away from you.
Treat Characters Like Mutual Friends (Or Enemies)
A fun part of writing with a friend is that you get to imagine how your fictional characters might fit into your real-world community. As an exercise in character development, talk through who in your life your characters might like or dislike. Speculate about how those characters might react to different experiences you’ve had. Gossip about them, it’s fun!
Most importantly, take note of the differences in how you and your writing partner imagine them, and see if you can make it all true—it can help you develop more dynamic characters when you can see them from multiple vantage points.
Carve Out Dedicated Time for the Collaboration
Good boundaries can safeguard the quality of your writing and your friendship. You might feel the urge to turn every hangout into a book meeting—or the opposite—but don’t. Set aside a pre-planned time to talk through your ideas. That way, you’ll both arrive at the working session with the same level of focus, and you’ll probably get more out of it.
As a bonus, you’ll be giving your friendship space to shift and grow outside the project, which can be trickier than it sounds when you’re working on something you’re excited about.
Surprise Each Other
Sometimes the best ideas happen outside the outline. As you write, don’t be afraid to invent characters, add to the backstory, or test new ideas. You’ll keep some and cut others, but if you’re keeping each other on your toes, it means you’re in a really exciting, generative space. Trust each other with the story, and worry about the finer points of how it will all come together during revision.
Compliment Each Other
Finally, put wind in each other’s sails! If your friend’s writing has made you laugh, let them know. If you’re taken by a beautiful metaphor, a surprising plot twist, or a well-drawn character, don’t keep quiet about it. Let your praise be specific, abundant, and genuine.
Laura Blackett is a woodworker and writer based in Brooklyn. Eve Gleichman’s short stories have appeared in the Kenyon Review, the Harvard Review, BOMB Daily, and elsewhere. Eve is a graduate of Brooklyn College’s MFA fiction program and lives in Brooklyn.