(Editor’s note: For our last post of 2011, Alpha graduate and soon-to-be debut author Rachel Grinti is here to talk about what it’s like to co-author [and publish!] a novel. Happy holidays, and we’ll see you in 2012!)
My husband Mike and I sold our debut novel this year. It’s a middle grade fantasy called Claws, and it’s the second book we wrote together. We came up with the idea together, plotted, wrote, and rewrote together. One of the most common questions we get is: What’s it like to write together? The short answer is that it’s awesome.
Mike wrote his first novel on his own, but found he hated the process of submitting, and he got discouraged quickly. I wanted to help, so I took over the querying, record-keeping, and market research. Then, when we didn’t get any interest, I got more involved with the editing and we went over the book together, line-by-line, The Eye of Argon style (meaning we read it out loud and cracked up at how awkward some parts were).
I started working with him on the editing, and he let me stomp around and do whatever I wanted with his book. He offered me co-author credit at some point, which I turned down because I didn’t feel the book was really mine. I didn’t really like the book, and it just wasn’t my thing. But we decided to start a new novel and work together from the beginning.
We had to learn to write together effectively and learn how each of us worked. Alternating chapters or scenes was too strict. Mike got impatient when I was taking too long, and I got frustrated when he took over a section that was supposed to be “mine.” Now we plot together and pass the manuscript back and forth whenever one of us is stuck or needs a break. Sometimes we also write side-by-side, usually with Mike typing and me watching and discussing. We have meetings when we’re stuck on something, which usually involves leaving the house and going somewhere less distracting, which helps us focus.
One of the best parts of working together is that we can use each other’s strengths. For a long time, Mike was better at putting a lot of words down quickly, and I was better at cleaning it up after. That’s evened out as we both learn (though Mike is still the typo king). I’m still better at the business side of things, and when we queried, I did the query letter writing and submission tracking.
The other great thing? This business can be so stressful, and it’s so cool to have someone else be a part of every step. We can mope about rejections together and celebrate success together. Neither one of us ever feels like we’re being ignored for the writing, because when things get crazy busy we’re both a part of that.
If you’re thinking about working with a writing partner, I think there are a few things to keep in mind. First, you have to trust each other completely, with both the writing and business aspects. Second, you have to let go. The book isn’t just yours (or theirs). You both have to be happy with what goes into the book, and that means you can’t justify a decision just because “it’s my book”. Sometimes that means having to drop something. Sometimes it means working that much harder on an idea in order to prove it’s worth it. In either case, the result is usually a stronger book.
You also have to thicken your skin. No more hiding drafts of the book from all eyes until it’s ready — until you’ve let the literary concrete settle, in other words! You have to let someone in when it’s still completely rough, when it’s a lot easier to change direction and try new things. That can be hard, of course, but it can save you so much time. And for every time you feel frustrated that something you were trying got critiqued as you were writing it, there are so many other times when your partner comes up with something and you realize you never would have thought of that yourself.
I actually think that more writers should try this full-trust method of writing with someone else, even just once. You’d be amazed how much you can learn, about your own writing and writing in general, by working in complete openness with someone. (But of course, I’m completely biased!)