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Collaboration, the good, the bad and the ugly

I've never collaborated on a story. I threatened to once, and then decided I liked the idea too much to share - it later became Inish Carraig. One of my forum buddies, Nick Bailey, has brought out his first novel, to great reviews, in collaboration with Darren Bullock, and I thought it would be cool to hear how it had worked for them.

Here are their hints and tips. 


Collaboration. Does the word fill you with dread? You wouldn’t be alone. Many writers wouldn’t work on a project with another person, and often with good reason. Would your manuscript have two distinct styles? Would your characters be consistent? Would you end up hating your co-writer? For Darren and I, it was never a question of whether we would collaborate on a series of novels, the question had always been: when would it happen? Having been very close friends since our early teens, we have a distinct advantage in that we know each other very well. 

So what pitfalls can I talk about that may help writers plan a joint work? 

First of all, be well prepared to disagree, and to compromise. You absolutely have to be honest with each other about what works, what you like, what you don’t like and how you will go about the actual writing process.

When planning Liberator, we wrote an early storyboard together, over many, many cups of coffee. After putting together a rough story, we picked a scene and just started writing. It was a pretty random process at first, and we were writing completely out of chronological order, but it seemed the natural thing to do at the time. Luckily, and with continuous regular meetings and copious amounts of caffeine, we began piecing it together; writing extra pieces to join scenes, cutting huge swathes of work, and bickering about Darren’s slightly modern art style, versus my more blunt, in-your-face writing. Somehow, a complete novel began to take shape from the chaos. 

As I pointed out, there were plenty of disagreements, friendly, but disagreements nonetheless. And that is absolutely inevitable when you are creating a world from two imaginations. No two people really see the same thing when you describe with words. So, we cheated a little. For all the main characters for instance, we picked a real life actor that we saw as the perfect person to play that part, that way, we knew exactly how to describe anything that required an actual physical description. For technological stuff—ships, weapons, armour, and so on, we drew them. We also luckily have an extremely talented artist as a friend; he’s the guy who did the cover for us.

To work together, and see a project through, you need to be very honest with each other, and have very thick skin. You have to tell your co-writer when you don’t like something, because you both really do have to like everything you put into the final version. You need to be able to take criticism, and accept what you can’t both agree on. It’s like a tougher love version of murdering your darlings, because sometimes, you have to watch your co-writer murder them. 

To end up with a tight, working, story you need to both be on the same wavelength all the time. The manuscript has to read as though one person wrote it, not change styles or tone. One way we did that was to edit each other’s work regularly, not a full rewrite, but a once over of each scene. At the full edit/rewrite stage, we did this together over Skype. One of us would read it aloud, the other reading silently while also listening to the reader. 

One thing you will absolutely need is the ability to both access files from different locations at any time. So you need cloud storage. Liberator would have taken much, much longer to produce had we not had cloud access to all the files. Sometimes we would be working on laptops; other times tablets, and even phones. And of course, we live quite far apart. 

One of the big pros of course is motivation. You don’t want to let your co-writer down, and when they are feeling low, you can pick them up. When all else fails and you are in a bit of a slump… Meet up for coffee. Have a chat, and a laugh. Talk stuff out face-to-face. It works every time. When we meet up, I always come away happier and more motivated. 

Communication is king in collaborative work. Stay talking, most days. Darren and I talk almost every day, even if it is just by text. If you find yourself thinking that you are grinding away, and your co-writer doesn’t seem to be working as hard as you, don’t start to harbour resentment, get talking. It may be they have hit a barrier, the so-called writers block, and don’t know how to tell you. Maybe life has gotten in the way, as happens to everyone. Communicate, find out. They may just need you to talk to them and share a joke or two. We all know that writing can be lonely work, and if your co-writer is falling into a bad headspace, then you need to pick them back up, dust them down and get them back in the saddle. Because sure as hell, at some point you are going to need it done for you. 

And right there, is probably the very best thing about collaboration. You are not alone in the dark when you feel your manuscript is a piece of crap and you want to throw it in the bin, then climb right in after it. You know the times I am talking about. When you have a partner, they don’t climb in with you, they grab you by the scruff of the neck, shake you off and stick a cup of coffee in your hand.

So what else can I tell you? I am still learning, Liberator is the first novel either of us has published, and it was a proud moment when the first day’s sales came rolling in on the KDP report. I will probably still be learning when the KDP report rolls in for book 8. And I will still have my co-writer, my wingman, Darren, right there propping me up so that I can pretend it is all going to plan.


Colonel JJ Tristan, last officer of the Liberators, is trying to keep the embers of the once great military corporation burning, but passion and the dreams of a glorious past don’t pay the bills. Everything changes when Orlanda Nixon, a former unit member, calls for his help. Finally, he has a reason to reform the Liberators, but after eight years will he be able to gather enough of them together to rescue one of their own? JJ has his doubts; just getting their old warship back into space could be a problem.
The Liberators never left anyone behind, and JJ isn't about to let that happen now…


Anne Glynn said…
Great post, with some solid advice. Thanks for sharing it!

I work with a collaborator, too, on almost all of my writing projects -- and, since we share a bedroom, we had to get past the thin skin issues pretty quickly (in less than...oh, ten years, anyway), or life would have gotten too skitchy for enjoyment.

Yes, "skitchy" is a word. Feel free to use it liberally in Liberators, Book 2. :)
Nick said…
Ha! Thank you so much. I will definitely get the word Skitchy into the second book (which has a working, and to be fair probably permanent, working title of Rift), and that's a promise!