Collaborative Fiction: Writing with a Partner for Creative Pay-offs

The empty room. The creaky chair. The face of eternity in each blank page.

Alone time is necessary to writing, but it’s also so darned lonely. Maybe that’s why so many writers join critique groups. And drink too much. And go nuts.

Okay, those last two are likely just stereotypes. Even so, too much time inside one’s own head could make any writer long for a little human contact.

But does it have to be that way? Writing with a partner can both offer a break from the quiet and take your writing in some interesting new directions.

How To Do It

Find a partner.

You probably know some writers. You might even know some writers you like. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you should try to write a novel with them… or even a haiku, for that matter. That said, liking your partner is probably a good place to start.

It’s more important, though, that you find someone you respect—and who respects you. You’ll want to work with someone who shares your general skill level and aesthetic. Keep in mind, though, that it can be a good thing if your particular strengths vary. Look for someone who, in the immortal words of Jerry McGuire, “completes you.” A strong plotter, for example, might be well paired with someone with a great ear for dialog.

Choose a project.

It’s fine to approach a writing partner with an idea that is still pretty rough-cut; in fact, it’s preferable since your partner will want to have some creative input in shaping the idea.

With that in mind, I’d recommend you not try to work with a partner on an idea that’s too important to either one of you. If you’ve been thinking about a story for years and have written voluminous notes about the characters, setting, plot, etc., you might not want someone else coming in and fiddling with things.

It’s important that the project is ultimately something that can be owned by both writers. Find a concept that interests both of you, but perhaps not one either one of you are already obsessed with.

Map out a process.  

Do you plan to work daily in the same place and at the same time as your collaborator? Or will you write alone and email work back and forth weekly?

Do you need a full plot outline before beginning? Or would you rather start with a general gist of the story arc and find your way as you go?

Are you both approaching the story from a single point of view or are you writing from alternating voices?

Will you edit your partner’s scenes or will you trade chapters without editing so much as a word?

It’s important that you’re on the same page as your co-writer. Decide together on some ground rules, but you both may need to approach those decisions with flexibility.

What’s essential here is that you communicate what’s working and what’s not as you go forth so you can find the right process for you.




Mary Crockett is coauthor with Madelyn Rosenberg of the upcoming young adult novel DREAM BOY.  She has also coauthored with John Long the history A Town by the Name of Salem, and is the author of two award-winning books of poetry, If You Return Home with Food and A Theory of Everything.

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