What is the writing process like when co-writing a book?

If writing a book fills you with all kinds of dread, consider co-writing a book. We’ve done it twice now: once on A Mind at Play and earlier on Rome’s Last Citizen.

We’ve found it to be an enjoyable experience both times. You get a few built-in advantages when you’re co-writing a book, and they help to address a lot of the hurdles that keep people from writing books on their own:

1) You only have to write “half” a book! Okay, so that’s not entirely true, but with two people, you do double your capacity for research, writing, fact-checking, and all the rest. It also helps to have two people pushing hard to get that all-important first draft done quickly.

In our case, we would split up the chapters, write them, and then share the result with the other person. It made the whole thing go by much more quickly than if we had been working on it alone.

2) You’re accountable to someone who isn’t you. It’s easy if you’re mid-book to find every excuse in the world to not write. Writers will joke that they rarely have cleaner apartments than they do when they are mid-project. And that’s because writing is hard work, and for many of us, we manage to find other “productive” ways to spend the time we should spend writing.

Hence why it’s great to have a co-author. You’re not writing for you; you’re writing for them. They need the chapter because they have to edit it. You signed the contract together, and you can’t skimp out on your half of the work. It’s a commitment device that’s impossible to shake.

3) You’re not alone with your thoughts. In the writing of both of our books, we’d often look up from our laptops and talk out loud about a scene, a chapter, an idea. It was great to have someone around who you could bother with things like that. (It’s also an enormous relief for family members who get tired of hearing the same fact over and over again.)

That intellectual companionship is more important than you might think. Writing can be lonely. Co-authoring a book is a wonderful cure for that, and it gives you someone else to test your ideas before and after they hit the page.

4) You leverage each other’s strengths. We each enjoy, and are good at, different aspects of the writing and book process. But in doing a book together, we get to benefit from what we each bring to the table. If one person is a better interviewer, let them handle interviews. If one person sets scenes better, they tackle that.

It can seem like a simple thing, but it’s especially helpful in those moments when you don’t know if you’re equipped to tackle a particular paragraph or section. You can turn to the other person and say, “Hey, do you mind just dropping in here for a few minutes and handling this? I think you’ll be better at it than me.” That’s invaluable when you’re trying to finish a book.

5) It’s much more fun. It helps, of course, to have a co-writer whose company you enjoy. If you can find that, then you’ll have a lot better time writing the book as a whole. You laugh at the same inside jokes; you celebrate the successes together. All the nerdy, quirky things that make up a book process just become more bearable and interesting when you’re doing them with someone else.

3 Replies to “What is the writing process like when co-writing a book?”

  1. It varies by the situation. Once (and only once), I was given a two-paragraph synopsis by the senior, big-name author, and expected to produce an entire book which he would then edit and add to. Several times I met in person with the other author(s) or we exchanged very long emails and phone calls (this was in the day before there were chat programs), worked out an extensive outline, picked out the parts we each wanted to do, and when we were done, one of us stitched it together and smoothed things out. Currently I have two modes of working. For The Secret World Chronicle and the SERRAted Edge reboot, after we agree on the outline, the authors and I all work in the same document at the same time on Google Docs. This makes for some extremely lively and realistic conversation—and also changes that weren’t in the outline but make for a much better book. Or, the other author and I work in the same document on Google Docs, but not at the same time (Since Rosemary Edghill and James Mallory and I are on different schedules.) When the books are done, we all make final editing passes, and the one who is the agreed-on person to make the last pass is the one who turns it in.

  2. It depends on the co-authors. Different ones use different methods. Sometimes they brainstorm together, sometimes they each write a character from a particular point of view, and sometimes they swap writing chapters, and then revise together. It can be very exciting, and it can be deadly depending on the dynamic of the individual writers.

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