Drawing by Janet Post
Writing with a Partner
Writing with a partner can be an uplifting experience filled with highs, laughter, and an exchange of ideas like no other. Or it can collapse into disaster losing you a friend and writing partner. I’ve experienced both. Here’s what I learned.
Have you ever wrestled with writer’s block? Sat at your computer staring at a blank page with nothing in your head but air? Ever know a reporter, personally? A reporter goes to work, sits at a desk piled with interviews to write up, events she’s covered to write about, and cut-lines for photos to create. Reporters don’t have time to wait for their muse to kick in. They must write, write well, and write prolifically.
That’s easier said than done when all the ideas are entirely your own and you must come up with an entire novel. Brainstorming with a partner can kick-start the plotting process and help you come up with imaginative characters.
I wrote with two of my adult children. I think the writing and the rapid-fire exchange of terrific and inspired ideas made writing the books I did with them a joy. I wrote eighteen erotic romances with my daughter. She was a bartender and heard stories and saw a side of life I did not. Her expertise on the seedy side of life, added to my knowledge and enabled us to create books with great characters and rich experiences. All are published under her name, Melanie Thompson.
The books I wrote with my son were all Young Adult. He’s a middle-school teacher with a vast knowledge of what appeals to young men and women. It helped that he had a teenaged son. His ideas were amazing. The books we wrote together flowed from brainstorming sessions that filled pages of notebooks. The YA was published under his name, Gabe Thompson.
Those were two of my writing-with-a-partner experiences. The third one was terrible. I’ve analyzed it carefully and decided at least one of the partners needs to have some authority to make it work. The third writing partner was an author but also an editor. I did the bulk of the writing so I felt like the story should go a certain way. She felt it should go a different way and brought in a Beta reader I didn’t know to bolster her opinion. She gave the reader editing authority on track changes and at that point, the writing collapsed. I believe that came from her thinking she had the authority and me thinking I had it. We collided in a very unpleasant way and our relationship has never recovered.
There are some real things to think about when writing in a genre containing characters with which you are not familiar. Getting help may be the way to solve some of the difficulties. Say you have a contract to write four chick lit books about women and the men they meet in the city. There you are, fiftyish, living in the country with your dogs, no friends in the thirty-something world, living the modern dating scene. Or maybe that’s the kind of book you want to write because it’s what you read. However, you don’t have any ideas about characters. Enter that friend you met in creative writing in college. She now lives in New York and is working in the restaurant world. Time to reconnect. She knows the people and the world. You went on and became a writer. Together, you have all the right stuff to create a great chick lit book.
Now imagine you’re in the same situation. You’ve published chick lit for five years but you’re tired of it. Young Adult is hot. You have grandkids or nieces and nephews in the right age group, but essentially you need to know more about kids; what they do, what they like, how they behave in school. It’s time to find a friend who teaches in high school, or you need to volunteer at the Y, at a high school, and learn the hard way. A co-writer who already knows kids is really the perfect answer. That person can give you plot ideas, help you create believable characters, and when you get stuck, can help you out.
There have been many successful writing duos. These two have penned best seller after best seller. Lincoln Child wrote a long article on the process he and Preston went through to tone and perfect their partnership. Child said, “Our collaborative process has changed significantly in the twenty-five—alas, yes, twenty-five—years since we started writing novels together. Initially, Doug (who at the time had more experience writing professionally, albeit nonfiction) wrote the first drafts of the majority of the chapters. I (as a former trade editor at a New York publishing house who spent a great deal of time not only editing manuscripts but at times suggesting wholesale revisions to the underlying plots) wrote up the initial chapter outlines, and then rewrote Doug’s drafts.”
Some other writing pairs that may surprise you: J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, H.P. Lovecraft and Harry Houdini, Matt Stone and Trey Parker who started as two college buddies trying to crack each other up, became the comedy genius behind South Park, BASEketball, The Book of Mormon, and others, and Stephen King and Tabitha King.
Even if it doesn’t work out for you. Even if you think you could never work with someone else or don’t like sharing, if you want to write something big, with aspects or elements you know nothing about, and you have a friend who can collaborate with you and wants to take on the project; consider it. Writing with a partner can take some of the load off your shoulders. Input from a different viewpoint can make your work more interesting and better. And who doesn’t want that?
I live in a swamp with seven dogs, mostly rescues, my fourth husband, and an adopted daughter who is now sixteen. It’s from her I get knowledge of young adult writing. She’s quick to criticize and give me advice.
My son, Gabe Thompson, and I have partnered to write eight young adult books. Gabe teaches middle school. The first book of our series, The Vagrant Chronicles, Vagrant, has received four awards, two Best Books, one New Adult and one Science Fiction, an International Best Book for Science Fiction, and an Apple. The second book in the series, Mutant, just came out.
My first published novel was a Cracker Western, Alligator Gold, published by Pineapple Press. I wrote that when I retired from my job as a reporter. I have another Cracker Western, Cracker Justice, coming out next year. I went to a Florida Writers Association conference and met Lori Perkins. She encouraged me to write for her, so I wrote erotic romance with my daughter under her name Melanie Thompson for Ravenous Romance and then Start Media. I have over 30 published novels.
I just published The Young Adult Writers Journey, a complete how-to book for anyone wanting to write young adult fiction.