Today I have the pleasure of welcoming two guests on my blog. The awesome writing team Gladys Quinn & Ella Nigh who give advice on how to co-author a novel. Enjoy 🙂
Writing is hard
It is a simple fact that most authors are stubborn enough to ignore. It is probably one of our greatest strengths, but also weaknesses. It isn’t uncommon to feel lost in our work, questioning if our work is good enough if we are good enough.
Everyone tackles this challenge differently, but we, Ella Nigh and Gladys Quinn, decided to face the difficulties of writing together. We met back in 2016 on a writing website and for years we’ve used each other for ideas, opinions, and just overall help during the writing struggles.
In May of 2017, we came up with the wonderful idea to write a book together. That is when Perfection was born and over the course of the year, we discovered what works for us, what doesn’t, and some tricks we use to work together on our novel.
It has been almost a year and a half and we have finished Perfection with 70 chapters and nearly 80,000 words and even started to work on the sequel, Destruction.
We have decided that it is time to finally start sharing some tips and tricks regarding not only how to find a wonderful co-author but also how to work with them.
Finding Your Match
If this almost sounds like the beginning of a bad dating profile, it is because it kind of is. Before you even start thinking of someone to work with, you have to understand that there is a large commitment to agreeing to work with someone.
This person, your co-author, is going to depend on you and you’re going to need to depend on them. You are going to have to have serious and awkward conversations. It is a commitment, one you shouldn’t take lightly.
But enough with the seriousness, let’s find you a co-author! Below are some ideas that we have come up with that you should consider before agreeing to work with someone. The truth is if the person is your best friend or a complete stranger, sometimes things don’t go as expected. To avoid being set up for failure, here are some things we found helpful to consider.
You can’t work with someone that you don’t agree with on basic things. If you butt heads in general conversations and don’t respect each other, you can’t work together.
In a writing partnership, liking each other’s work isn’t enough. You need to be able to think alike for the story to go places, otherwise, no matter how brilliant the ideas are, there won’t be a story.
G: We absolutely lucked out with each other. We usually think along the same lines for where to go next, and we are both a little mean to our characters, so for us, the more horrible the idea, the better.
Co-writing isn’t just about the story. You also want to come back to working with the other person and feel excited about it.
A partnership that is more than just working together professionally will really show in your collaborative writing and make the story shine. You have to be able to respect your coauthor, their work, and what they stand for.
G: Pro tip – please like your co-author?
Ask Them Out
So you’ve got someone in mind? Now what?
Well, it’s time to awkwardly find a way to ask that person out to the prom so-to-speak.
If you are reading this blog and you’re like “I know this wonderful person who I’d love to work with!” then it is time to turn around (or message them) and asks.
Don’t be afraid of rejection; the worst thing they can say is no, and while we all know that isn’t the easiest thing to hear, it isn’t the end of the world.
If you are reading this with your friend or, maybe you already have someone you’re working with and looking for more tips, here are some things we think are important to talk about before you even get started writing.
Now that you have your partner in crime, you need to be able to talk to them openly and comfortably. There are a lot of awkward conversations to have, but you have to be able to speak your mind.
Eventually, you’re going to have to have “the talk”, we think it is better to get this out of the way instead of hitting a roadblock halfway through. Here are some questions you should ask each other:
- What maturity level are we writing this at?
- Is there sex?
- Is there swearing?
- How explicit is the violence?
- What genre are we doing?
- Maybe you both work in fantasy, but one prefers modern fantasy, and one prefers traditional. That’s a conversation to be had!
- What’s your line?
- Let’s be honest, everyone has their line, their limit. Maybe you’re writing a horror novel, but you are not okay with murdering children.
- Your coauthor needs to know about that, just like you need to know that they are not okay with clowns.
- How will we approach writing together?
- What spelling conventions are you using?
- Will the story be in first-person, second-person, or third-person?
- Is it one point of view that you will share or will you write from the perspectives of two characters as we’ve done?
- Will you write alternating chapters or tackle each chapter together?
- If you do choose one perspective, you will need to have a similar writing style or work towards having a similar writing style. Come up with a plan of attack early so your project won’t fall apart after a few chapters.
Side Note: You need to be comfortable saying “no” with each other. It’s going to happen a lot and you shouldn’t be forced into something you don’t want to/aren’t comfortable with.
Alright, so you’ve made it this far. You’ve found a partner, you had the awkward talks and you’re ready to get writing – that’s wonderful! So, now what? Well, we can’t help you come up with an idea for a story, but we can help you with some next steps.
Everyone has their own process, that fact will never change. Going back up to the respect point, understand there are differences and find a way to work together.
We could go on this for days, arguing about first-person vs. third-person, how people decide what chapters to write, etc. That is something for you to decide.
Unfortunately, we also can’t help you with how to come up with an idea. Maybe your partnership came together because you both had an amazing idea together, maybe you just want to work together, but have no idea what it is about, maybe you’re like us and one of you had a weird ass dream and thought “this would make an awesome story!” and decided to drag your friend along for the ride.
The main thing we can suggest here is to talk and make sure the idea is a collaboration, not just one person’s idea.
E: As much as I joke about forcing G into my weird dream, the truth is I told her about my idea and then we work-shopped it together. We tore it apart, came up with new ideas, new characters, and we created the world together. It isn’t my idea; it is ours.
When it comes to the writing stage, we brainstorm in a shared google document and write in the same document. This way, all our main ideas and chapters are in the same place and we can easily comment on each other’s chapters when we need clarification, if we have an idea, or if we need help.
E: Just think, that does mean a second set of eyes for editing, because admit it, we all need a second set of eyes for editing!
Unfortunately, we live halfway across the world from each other (Australia and Canada), so it’s impossible to catch up and run our ideas by each other face to face, but we talk regularly about characters and their backgrounds and what they’ll do next.
Make sure you can easily get a hold of each other when you have an idea. We use Discord to chat, but we also have each other on more than one social media platform.
G: Make sure you work in a space where both of you are easily available!
One tip we have for you is, especially if things are a bit more separated, make sure to at least have a document of shared information.
At the beginning of Perfection in our shared document, we have about 6 pages of character and background information including pictures, character descriptions, and different sceneries.
This helps keep both of us informed, especially in the beginning. We each have such clear ideas of what our character is doing, we struggled to remember the small details about each other’s main character and the side characters we made.
Alright, so you’ve got a partner, you’ve got an idea, you’ve found a way to write together and suddenly you hit a bump in the road. Your co-author “just isn’t feeling it anymore” or “something’s come up”, or the millions of other things life can throw at us. On
both sides of this scenario, it isn’t fun. No writing experience goes smoothly and while we don’t have all the solutions, here is how we have troubleshot before.
Sometimes your coauthor just doesn’t feel like writing, and things happen in their life.
G: Or even when your co-author is mostly fine, understand that they might be a turtle and ideas can fall off their mental cliffs every now and then.
To be able to write together, you need to work together and support each other no matter what. Look out for your co-writer and if they’re struggling, even outside of anything writing-related, be there to help.
Being a decent human being can get you a lot of places in this world, and this is one of those times. Don’t yell at them, don’t rush them, don’t force them to write because even if they manage to write something, it probably won’t be as good as what it normally could be.
E: Side note – this is for us. Maybe you two crazy people came together because you could only ever write 5 chapters before you lost motivation and decided that maybe together, you’ll be better. Then, ya, if you had that conversation to yell at each other when they’re slacking, pester away.
G: And this is how we wrote 50 000 words in something like a month, everybody.
A big part of co-writing is being able to work together and listening to each other’s ideas. Not being insulted if they don’t like something that you suggest and being able to give critical feedback, but also not rudely.
E: You shouldn’t be scared to ask your co-author for their opinion and worry what horrible thing they might say. Everyone has bad ideas – I have plenty – but G always knows how to turn me down nicely. If they do turn you down, also don’t take it personally, it’s their story too.
It’s Not You, It’s Me
It happens to the best of us.
Like we said in the beginning, writing is hard. Thankfully, so far we haven’t gotten to this point, but sometimes it just doesn’t work out, and that’s okay. We have no advice for you, but only words of encouragement.
Authors are amazingly talented and wonderful people. Even if this book fails, that isn’t a reason to quit. Don’t resent your co-author if they’ve given up; it isn’t worth losing a friend over.
Try to be understanding, even if you are hurt. Hey, who knows, maybe they won’t mind if you continue without them, or maybe there is an even better idea waiting for you, just around the corner.
Before everything is said and done, we want to take the time to cover our asses. Perfection has been our baby for almost a year and a half and from it, we have continued to work on the characters we love oh-so-much and come up with a second book – Destruction.
During this time we have been through a lot, individually and together. Perfection has failed multiple times, we actually had a couple months break from writing it.
We both thought it was dead, never going to be finished, but together we found the motivation to continue writing, and eventually did finish it.
These tips and tricks listed above and what we found helped and worked for us. That being said, we’re human, we’re are all different. What works for us may not work for you.
At the end of the day, we all have our own process, our own way of doing things. We just hope this helped in one way or another.
About the Authors
Gladys Quinn is a speculative fiction writer and a postgraduate student of creative writing and publishing.
She failed to get a pen licence in primary school, but thanks to technology, she is now an aspiring novelist.
She enjoys nature, philosophy, and physics, and likes to dabble in music in her spare time.
Connect with Gladys
Ella Nigh is a full-time student in medical sciences who has been writing for 9 years.
Writing has been and always will be her passion and loves to incorporate her love for science into her work.
She also enjoys photography, biking, knitting, and D&D.
Connect with Ella
A nobody and a wrongly-accused fugitive, Valentina Linkin, jumps at the offer of a free trip to Dell Island, a small tropical paradise.
Here, with no pressure to leave, Linkin hopes to start over from the mayhem she has caused with her unique intelligence.
However, the longer she stays, the more strange things she notices: freak illnesses, terrible accidents, and the people who go into the hospital never come back.
It all started with a crumpled note telling her to look on the inside. What’s on the inside? Ira Konstantinov could tell her, but she can’t get above ground.
Thanks so much for visiting my blog, I hope you found this article useful. If so, consider sharing it on social media so it can help someone else 🙂
Do check back on Wednesday when I’ll have a new guest poster on the blog.