| David Gane

ELI5: Co-writers

I commented for the first time on an "Explain it Like I'm 5" sub-Reddit because the question seemed like an obvious slam-dunk for me:

ELI5: how do authors co-write books?

I recently finished reading the long earth by Baxter and Pratchett. This got me wondering. How do people co-author books? Do they sit in a room and discuss every line? Or is it more that one author is the ideas person and the other puts the words to it? Or is it simply a case of a main author and the other author is essentially very hands on editor?

Now that it's been up there for a few days and forgotten, I thought I'd share it on here (FYI-it's a lot about process):

  • Work in the same room, coming up with the idea. We usually will work out the characters at this stage.
    Hash idea into a basic act outline of what happens in the story.
  • Build the outline up to flesh out as many of the story beats as possible.
  • If it’s a screenplay, we tend to work in the same room, with my partner on the keyboard and me pacing back and forth working out the action of a scene.
  • With the book, we work separately and one of us starts writing, beginning at page one. Sometimes this will go until the person stalls out, but sometimes the other person will pick up where the other person left off last.
  • On the technical side, we used to use Google Docs but have switched to a shared Word Doc file on Dropbox so that we have a little less work on the back-end (we self-published our first book).
  • The other person follows behind, reading and rewriting what the other one has put down. I always imagine that one of us going through the jungle, cutting a swath through the undergrowth, while the other one follows behind cleaning it up and making it a proper path.
  • If we have a story problem that we disagree on, we stop and work it out. This often means picking your battles. Most of the time we know when to trust each other’s choices. Sometimes we’re stubborn and it might take a lot more discussion until we’ve come up with the solution, but we try and listen to each other’s concerns.
  • The longer the writing time, the more our writing processes vary. My writing partner tends to reread a lot before writing forward. I like to plow ahead and finish it before I revisit the whole thing.
  • Once we are done, we’ll read through together and make notes and fixes.
  • If there are any major problems, I'll go back and work on it until we feel it's right.
  • We’ll reread again and tighten it.
  • Send it out to first readers, get responses, notes, edits. We discuss what needs fixes and what we’ll ignore.
  • Fix it all again.
  • Send it to editor. We’ll each review everything but I’ll clean up all our mistakes.
  • Send it to second reader.
  • I correct mistakes.
  • Release.

Tags: partnership


  • Posted by Angie on

    Just wanted to say that I love the image of cutting through the jungle with the other person making a clear path. It certainly is a great metaphor for partnership.

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