Lessons Learned from Co-Writing: Getting Started by Joanna Chambers

I’ve just released my first co-written book, Enemies Like You, with Annika Martin so I thought I’d talk a little bit today about about some of the lessons learned from the co-writing process.  

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Prior to Enemies, I’d had no particular desire to co-write with anyone. Quite the opposite actually. I know what I’m like. I’m opinionated and controlling and I knew it would not be an easy thing for me. If I’m doing a team task (e.g. in my RL job) and someone in the team isn’t doing a great job, I’ll tend to take on more than my fair share of the work in order to ensure things are done properly and then silently fume, rather than having a confrontation about it. So I knew from the get-go that co-writing would not be something I should enter into lightly. And that’s Lesson #1: Know yourself. Know how you are likely to handle a joint project and what challenges it will present for you given how you operate and deal with other people.

Happily for me, it wasn’t just anyone who presented themselves. It was Annika. Annika and I have known each other for many years. We’ve been crit partners for 7 or 8 years and before that, we were blogging friends for quite a while. She’s read and given feedback on pretty much all my published books and generally been a huge and positive part of my writing life. I remember when we first exchanged pieces as CPs, being simultaneously relieved and concerned – relieved that I wasn’t going to have to worry about being diplomatic because her writing was SO good and concerned because … how could I possibly compare?

So before we even started, I knew Annika and I trusted her and most importantly, I loved her writing. So that’s Lesson #2: Know (and believe in) your writing partner.

Given how effusive I am about Annika’s writing, you may be wondering why it never occurred to me to suggest we co-write before we did? Well, the thing is, we’ve mostly written in pretty different genres, so it genuinely never came up till the story we actually wrote together first presented itself.

One of the things Annika and I would sometimes do together as CPs was share any new story ideas we had, just to kick the tyres of them a bit. That’s how Enemies started. The basic pitch was a queer contemporary Scarlet Pimpernel and as our discussion moved on – both of us just loving the idea – Annika said, Do you want to try writing this together? So you see, the main motivation to co-write was about our joint love of the story idea and actually, I think that’s really important. We weren’t writing together for the hell of it, because we like each other, but because of this particular story that we both wanted to write. Lesson #3: Both be passionately invested in the story.

My immediate reaction to Annika’s suggestion was Fuck, yeah! Annika – I always tell her this – has this huge and vivid imagination. She seems to have this endless spring of ideas and her work is so exciting and colourful. I thought, I totally want all that in this story – it will be so awesome! Even so, I still had some reservations – unlike me, Annika writes full time, and I was worried about our ability to find a schedule that would work for both of us. So I shared my concerns and we talked about that and basically agreed something that is my Lesson #4: Agree to be honest and  upfront with each other – if you decide that what you’re doing isn’t working for you for whatever reason you need to be able to walk away without recriminations. And that takes you back to knowing and trusting your writing partner.

The next lesson is the final one I’ll talk about in this post, Lesson #5: Agree a process; understand it may evolve. We spent a wee bit of time at the outset talking about how we would write together, and that fairly quickly evolved into what became *our* process, a fairly demanding draft-and-revise as you go that pushed all the heavy lifting into our first draft. If we had just launched into writing without giving the process any conscious thought, things could have fallen apart very quickly.

That pretty much covers the outset of the co-writing process, but there were many more lessons learned as we proceeded – and I’ll talk about those if Judith invites me back to write a part 2 post!

Publisher’s note: Invite incoming! 

Joanna Chambers always wanted to write. In between studying, finding a proper grown up job, getting married and having kids, she spent many hours staring at blank sheets of paper and chewing pens. That changed when she rediscovered her love of romance and found her muse. Joanna’s muse likes red wine, coffee and won’t let Joanna clean the house or watch television.

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Please note: all opinions and statements expressed are those of the author and not of Open Ink Press LLC or its affiliates. 

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