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Thursday, March 01, 2012

Writing Collaboratively: how it works for us

I recently read an interview with popular thriller writer Nicci French - actually husband-and-wife writing team Nicci Gerrard and Sean French - that revealed their process of collaboration:

“They tend to write alternate chapters and email them back and forth for each other to revise until both feel satisfied; friends try and guess whose bits are whose and don’t always get it right. They spend months talking about each book before they start, yet cannot imagine actually writing in each other’s presence.”

This insight heartened me, because it’s very similar to how Sue and I work together in our own writing. We first started working together on the same manuscript five years ago, when Sue’s illness meant she could no longer sustain writing alone. Since then, we haven’t looked back.

For us, writing collaboratively doesn’t mean a painstaking process of discussing every sentence before one of us jots it down. I don’t know if anyone could ever write like that; you’d get on each other’s nerves before you finished a single paragraph, and it would take you ages to actually get anywhere. Writing is still a solitary practice, even when you’re working with somebody else.

When we come to starting a new book, Sue and I spend months together plotting, bouncing ideas off each other and developing characters and their back stories. Once all the details are finished, I write out the chapters, one by one, in initial draft form. These are then emailed to Sue, who edits until she’s satisfied, before sending them back to me. I then craft a second, more polished draft.

Working this way gives each of us our own space and allows us both to contribute to the creativity of our stories. We’ve completed four manuscripts so far, and are well into the plotting stage of our fifth, so I can say without a doubt that it definitely works for us.

Would you write together with your nearest and dearest? Would it be a case of harmony and unison, or daggers at dawn?


Weissdorn said...

No, I wouldn't write with my spouse, because we don't share that interest. But I recall foundly of the close friendship I had with my critique partner. You can only find that sort of friendship through writing.

Graham said...

Weissdorn, you're right. I recently started a Masters course in writing and an emphasis is on the critiquing side. Our student group is already coming together via our shared comments on each other's work.