Collaboration made easy: 6 ways to build a writing relationship



Alexis Brown/Unsplash

Sean Williams, Flinders University

Writing is a pastime best conducted on your own — or so common wisdom would have it. Yet writing teams exist, and in many realms they are expected. Take television, where the writers’ room is the norm. Or the academy: one physics paper has 5,154 authors.

In literature, collaborations are more common than you might realise. For every superstar Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett team-up (Good Omens), there might be an F. Scott Fitzgerald and his uncredited wife Zelda, or a “James S. A. Corey” (The Expanse) being the pseudonym for Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck.

Although new writers such as the Brontë siblings may collaborate, the practice seems to fall away with age, perhaps because writing relationships can be as fraught as familial ones, with as many pitfalls to navigate.

Add to this a collaboration nearly always proves to take as long as a solo work and any monies might have to be divided among the contributors. Why would anyone willingly share their art with someone else for little to no benefit?




Read more:
10½ commandments of writing


In my experience, collaborating can be creatively stimulating, educative, motivating, productive, and revitalising. Plus, it’s great to have a friend to keep you company on a publicity tour.

Here are six techniques to help would-be co-writers take their first steps in this direction.

1. The chain

This is the simplest method, one of two that require first settling on what your story will be and then breaking the writing of it into bits completed separately, in chronological order.

There are many ways to serially tackle the discrete tasks that will combine to form a glorious whole. Some teams might choose to write alternate scenes, chapters or sections; others might alternate whole drafts, giving each participant long stretches of time to work on solo projects.

Whichever way you tear it down, every member of the team has a professional obligation to deliver. Break one link in the chain and it falls apart.

The chain method can give each writer long stretches of time to work on solo projects.
Brad Neathery/Unsplash

2. Parallel processing

The second way to devolve an outline requires trust and communication beyond that required of ordinary collaborative relationships.

In parallel processing, you divide characters among authors, so one provides the voice of X, another Y, and so on. Each arc is written separately, then edited together when complete. If X or Y diverge too much from their expected paths, plotting and structural problems can arise, but the powerful juxtaposition of distinct voices can outweigh the risk.

3. The hothouse

An extreme version of serial collaboration, this method used to require being physically in the same room as your writing partner(s). One starts writing and keeps writing until they get stuck. They then tag in the next writer, who takes over. Repeat until done. Food and sleep are optional.

The benefit of this method is the words are guaranteed to keep coming.

These days the “in person” requirement is greatly relaxed. Google Docs is just one platform allowing writers to work on the same document at the same time, no matter where they are.

4. The undertakers

Brainstorming what a story will contain is, for many collaborators, the fun part — providing they can agree on a final project.

One method of achieving this agreement is by giving one of the co-writers a veto to be exercised when consensus can’t be reached.

Another method requires every element of the final project must be agreed to by every collaborator. This can be time-consuming to achieve but avoids any lingering resentment if someone is outvoted or overruled.

To avoid any lingering resentment, every decision can be agreed on by every collaborator.
Toa Heftiba/Unsplash

More generally, every shared undertaking should have a binding agreement in place before serious work commences, covering issues such as whose name goes first, which agent will sell the work, how any resulting IP will be divided, and so on.

It is much better to have these agreements in place and not need them than the other way around.

5. The Marxist Manifesto

Collaborators should have common ambitions but complementary skills, otherwise you might as well work alone. The way roles are divided in the working relationship can reflect those skill sets – which might, of course, lie in non-writerly areas such as business or marketing.

To some, the perfect collaboration is one in which every participant’s weaknesses are covered by strengths in their fellows. Everyone contributes and everyone learns by example.

Not everyone needs to write. Someone on the team might have the perfect brain for business or marketing.
Helena Lopes/Unsplash

6. Resurrection of the dead

Finally, the easiest and safest way to audition a potential co-writer is to give them a failed draft and see what they accomplish with it. If it’s a success, great: the original author gains a new collaborator and a finished work.

Should this (or any of these methods fail) the author is no worse off.

They can just revert to writing alone – for some their natural habitat.The Conversation

Sean Williams, Senior Lecturer, Flinders University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Book Review: Phantoms on the Bookshelves, by Jacques Bonnet


‘Phantoms on the Bookshelves,’ by Jacques Bonnet was translated from the French original by Sian Reynolds and has an introduction by James Salter. The copy I have is a Kindle edition. It was first published in Great Britain in 2010 by MacLehose Press. It is a relatively short book at 123 pages in length, so it won’t take too much to get through it.

Phantoms on the Bookshelves, by Jacques BonnetThe introduction to the book by James Salter is a good, brief read concerning the author of the book and his book collecting ways. It could easily describe me, though I have nowhere near as many books as Bonnet, even though I have thousands myself in traditional form and/or digital format. I see similarities between the description given of Bonnet by Salter and myself, with my far fewer volumes. I too struggle now to find room for them all, with my virtual bookshelves requiring expansion in the near future to accomodate my book collecting ways into the current century and digital age. Traditional books have long run out of room in this house, as I suspect they have in Bonnet’s apartment.

Bonnet is a man who loves books and his thoughts on what is normal in a home, the presence of many books, is something I can relate to. I also find myself in wonder when I see homes with no books, particularly in some of the circles in which I move or have moved. How can they get by without books? Mind you it is probably not as easy a situation to read (no pun intended – truly not) these days, with books now being able to be stored by the thousands on a home computer and/or on an external hard drive or two. Still, I have wondered this for many years and I think Bonnet would probably agree with me. Relating to others is made easier when discussing books for Bonnet and I find this an agreeable thing also. It is the way of Bibliophiles, whether we use that term or not (perhaps for some Bibliomaniac is a better term).

I did not find Bonnet’s chapter on cataloguing and organisation helpful at all, though I expect it would help some. This is probably because I have developed my own system which closely resembles that of the Dewey to almost certainly be called a Dewey system. The Bonnet decsription horrified me and I thought it would become far too confusing and disorienting for me. He is certainly right about the Internet making a major impact on libraries and the need to have as many books as he has in his collection. It is not only the storing of works on the World Wide Web, in the cloud and on other digital storage systems like computers, external drives, etc, where libraries are changing and/or have changed, but also in the cataloguing and organisation of books. I have a large number of books stored on digital devices and by digital means, but I also have access to far more over the Internet from vast libraries that I can access online. But I also have both offline and online digital methods for assisting me in cataloguing and organising my books, which I use as best I can and with great relief for being able to do so. Yet it boils down to individual choice and comfortableness, being able to manage these resources in a way that allows the individual to harness them to the greatest effect, which is indeed something of an indiviual matter and process.

The Bonnet method of reading will not be everyones cup of tea, but that’s OK too, because that is also a very individualistic thing. Bonnet likes lying down to read, I prefer sitting at a desk. Bonnet likes to underline and write in his books as he reads, I prefer to highlight and collate quotes via other media. There is no one rule for all, but many different rules for many different people. The thing is to retain what one reads in some way, that I think is the key to reading. It is certainly not a requirement to read each and every book from cover to cover, but to take a dip in each one to some extent and to achieve some purpose when doing so is required if you wish to say that you read your books and they aren’t just display items.

The manner in which Bonnet has collected his books is almost baffling to someone who has not done so in the same manner. He seems almost obsessed with completing lists and collections of books, of following every author/book line that comes up in what he reads or experiences. It seems any book mentioned must be obtained for his library. This is the way of a Bibliomaniac, that is for sure. His obsession with collecting ‘picture’ books is another seemingly crazed hobby which almost seems to be a driving force for him. I too collect books, but this insight into how another book lover and lover of reading goes about collecting his books is one that is beyond my experience. It is a fascinating world of book hunting and gathering if ever there was one. Something about one book leads to another which leads to another, or some conversation leads to a book which leads to another, etc.

Bonnet’s reflections upon his books shows someone who truly absorbs what he reads and imbibes the being of those written about. He seems to feel them, to know them, far better than any creator of them. Authors of books, whether fictional pieces or biographical/autobiographical works fade with the passing of time, if indeed a true reflection of them is left in the pages of the books they write or in the annals of history. However, those created and placed within the realms of literature remain the same and can be known almost completely. There are places to visit, whether real or ethereal, people to meet and to greet. Books bring a whole world to one’s home and experience, and even beyond that one travels into the realm of fictional lands and peoples. A plethora of experience that is only exaggerated when the library is swollen by multimedia resources. What an amazing world the library can become – is.

Buy this book at Amazon:
http://www.amazon.com/Phantoms-Bookshelves-Jacques-Bonnet/dp/1590207599/