Just recently, I finished beta reading an amazing novel by Allison Dickson and Ian Thomas Healy. The Oilman's Daughter is an alternate history with steampunk, trains and pirates. What's not to love?
Both Dickson and Healy are excellent writers, but I think this collaborative effort combined the best of their talents. This was the easiest beta read I've ever done. There was very little wrong with the book even when I went through the manuscript a second time with a more critical eye.
Definitely, in this case, two heads were better than one. But, that isn't necessarily always so. I've had two collaborative writing experiences with two entirely different results.
First, my then-best friend and I decided to write together. Seemed like a brilliant idea at the time. I loved sharing ideas with her and we had a lot of fun at first; however, I realized after that she really wasn't as serious as I was. I was set to tell her we needed to end the collaboration when she got hurt. How can you kick a person when they're down. So I waited til after her surgery and recovery and suggested we start working again. We set a date. On that date, she said she could not commit to writing every day and "It'd get done when it got done." Essentially, I wrote up an agreement where we got a writing divorce. That was important because we had two separate lines of work. Our friendship followed shortly after. Do I miss her? Not precisely. I miss what I thought we had; however, someone who repeatedly gives their word and cannot seem to follow through isn't that good a friend. Some people come to you to provide memories and life lessons. She was one of those people.
Second, a friend who knew I wrote asked if I would help her and her collaborator on an article for their business. I admit, I was hesitant after my first experience. However, all three of us worked hard and we ended up with a beautiful article that ended up getting published. The three of us are still friends and yes, I'd work with them anytime they asked me to.
What was different?
PROFESSIONALISM: The first thing I'd say is this was a business deal as all writing should be. You're in it to make a book which hopefully will sell and make money for both of you.
COMMITMENT: The two collaborators were already used to working together and they both were determined to push their business to the next level. I was willing to work just as hard as they were.
GOAL: Both had a defined goal in mind. They wanted an article with pictures for a specific magazine.
ASSIGNED TASKS: We all had our jobs to do and we did them to the best of our ability.
DEADLINE: The editor gave us a deadline for the work to be done. We all believed if we didn't make it, we wouldn't get in.
SHARING: When we needed to, we shared tasks and we weren't afraid to ask for additional help when we needed it. For example, we called in my spouse to assist with the Photoshop work because he had more experience than any of us.
Now, writing a novel is a bit different than writing an article, true. So, what do successful writing teams say about working collaboratively? Here's Evelyn David's take (yes, they are actually two people who have written several novels together):
What would I add to that?
START SIMPLE: Pick an anthology you both have an interest in and write a story together. You've got a definite topic, word length, and deadline. If you don't manage to create the story within the time-limit, you can try another simple project, but don't commit to a novel until you know you can work together. And leave yourself room to write your own work in case the collaboration doesn't work.
A writing partnership is in many ways like a marriage. You work together for a common goal. If it doesn't work, it's painful to dissolve and it takes the friendship with it. So don't undertake that kind of relationship unless you are willing to make the commitment necessary--and risk losing the friend.
Rebecca McFarland Kyle, May 2012