A “Novel” Idea: How to Write a Book With a Partner

A “Novel” Idea: How to Write a Book With a Partner

When my college best friend asked me to co-write a romance novel, I thought she might be crazy. After all, we lived in different states, and I had never written romance.

But, I was intrigued.

I tend to put off writing by finding more pressing things to do, like staring into the fridge, wondering what I’m going to feed my toddler when he wakes from his nap.

Co-writing seemed like a good way for me to stop procrastinating. I would have a writing partner to answer to on a daily basis. I was also a closet romance reader, something not even an MFA in creative writing had extinguished.

So, off we went, embarking on this collaborating adventure. Four months later we completed our romance novel, in half the time it would have taken me to write the novel by myself.

Co-writing a novel with your best friend is similar to writing one on your own, but with some key areas to think about during the process.

1. Communication is key

It’s important that you communicate with your writing partner.

Even if you have a lot in common, as I did with my college best friend, being able to speak honestly and clearly is important when you encounter bumps along the way.

Since we lived in different states, we set up a Google Doc and spreadsheet for the project. Using a Google Doc means that everything is automatically saved, sharing is easy and you and your writing partner can edit at the same time.

Your writing will also go more smoothly if you schedule weekly phone calls to go over important thoughts and concerns.

2. Share a similar vision

Sharing a similar vision might not happen immediately. During the initial stage of planning, it’s important to clearly define your vision, to make sure both of you are on the same page. Yes, pun intended.

One of my biggest concerns was that we wouldn’t have the same vision for our project. We were different writers. I liked darker Bell Jar kind of literature, and she dreamed of the resurgence of chick-lit.

But remaining open to each other’s ideas helped shape the setting, characters and plot.

3. Plan the novel

Your writing will go more smoothly if you have a strong plan in place.

Before we even began to write, we developed our characters, plot, and setting by communicating and using a Google Doc to keep us organized. We knew that we needed to have a clear idea of the entire story before we begin.

This helped ensure that our vision remained the same and that we could work on different parts at once. Once your plan is in place, you don’t necessarily have to go in chronological order.

how to write a book4. Create a writing schedule

If you are sharing a Google Doc to write the novel, you might decide to write at different times.

My partner wrote in the mornings, and I in the afternoons. Most of the time, I would start where she finished.

It was always exciting to see what she had written. Sometimes I was surprised at the direction she had taken or how differently she envisioned a character. Some days I would open the document to spy on her writing.

You might find, as I did, that seeing a writer in action is magical.

5. Establish a timeline to complete the project

It’s a good idea to discuss the timeline and how you plan to complete the project together.

We set start and finish dates for each stage of the project.

At first, I wasn’t sure we’d be able to finish the novel in four months, but since we had a schedule and I had a writing partner to answer to, I kept to the timeline.

6. Let go of control

Like me, you might not be used to sharing creative control with another writer.

There were times  I disagreed with a choice my partner made. And I sometimes shy away from confrontation.

But I learned that not having to call the shots all the time left me with more energy to write. Another creative mind was taking the story to unexpected places.

You and your writing partner may need to let go of your egos as you collaborate.

7. Be open to criticism

You and your partner are in this together — listen and trust each other.

I’ve sat through my share of writing workshop critiques, so I know the difference between negative and constructive criticism, but I still have to remind myself to listen to feedback.

One afternoon early in the project, my partner completely changed a chapter I had written the night before. Emails flew back and forth. I realized in the end that she was right to have made those changes.

Sometimes it’s the paragraph or chapter you hold on to the strongest that needs to be deleted.

As you share in the ups and downs of your collaborative project, you’ll find that the knowledge that you’re not alone is comforting. Also, collaborating is faster because you’re sharing the work.

Co-writing a novel turned out to be a fun and exciting project that pushed me to stop procrastinating. I loved that the story went to unexpected places that wouldn’t have happened if I had been the only one writing.

By the end, we had a completed novel that we were proud to have written.

Have you co-written a novel? Or would you like to collaborate? Share in the comments below.

Filed Under: Craft

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8 comments

  • Sarah E says:

    In college, I co-wrote my bachelor thesis with two students from an entirely different country. We used Google Docs while we Skype’d. It definitely has it’s challenges, but it’s also a really fun and rewarding experience.

    It’s my experience, especially when it comes to editing, that it’s useful to agree on specific rules on how to give and receive constructive criticism. At first we thought “We don’t need that, we’re trained for this”. Wrong. Some days you’re bound to be tired and/or have a bad day, some days you will disagree on something. And those days, it’s really nice to remind each other that when you started the project, you agreed on these specific things. It really helps bring you back on track (and keeps you sane, haha). I would definitely work like this again. Great post!

    • Amber Roshay says:

      Hi Sarah, That’s a good point about how to give and receive constructive criticism. No matter what criticism can be hard to take some days. I’m really interested in what your bachelor thesis was and how you did this with two other students from different countries. I bet there were differences in communication and writing styles based on cultural backgrounds. Sounds like a fun challenge. In the writing classes I teach, I sometimes have them write a collaborative essay. Working together for some can be tough!

  • Melissa says:

    Amber, thanks for sharing these tips. Letting go of control might be the one I struggle with the most:) Collaboration has helped me take a project from beginning to end when working alone, I could easily lose interest in the middle of it. I’ve learned that working on fiction with a partner is harder than working on nonfiction, I guess because there’s less imagination involved in the process.

    • Amber Roshay says:

      I totally agree. Fiction is much harder than non-fiction when it comes to collaboration. I struggle with letting go of control as well. You’re the master of your own domain, especially when it comes to your writing. But, working together does make you accountable and as you said, you could easily lose interest if you don’t have anyone to be accountable to.

  • Aknur says:

    Hello, me dear Amber!! I am so proud that you were my teacher, and I am glad that I know you personally. Your tips for to start writing the book very useful. Maybe in one day I will start to write about my own experience in USA, actually how my Dream came true, I mean how I have got an acceptance letter from Columbia university and etc. I am looking forward to reading your book!!
    😍 😘

    • Amber Roshay says:

      Hi Aknur! I’m so proud of you and your accomplishment. I loved being your writing teacher and know that you’re going to do great things in the world. Good luck on your next life adventure!!

  • Jessica Lacy says:

    You need what’s known as a “sounding board,” which is a friend or acquaintance who is particularly good in that area.

    The problem becomes, when people read your work, you want to have a non-disclosure (or something) agreement that they can’t steal the plot or idea and use it as their own.

  • Hello, Dear Amber , thanks for sharing these tips. in soon I will start to write about my own experiences about my life 🙂

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