I’d like to share my experience of co-writing. Partly because it’s a funny story, and partly because I hope you’ll find it interesting to find out how we did it. It might even encourage you and a friend to have a go yourselves.
A few years ago my friend and I were sitting in her conservatory chatting about whether men or women could write better love letters, and via a little too much sharing, we bemoaned the fact that any books we’d read with good sex scenes had weak stories, or if the story was good, it glossed over the sex. So we decided to write an erotic romance with great characters that people would care about, an intriguing plot, and sex scenes that would excite our avid readers.
Now, bearing in mind neither of us had written a full-length novel before, one of us was a school governor and a grandmother, and the other enjoyed craft fairs and knitting, we didn’t seem likely candidates for writing erotic fiction.
I don’t want to get into the Fifty Shades debate, but I would like to say that we had finished writing our book before we’d heard of that publishing phenomenon.
So how did two middle-aged women from South London set about co-writing their novel?
Initially my writing partner (let’s call her Pandora) went out to buy lots and lots of stationery.
We met once a week to brainstorm characters, and pretty soon we had created four women who became real people to us. Authors need to know their characters inside out, but because we were co-writing we had to share out loud everything that we knew about them. Such as Hazel’s hairstyle, what Sonia ate for breakfast, the first song Paula bought and Jacqui’s worst memory from childhood. Within weeks the four women were joined by five men. We adored drop-dead gorgeous Billy, we also adored the vile Richard, but only because we were astonished that we could create such a creep.
During this time we also bandied around oodles of ideas for plots. Our notebooks were filling up fast, but we’d not written a word of the story yet.
We plotted Chapter One (which of course never made it to the final draft) and separately wrote our own versions of it. The idea was that we’d give each other feedback on what we liked and what we didn’t and somehow magically turn them into one sparkling opening chapter. That didn’t work. Mine was too full of emotion, more like a Mills and Boon romance and Pandora’s was too spare, more like a thriller. This was not looking good, and so far we’d not written a single sex scene.
Plan B. Pandora would write Chapter One and I’d write Chapter Two and we’d edit each other’s chapters. Plan B wasn’t wholly successful either. While we both agreed that we could write a darn erotic sex scene, I have to admit I took Pandora’s edits a little too personally and things were rather cool between us for a day or two.
Plan C. Pandora was lightning quick at generating ideas, and I was better at taking her ideas and developing them. Same with the writing. So for the next few months we met once a week to plot a chapter together. Then Pandora would take an hour to write the chapter, email it to me and I’d take six hours, often more, to develop it and send it back to her. We agreed there’d be no further revision until we reached the end of this first draft.
Then came the best bit. We read each chapter of Draft 1 out loud and talked through the revisions together. It was amazing how in tune we were with the characters and the plot, often voicing the ideas that were still in the other person’s head. I will gracefully admit that Pandora came up with the best ideas, including the plot twist that had us dancing round her conservatory with glee. What also became apparent at this point was that the four women who at the outset we’d thought were nothing like us, had traits of each of us. Pandora’s vibrancy and love of life shone through in gorgeous Paula. My insecurities were writ large in naïve Sonia!
We then sent the book to friends (male and female) who gave feedback – thank goodness I didn’t crumble in the face of criticism any more – and in the light of that feedback we revised again, and again, and again. By this point we couldn’t remember who had originally written what or whose idea was whose. We were having such fun we could have tinkered with our book for ever, but we also wanted to publish it. Eventually (!) we came up with a title and published our book under a pen name. We were proud of what we’d written, but our children (Pandora’s four and my three) begged us not to use our real names.
The book didn’t take the world by storm as we’d genuinely, honestly (naively) thought it would, but we had a wonderful laughter-filled two years writing it, and we’re still best friends. The whole experience introduced me to the world of self-publishing and helped me find my own writing voice. I reckon that’s a happy ending.
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