Writing with a partner – writing better in less time

One of the biggest roadblocks to my previous attempts at writing a book has always been the editing process. I would get so tangled up with individual pages and chapters, that I would drown in what if’s and give up in frustration.

Working under constant deadlines at a newspaper taught me something about writing fast – ignore the first draft.

Just write. Get down the skeleton, then come back and flesh it out.

It works amazingly well with news stories, blog posts and fiction.

However, I have recently found something which has helped my writing even more – and by something, I mean someone – and by someone I mean my Collective Inkwell partner, Sean Platt.

We’ve now teamed up to write eight chapters of our novel Available Darkness (which we are serializing here) and those chapters are flying at a breakneck speed I’ve never experienced before. The reason is that I am handing off my first draft of each chapter to Sean. Getting the story out there, in its rawest form, and out of my hands and to another writer is a liberating process which allows me to filter out all my second guesses and self doubts.

Once Sean has a crack at each chapter, he sends it back to me. By this time, I’ve had enough time and distance from the work to look at it more objectively than I normally would. I make some edits and then pitch it back to Sean, who might make a few more of his own edits before sending it to me for the final cut. It’s a process which is working very well for us.

While I realize that not everybody has a writing partner on the same page as them, there’s no reason even a lone writer can’t apply some of the basics of our approach.

  • Write quickly, write from the gut.
  • Don’t get caught up in flowery language or attempting to find the perfect words in the first draft. Capture the emotion.
  • Don’t have it all, write the skeleton. You might write for one paragraph, “next two paragraphs, Joe confronts Cassie” then come back to it when you feel it (or let your partner fill in the blanks)
  • Pass it off. If not to someone else, pass it off to another time, perhaps 2-3 days, to give yourself some distance.
  • Repeat 2-3 more times max. If it’s a short piece, you may be good to go. If it’s a novel, you can save further re-writes for the later editing stages.

Community Questions: Is your writing process streamlined? Has partnering with another writer helped or hindered the creative process for you?

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16 responses to Writing with a partner – writing better in less time

  1. Bud Hennekes

    I’ve been experimenting with some of the ideas you mentioned and I can honestly say I am extremely pleased with the results.

    When we try to be “too fine” in the early stages we hinder our ability to capture emotion as you said.

    Having been “writing from the gut” these past few days, not only has writing been more fun but I find my writing to be much more meaningful.

    Excellent tips.

    Bud Hennekes’s last blog post..Summer Ramblings

  2. Marc

    You guys are doing a great job.

    Thank you for sharing the whole process you go through to produce each chapter for us.

    I’ve never really collaborated with anyone to write and don’t say it shows LOL

    My writing process is streamlined though. I write the draft or skeleton as you put it and then try to leave it at least 24 hours. I mean don’t give it a second thought, I find that works best these days.

    What about you, when the chapter is sent to Sean do you think a whole lot about it?

    Marc’s last blog post..SEO 101: An Overview

  3. Samar

    Very interesting. I once submitted an abstract piece of fiction to a writer’s forum for critique and made the mistake of writing ‘Rip it apart guys.’ Lol, they took my words for it and totally ripped it apart with constructive criticism.

    I took the suggestions, revised and edited the piece and to this day it’s been one of my best pieces.

    I love the way you guys collaborate. Apart from the forum experience, I’ve never collaborated with anyone. Fiction or non fiction. I’m thinking it’s time to change that 🙂

    Samar’s last blog post..Review: Staff Blogging Course by Ali Hale [Unit II]

  4. janice

    I find that I write better when I know an editor has given me a strict word limit and is going to be giving the writing a final once over. (I accept the necessity, but loathe being edited by someone else, so I’m brutal with my own editing before it ever sees the light of day.) I’ve been lucky with my editors; all but one has been happy to put the pieces in with no changes – except to my dreadful, inconsistent hyphenation. It helps too, that in the newsletter I write for, I know who the audience is, as much as anyone can.

    I can happily co-create a piece with someone else if that’s the original intention, and I’m happy to have my husband edit my pieces, but if the piece has my name on it, I’m like an animal who rejects her own baby if it has someone else’s scent all over it.

    The fact that you two are co-creating so brilliantly is a inspiration!

    janice’s last blog post..Guest House

  5. Sagan

    I like to jot down my ideas quickly and then flesh them out after I’ve got the main points down. But for me, I find that if I’m stumbling on a certain word sometimes I just have to sit down and work on that one word before I can continue- otherwise it distracts me and my writing quality just peters out. To each his own! Having a few different pairs of eyes looking at it is EXTREMELY helpful, though.

    Sagan’s last blog post..In the Media: Review of The Global Language Monitor and Wordnik.com

  6. Lori Hoeck

    My problem is my skeleton writing is so bad, it takes forever to put the flesh on it. I’ve dedicated my writing at my new blog to figuring out how to avoid such heavy re-writes and editing.

    And then there’s finishing! My ebook needed two editors to help me finish it — one family member who edited for streamlined clarity and a friend who looked it over and motivated me to move beyond the “almost done” part. My novel is now in the same almost done state of limbo. I will definitely find help for that much bigger endeavor.

    Lori Hoeck’s last blog post..The Blame Game of emotional predators

    • David Wright

      I would definitely suggest having a clear concept of your story before co-writing with another writer unless you are willing to hand over the reigns for some of the creative process. When there is an absence in clarity or concept, nature dictates that the vacuum be filled. For instance, if I didn’t have a very clear path already in mind, Sean would surely grab the wheel and he would be perfectly right to do so.

      The biggest challenge in writing with another is checking ego at the door and being humble about your own limitations when accepting help or criticism. This has helped me immensely in both my writing and my comics.

      As for editing, I would find one person or group of people who are in line with what you want to avoid the whole “too many cooks” thing. I remember a few times that three different writers would tear something of mine apart, each of them giving wildly varying critiques, oftentimes at odds with one another. I finally had to find the trusted few who were on the exact same page and understood what I was trying to do (and who also knew their stuff).

      thanks for weighing in.

      David Wright’s last blog post..Serial and Milk: Available Darkness – Chapter Nine

  7. Emma Newman

    Writing is such a solitary pursuit for me, that the thought of writing collaboratively in this way is just so hard to get my head around! I envy you both the experience, I’m not sure how it would feel for me.

    I think having someone else to help with editing is absolutely critical, especially for a project that requires a tight turnaround as you describe here. My novel benefitted most from revisions several months after the first draft, but there isn’t the time for that when writing to deadlines or competitions.

    Very recently I have found a wonderful ‘writing buddy’ online to help with this problem – we review each other’s short stories, and having that perspective is great.

    Do you both discuss the plot before the first draft of a chapter is written?

    And I couldn’t agree more with the advice to just get it down. First draft is for story, nothing else. Julia Cameron talks about the first draft being the one that lays down the tracks across the undiscovered land, whereas later drafts fill in the details of the landscape, the journey etc. But the first draft is just finding out where the track has got to go. I love that analogy, and it really helps keep the dreaded internal censor quiet enough to be able to write.

    Emma Newman’s last blog post..No longer my baby

    • David Wright

      Emma – We’ve discussed very little of the plot. I like the idea of Sean as the First Reader and I want him to be as surprised as the readers where this thing is going. I imagine in future stories (or books, if this is a series) we co-write, it will be a truer co-mingling of ideas. Like I mentioned before, I had a lot of this in mind back in my teens.

      I will say that Sean is more than a glorified editor in this series, though, as he is truly bringing his sensibilities, style and romantic leanings towards this work and is influencing some of my plotting.

      I will say that we had a GREAT phone conversation about our stories and possible stories we can write together and it might be the most creative conversation I’ve ever had, so alive with possibilities.

      David Wright’s last blog post..Serial and Milk: Available Darkness – Chapter Nine

  8. Paisley (Paisley Thoughts)

    I’m not very organised. I just start writing and the end result is always completely different from what I originally had in mind. The short story I entered in CI’s competition just poured out. It’s fun and exhilerating but I have a very simple writing style and I’m very laid back so no stress. There would have to be a very special relationship / connection for two writers to work together. A novel must be damn hard work – it would need some organising.

    Paisley (Paisley Thoughts)’s last blog post..Women

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