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Collaborative Writing

The writing community is full of some of the kindest people in the world. At least that's been my experience. Writers are free with their compliments, ready to offer service or support, and incredibly demonstrative when you finally get to meet face to face. These are the traits that make deep friendships, so even though I live in a completely different state than most of my writing colleagues, they are some of the dearest friends.

However, sometimes being a writer can feel a little like being on a desert island. You have to isolate yourself from distractions to spend time at the keyboard or page. But at the same time, we can't become a black hole of ideas with no relatable experiences to draw from. So, today, I'd like to introduce you to a revitalizing tool I use in my writing life.


There are many benefits to collaborative projects. In fact, working with other creatives is one of the greatest and most enriching experiences writers can have. Bringing multiple brains and mediums to the same project levels up a story's potential in a major way. The energy, excitement, and momentum that collaboration produces can make inkling ideas transform into tri-dimensional sagas. Then, once your masterpiece is complete, you have an expanded circle of influence and networking to draw from to help spread the good news! And the best part of all is that you have someone to share the excitement of creation with.

How to select a collaborative partner:

In today's world, you don't have to live close to the people you want to work with. My illustrator lives in Idaho. My employer lives in Utah. I live in California. Thanks to Google Hangouts and Drive, we can all talk and collaborate on the same document simultaneously. However, it's important to consider a few things carefully before jumping into a project with someone.

Here are my critical ingredients to look for when selecting a collaborative partner, and a critical ingredient to be ​for them.

1. Someone who is easy to get along with.

Any personal baggage you have between collaborators will affect your project. Choose someone you respect, who you know will respect you back. Shower each other with compliments, encouragement, positivity, and friendship. Only under affirmative circumstances will you both produce your best.

2. Someone who is honest and accountable.

You want someone who will bring out the best in you. Honest critiques are essential. Be reliable in honoring deadlines, submitting work, and sharing the workload. This will foster the kind of relationship that you know you can truly rely on each other.

3. Someone who will be strong where you feel week.

If you are proficient in plotting but struggle with hitting the deeper emotional tones of characterization, find someone with those skills. Don't be afraid to divide up tasks according to your natural talents. The project will go faster and everyone will be happier doing what they enjoy.

4. Someone with an open mind.

You aren't going to get things right on the first try. Be willing to take a few steps in a direction you know isn't going where you want because you might learn more about your project than you expect. Asking questions like "why doesn't this work" really helps you understand your story on a deeper level.​

There are many different mediums you can use to collaborate. I have experience working with artists, musicians and other writers. I'd like to spend a minute and discuss the different process each one entails.

Preparing to co-write:

I attended a lecture on collaboration at LTUE and heard Michael Jensen and David Powers King explain how they prepared to co-author the book Woven. First, they decided to leave ego at the door. There was no division of "That was his idea, this was my idea..." Second, they pre-determined to seek outside help if they got stuck with impassible compromises. They wrote a contract defining possession of rights, division of costs, assignments, income, and decided that if one person lost fire—who the project belonged to.

Different styles of co-writing:

Finding a process that fits you will take time and experimentation. Here are some of the most common methods of co-writing.

1. You write in each other's presence, talking, typing, editing together, etc...

2. You do chapter swaps, taking turns leading the story in the direction you want.

3. Division of phases. Begin by discussing the story together, brainstorming, and outlining. Then, you hand the story to the lead writer to create the rough draft. After the rough draft is complete, the manuscript is handed to a finesse writer who adds beauty to the language and helps edit the content. Repeat the passing back and forth as needed.

Working with an artist:

I have worked with Kaelin Twede for years, imagining novels, children's books, and web-comics. After so much time together, we have a special kind of groove down. I start talking and she starts doodling. It's a beautiful conversation; me using words, Kaelin using the curves and lines of a pencil or stylus. Often times, I will send her the simple outline of a story and she'll give it new dimensions, which in turn spark more ideas.

Working with music:

A few years ago, a composer approached me with an idea and some sample songs for a musical. I immediately fell in love with the concept. However, I felt a bit overwhelmed by the task of writing the book alone. I asked fellow author Amanda Hakes to jump in as my co-writer. Together, the three of us worked out a plot that we felt strongly about. The composer drafted songs to highlight the pivotal moments in the story and wrote lyrics to fit the plot points. I took on the role of lead writer and drafted a rough sketch of the scenes as we discussed in our outline. Amanda followed close behind me, beautifying the dialogue and driving home the deeper characterization. Next, we brought in an editor to help elevate our manuscript even higher. But our collaborative team won’t stop there. Our list of future collaborators includes orchestration, musicians, directors, actors, and even audiences!

Often times as I wrap up a collaborative session, I take a minute to relish the creative process. I love how I'll pitch an idea, and someone else on the team brings it to life in a way I never would have considered. It really is the closest thing to magic. I hope you get the opportunity to find someone to collaborate with, whether its a sibling, an editor, a critique group, or an entire cast of actors. Best wishes and please feel free to share your projects below!

Happy writing!

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