“How do you do that?!”
I think that might be the question I’m asked the most when I talk about my books, especially to other writers. Not “How do you write books full of steamy smexy scenes?” (See name of blog) or “Is it true that there was almost one sex scene per chapter in your first book?” (hint: Yes. And there were a lot of chapters.). No, what people want to know is much more basic.
They want to know how it is that I can write with a partner. (Ha! Multiples. Multiple authors!)
Jenny and I have been writing together for years. For us, it’s an organic process that flows between us to create a story that we both have equal ownership of. And, as an added bonus, she actually is one of the best friends I’ve ever had, so we have years and years of communication pipeline between us. But, since most people won’t be able to magic up a brilliant and talented BFF like Jenny, I figured I’d give a few pointers.
There are a lot of dangers to working with a writing partner, not the least of which is that you run the risk of completely destroying the relationship if things go belly up. You need to have some very, very important tools:
Really good communication
This should be obvious, considering you’re about to work in close quarters with someone for however long it takes to churn out a manuscript, but it’s absolutely vital. You need to be able to tell your partner if you don’t think a scene is working and why, and likewise, you need to be able to hear from your partner that it’s the scene they don’t like, not you.
A reliable way to share the MS
Now this depends on your writing style with the other person. Some writers will just write a chunk up to wherever they feel inspired to stop and then pass it back, others might trade off chapters or scenes (see next point), and still others might find another way altogether. Whatever way you do this, you both need to be comfortable with it and need to find a way to share the file.
When Jenny and I write, we share a single file in Google Docs and work as individual characters, steering them around the scene. Then, in a chat window, we discuss the scene and motivations as we pass the torch back and forth. For example, from our first M/M book, Winner Takes All:
(The bold portions with Dom talking and doing were my turn to play with the scene, and the non-bold ones, when Matt is acting or speaking, Jenny’s. )
Grinning, Dom wrapped himself around Matt from behind, arms sliding around Matt’s solid torso as he kissed slowly up the length of Matt’s neck. “Coming?”
Matt tilted his head to give Dom full access to his throat, leaning back into Dom’s body. “Not too soon, I hope. But eventually, yes.”
Dom snorted. “Cornball,” he said, sliding one hand down Matt’s stomach, teasing at the waist of his underwear.
“Just the truth, man.” Matt, trousers now hung neatly, put one hand over Dom’s and reached back to wrap his other hand around Dom’s thigh. “You know, the bed’s way over there.”
“Just going where the action is.” Dom laughed, turning them around so he could kiss Matt and back them to the bed at the same time. It was weird, but the more he kissed Matt, the more they touched, the better Dom felt. “Damn, I’ve been needing this,” he murmured between kisses, one hand grabbing Matt’s ass firmly.
Matt groaned softly and tried to move them faster. “We really shouldn’t. Not yet.”
“Uh-huh,” Dom said, almost falling over when the backs of his knees hit the bed. Instead he sat down and pulled Matt’s boxers down, kissing along the edge of his hip bone.
“Yeah.” Matt’s voice was almost breathy and clearly distracted. His hands threaded through Dom’s hair and clenched. “What?”
“Don’t worry about it,” Dom said, lips grazing the tip of Matt’s cock. “Not that important.” His tongue flicked out, tasting, and this—this was what he’d needed. Not to talk, not to hash things out or to worry about the meeting in the morning. Just this—Matt, hard and ready and already so eager he couldn’t think.
Matt jerked at the first touch of Dom’s tongue, hissing through his teeth as he sucked in sharply. “Stop teasing, Dom. C’mon.”
“Not teasing.” Dom moved his lips up Matt’s length. “Just warming up,” he added and then opened his mouth, slowly sucking the head of Matt’s cock between his lips.
“I changed my mind.” Matt gasped. “I want to come soon. Really soon, just…please. This is fucking ridiculous; I have no stamina anymore.” Matt yanked at Dom’s hair again. “Suck me harder. You can play later.”
Needless to say, if you’re on opposite sides of the globe, this way will not work for you if you have any hope of finishing before the next decade. But you can see how Google Docs would work for us.
A shared vision for the story
A lot of writers I’ve talked to out there have an aversion to plotting out their whole story. And while it’s true that your storyline will grow and evolve as you get a firmer understanding of your characters, when you’re working with someone else, you both have to be on the same wavelength. Are they going to discover the Lost City of Gold, or is it really just a three hour tour? Are you shooting for HEA or HFN? Working with a writing partner is a lot like singing in two-part harmony, and you need to know what key to be in, or else it’s going to fall to shit.
REALLY GOOD COMMUNICATION (I MEAN IT)
Just think about it. Think about writing a book that you hate at least half of, because you don’t know how to tell the other person “I really think Ricardo should have waited until Chapter Five to get with the clothing tearing.”
Likewise, in the realm of communication, you need to be careful HOW you communicate. Remember that you are not the only creative force involved in this venture. Your partner is (hopefully) just as invested in their end of the story as you are. And writing is the gestation phase, when emotions are all over the place, too. Don’t just say, “This scene you wrote? It sucks.” DO say, “I think this scene might work better if…”
Oh, patience. How we forget about you in the heat of the moment. But when you’re working shoulder to shoulder (metaphorically or otherwise) with someone on something so intensely personal as a writing project, patience is often the first thing to go. Maybe you write faster than your partner. Or maybe your partner is having a a lot of issues unrelated to writing that make computer time difficult. Or maybe you’ve reached a point where you both have conflicting visions for the story and can’t seem to get past it.
This is where that communication comes in. Because you need to find out what’s going on, and find a way around it. Maybe you need to adjust your writing schedules. Maybe you need to go back to Chapter Four and have Ricardo meet his long-lost Uncle Juan, the blacksmith that only makes one magic sword per year. Or maybe you just need to take a step back and each get your shit together before coming back to it fresh in a couple days. Or weeks. Or… okay, sometimes you just gotta know when to fold, too.
Because here’s the thing: when you work with a writing partner, you are not in this alone. You have the opportunity for a friend, a beta, a crit partner, a co-author, all rolled into one. And if you’re lucky like me, you’ll get it, too.
Elizabeth Silver, the talkative half of the daring duo of UrbanSilver, has co-authored two books, both available from Loose Id. She also has a short story coming out with Cleis Press this December and several solo novel projects in the works. Find her here, her website, or on Twitter as @LizSilverWrites