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Tips for Co-Writing a Novel

by Kathryn Cushman

I’m often asked about co-writing because I’ve done it a few times. My first co-written project, Angel Song, was an unusual collaboration orchestrated by agents. While that worked well, it’s not something writers can often control, so I won’t discuss it here.

For my newly released, The Plans We Made, the entire project was conceived, coordinated, and executed by my co-writer, Lauren Beccue, and me. Here are some commonly asked questions:

1) How did you find each other? Bible study. Lauren was my BSF leader. I had published several novels by then, and Lauren had completed a non-fiction book. We became friends, and began having what we called writer playdates. We would meet in a coffee shop and work side by side on different projects—her non-fiction, mine fiction. Barely ten words were exchanged over the course of the two hour “playdate.”

2) How did you decide to co-write? One morning at Starbucks, Lauren told me a book idea her husband suggested, and I almost fell out of my chair. It was audacious. I immediately said, “You have to write that story.” Months later, she asked if I would be interested in writing it with her. I was neck deep in research for something else, but told her I would pray about it. I did, and here we are.

3) What was the process? We took the original story seed and developed it until it was ready to show our agent, Janet Grant. As I mentioned earlier, the original idea was pretty out-there. Janet resisted a little, and said, “Write a few chapters and a synopsis, but I think you’re going to need some significant modifications.” Janet was correct (as agents often are). We let it stew for a while, then came back together and coordinated plans to tone it down.

4) How did you decide who wrote what? Lauren wrote the POV scenes of the younger protagonist and her romantic interest, I wrote the POV scenes of the middle-aged mommy and her husband. When multiple characters were in one scene, POV character determined the writer. We edited “our” characters in that scene so they stayed consistent.

5) How did the process work? We used Google Docs, marking each scene with the day of week and the date, as some events in the story were time sensitive. Every so often, we would meet to discuss major plot points. After the first draft, we worked together to get it cleaned up. This is when co-writing is particularly nice—a built-in critique partner who’s fully invested in the story.

 6) What is your advice to someone thinking of co-writing?

  •  Pick the right partner for the right reason.
  • Write thirty pages and see how your style and story vision mesh. Lauren’s character was young and breezy, and often produced laugh-out-loud similes. My character was the mother of a sick child, so obviously her tone was heavier. In the same chapter where my character is telling her husband about their son’s diagnosis, Lauren’s character would be pondering a hit man, who could take out her ex-fiancé, and “make it look like an accident.” Somehow, those two styles worked together.
  • Make sure that you both approach the project as a chance to give 100% each, not an excuse to give 50%.
  • Talk about your plans for the book. How much time and money are you willing to spend on promotion? If a traditional publisher doesn’t pick it up, does the project die there, or would you consider indie publishing?
  • Learn to use Google Docs. I prefer Scrivener, but when two people are involved, you need a live document.
  • Pray for each other, support one another, be prepared to say “I don’t like that because…”and also to hear “I don’t like that because…”

The process (and result) is worth every bit of the effort.

Kathryn (Katie) Cushman and Lauren Beccue both live, write, and drink coffee in Santa Barbara, California. For more about their writing check out www.kathryncushman.com and www.laurenbeccue.com.

 

 

 

 

 

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