Cowriting

I was over at my sister’s house this weekend, and between making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the kiddos and playing games of Roblox, we had a couple of long conversations over coffee about the book we’re writing together. There was the practical conversation about what all details need to fit into the last climactic chapters, but there was also the long and inconclusive conversation about what would happen to the romantic triangle of our heroine and two male leads if we wrote any sequels.

My sister said friends have been asking her how it works to write a book with someone else, and I’ve had a handful of friends (both writers and nonwriters) ask me the same thing.

I’ve written books with my brother as well, and unsurprisingly, the process is different. Every writer has their own individual process, and that leads to unique combinations when you’re working with another person’s writing process.

My sister and I had the good luck of doing the original brainstorming for our novel during an intensive vacation weekend. It was supposed to be a family vacation, with our parents, my sister’s husband and kids, my brother’s family, another brother, and me. But a combination of awful weather and changing plans meant that my sister and I were the only people there for a couple of days, so naturally we spent the time drinking coffee, eating lunches out on outdoor patios, and coming up with a cast of characters and dramatic conflicts.

We originally thought we would divide the writing by point of view: she’d get the female lead, I’d get the hot Spanish priest, she’d get the moody French lawyer, I’d get the salty old sea dog. But we decided we wanted a number of interlacing points of view in every chapter, and the outlining was going to get too involved and confining.

We eventually decided to draft whole chapters and alternate back and forth (she wrote chapter 1, I wrote chapter 2, etc.). We started with a rough outline, but every few chapters we talked on the phone for an hour or two to share our ideas for the next section, recalibrate any major character or plot changes one or the other of us was considering, and generally drum up some fresh excitement for the long, long writing process.

We took a page from my cowriting practice with my brother and have hosted all of our files on a shared folder on Google Drive. So at any point either of us can pop into the other’s latest chapter and read their newest scene. We each have several notebooks/outlines/process journal files as well, which can be helpful to see how the other writer is currently thinking about a character, theme, or plot sequence.

Who knows at this point how we’re going to coedit the manuscript, but I feel like we established a drafting rhythm that worked for both of us fairly quickly. I’m sure we’ll figure out the coediting thing once we get there.

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