Cowriting pt. 2

Writing last week about my cowriting process with my sister, I inevitably started making comparisons to my cowriting process with my brother.

My brother and I have written two books together. (You can read more about them on the Projects page of this website.) One was a book of essays, so there were clear lines between who drafted which essay. On the other hand, we collaborated in brainstorming and developing all of the essays, and we also worked closely during the editorial process. We came up with the final order and structure of the essays together, edited each other’s essays, and wrote some of the last pieces together (there may or may not be a cowritten closet drama in Dante’s terza rima about a Disney parade).

The second book we wrote together was a novel, a satirical political fantasy. Again, we developed the plot and outlined the book in real time, through a series of long conversations. (I’m noticing that this has been true of all my cowriting projects that have actually worked.) We also jointly wrote a number of “tabloid articles” that appear throughout the book and give a broader perspective and structure to the story. (But this was probably mostly because the tabloids were so fun to write!)

We divided the drafting work by POV, and the chapters were divided by POV as well. I wrote all of the POVs from the fiery princess, Stephen got all of the POVs from the first chosen one (a sleezy ecomagician), and then we shared POVs from the second chosen one (an innocent farm boy, of course) and his disillusioned old mentor who wants to retire as soon as possible so he can spend more time with the grandkids. There were a few one-off POVs, like the fairy rock star or the evil reality TV producer, and the final chapter mixed POVs from all the main characters.

We wrote in a kind of gleeful fever; I seem to remember that we drafted the 100,000-word novel in three months flat, while both of us were in PhD programs. Whenever one of us finished a chapter, we would call the other to read the chapter aloud and talk about new ideas for subsequent chapters.

The editorial process we settled on was intensive but rewarding. For the content edit, we both read through the entire manuscript, dropping marginal comments with questions or suggestions, and then we would write up a large summative paragraph for each chapter about what we liked, what wasn’t working, and what we thought should be changed. Each author had “ownership” of their POVs, so when I sat down to revise my chapters, I had marginal comments from my brother and from myself, and I had two paragraphs of macro-edits from both of us as well.

For the line edit, we both read through the whole manuscript again, this time using track changes in Word to make sentence-by-sentence edits. Once again, I accepted/rejected changes from both of us for my chapters, and Stephen accepted/rejected changes from both of us for his chapters.

I was quite happy with the finished book. It’s easily the funniest book I’ve worked on, but there are lots of poignant, thoughtful moments as well. I’d love to see it in print someday.

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