- Anna Burns
Writing as part of a team
Updated: Feb 27, 2021
Many authors work as duos or teams, for example Nicci French, (the pseudonym for married couple and authors of The Lying Room – Nicci Gerard and Sean French), James Patterson, who often works in tandem with other writers, and us!
Writing with others can have lots of benefits. It’s someone to share a passion with, someone to bounce ideas off, and someone to share the burden of something so intimidating as writing a novel. We have always loved reading and writing and being published authors has been a long-term dream of ours. When I was younger, I would always write short stories for my mother to read and loved reading her work (even if some of the more adult material went over my head)!
We had the idea for our debut novel ‘Love at Cafe Lompar’ whilst on a day trip to Montenegro as part of a cruise. We fell in love with the breathtaking scenery, and thought it would be a beautiful and little-explored place in which to set a novel. It seemed natural for us to work together on this, and we mulled it over for months after the holiday before getting down to writing, not really sure if our premise for a novel had ‘legs.’
Here are my tips for writing with others, whether that’s with your close friend, partner, mother and daughter like us, or dentist!
1. Use the accountability of working with someone else to help you stick at it.
In the same way as exercising with someone else makes you accountable and more likely to exercise regularly (or so I’m told), writing with someone adds a responsibility that makes you keep returning to the laptop keyboard every day. Studies have shown repeatedly that having a so-called ‘accountability partner’ makes new habits more likely to stick, and I found when writing ‘Love at Cafe Lompar’, knowing that my mother was waiting to read my next chapter meant it was important that I didn’t miss a day’s writing and fall off the bandwagon.
2. Explore characters from different perspectives.
Being mother and daughter helped us to write ‘Love at Cafe Lompar’ from the perspective of a mother and daughter, with me writing daughter Kat’s chapters, and my mother writing from Grace’s perspective. We both had different viewpoints and used this to form our characters and story. It doesn’t matter if your writing partner is from a different walk of life to you, you can use this to your advantage and create really unique characters.
Although we did worry whether the two voices would jar when blended together to form a novel, we decided any differences in style would help to differentiate the characters, and actually I don’t think they have turned out that different from each other after all!
3. Plan ahead… but only so far.
The idea for ‘Love at Cafe Lompar’ started as a vague suggestion of a mother and daughter finding out about a secret family in Montenegro. We didn’t know which direction the story would head in once they got to Montenegro, and although the possibilities were exciting, it was a little terrifying in those early days. We found that we worked best once we loosely planned a few chapters ahead. This meant that I knew vaguely what my mother would write in her chapters and vice versa, and so we could tailor them to fit in with each other and make sure the separate viewpoints would fit the story and timeline.
Working to an outline made the process much easier, and after reaching the end of a plan, we simply met to form a new one for the next 5-6 chapters.
This didn’t mean that we didn’t go off course a few times, and storylines we hadn’t previously agreed on were often the ones that excited us most in the end. I think having a vague plan, with room for adaptability helps when working as a team to steer everyone in the right direction.
4. Use the other person for a rest!
We wrote ‘Love at Cafe Lompar’ in around 45 days, working at the pace of a chapter a day with few very days off in between. I would write a chapter one day, and my mother write the next one the next day. I cannot explain to you the satisfaction I would feel on closing my laptop when my chapter was finished, knowing I had a blissful day off the next day while my mother was writing hers! This routine worked well for us, and I think writing with someone else allows you room to breathe and relax in what is otherwise a very intense schedule.
5. Pre-arrange how to deal with disagreements.
Luckily, we are one of the few mother and daughters I know that have very few disagreements. We are both fans of each other’s work and therefore tended to agree with any changes the other person suggested.
I can see this would throw up problems if you do tend to disagree with your writing partner, and this can definitely be used to your advantage (see tip number 2- two heads are better than one and all that!). I think it’s worth agreeing how you will deal with these conflicts beforehand, for example, we decided that our chapters were our own, and although we would listen to the other person’s suggestions or changes (and often these made the chapters all the better), we would ultimately have the final decision on our own chapters.
Hope that helps if you’re thinking of starting your next project as a pair or team. Three words: Go for it!
Love, Anna x