Writers Do It On Their Own. Or Do They?

ScotlandHave you ever thought of writing ‘collaboratively’? Or, to put it another way – with someone else?

One of the members of my class had an idea just before the summer term ended: how about writing a family saga ‘as a group’?

He devised an amazing, Downton-Abbey-esque family tree and everyone chose the character they wanted to write. He even came up with a plot, so all we had to do was go away and write our chapter, in the voice of our character.

Job done. Or so we thought.

However, like Topsy, the thing has ‘grow’d and grow’d’. There are only 9 of us involved but people are still writing, new characters are popping out of the woodwork (I managed to inadvertently ‘resurrect’ a character who should have been dead by the time my piece was set) and the ‘story’, which became a ‘novella’ is now going to have to be classed as a ‘novel’ – we’re now at over 80,000 words! Eeek! We have created a monster.

It’s been fun though, a great learning experience and, for some members of my class who hadn’t written very much until now, it seems to have released their ‘Inner Author’! Hurrah.

So, when we all reassemble on 25th September (ahem, still some places available if anyone lives around here!), it will be with rather more experience and confidence, I think, than we all had at the beginning of July. (But it’s also, partly, the reason that this blog post is so late. I seem to have been appointed co-editor, which has taken up some time!).

So, back to my question: have you ever thought of writing collaboratively? Certainly, it’s what the most successful comedy writers seem to do.

Hancock’s Half Hour (and Steptoe & Son) were written by Ray Galton and Alan Simpson, who met, incidentally, when they were both being treated in the same hospital for TB! Every cloud, as they say…

And Jimmy Perry and David Croft collaborated on both Dad’s Army and It Ain’t Half Hot Mum. And, for my younger readers… well, if you think of Friends and many other US sitcoms, they’re written by a team of writers, who bounce ideas off each other.

And there are quite a few novelists who do it too. You’ve probably heard of Nicci French – the husband and wife duo, who write psychological thrillers together (he’s Sean French and she’s Nicci Gerard).

Here’s quite an interesting BBC interview with them, part of the ‘Meet The Author’ series.

They never, ever sit down and write together. One writes the first chapter and emails it to the other one – who then changes it and then writes the next chapter. They swap work and edit it as they go along and then NEVER tell anyone who’s written which bit!

But there are other writers here, that you might not have heard of, who also write as a pair.

I don’t think I could do it. Could you? I’d find it too stressful, unless I was writing with a genius, whose every sentence was perfect. Hmm and if I tried to write a novel with my OH, it would DEFINITELY have to involve golf, so that’s a no-no, for a start.

Talking of ‘Himself’, we’re off to Spain to play tennis at the weekend, which means we’ll be away when the Scottish Independence Referendum takes place – on 18th September. As my man is Scottish, I’m wondering if he’ll be allowed back into the country if the vote goes to ‘yes’.

I will keep you posted…

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6 Responses to Writers Do It On Their Own. Or Do They?

  1. Years ago Worcester Writers’ Circle tried writing a joint novel. It growed and growed too and had so many cliff-hangers that we had to give up. But it wasn’t a waste of time as a dedicated poet discovered she could write fiction and two of the men had a separate competition concerning erotic scenes and, in fact, we all learned something new. Good luck with your new term.

  2. Thanks, Lynne. Yes, it’s clear that although you probably won’t end up with a publishable novel (and can you imagine the complications – having 9 authors – that would involve anyway?), writing something collaboratively can have lots of other benefits. Not least, I think, that people can be surprised at what they can do! (like the sound of those erotic scenes!)

  3. Ninette says:

    I like the sound of working with someone else, being able to bounce ideas off each other etc., but imagine that with 9 people involved it could be quite confusing with different styles etc., I certainly don’t envy your job as co-editor. Good Luck!

  4. Alex Gazzola says:

    I’m possibly about to do this – co-authoring a non-fiction book. I’m excited by it. It’s still at the planning stage, but it’s starting to become clear how we will possibly work together – with my co-author writing the ‘core’ of the book, while I write ‘around’ it and work on other issues (indexing, dealing with publisher, promotional ideas) in which I have experience. It’ll be new to me, but I’m looking forward to learning from it – and hope my co-author (who unlike me has not written a book before) learns a lot from it too. But maybe it’s easier with non-fiction than fiction? It sounds as if there’d be too much to keep track of in fiction – and can you ever really get inside someone else’s head for the thing to hang together seamlessly?

  5. Jaye says:

    Tried this with a girlfriend of mine when we were in high school. We’d spend a week (separately) with a notebook, but since we were such novices at writing, we’d end up going in circles…as she’d have the leading girl and guy get together or make up in every chapter she wrote, while I kept trying to keep them apart to build up the tension. No prizes for guessing we never finished! Haha. But I did learn what a “marimba” was from this exercise!

    On a “scottish” tangent. . .have you ever read any of the Outlander series of novels (also known as Cross Stitch in some countries)? Your blog reminds me of the characters in it: Jamie “Himself” and Claire 🙂

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