By Wodke Hawkinson

A lot of elements go into a successful co-writing experience. But there are three basic considerations that will apply to almost any type of writing collaboration.


When working with a writing partner, compatibility is very important, not only between writing styles but also in regard to your personalities, your work ethic, your expectations and goals, and your approaches to conflict resolution.

We are fortunate to have been friends long before we became co-authors, so a large part of the compatibility question was already decided. Before starting on our first novel, we did some writing exercises to determine if we could work well together in that area. We also discussed expectations and found that we both want the best possible end product, regardless of how many revisions it takes. We have similar dedication to the process of writing and we share a desire to work through any disagreements.

Even though we have known each other for years, there was still a lot of very necessary discussion on these points. For writers thinking of partnering we would suggest detailed dialogue with your potential partner(s) to clarify these issues. How do you each feel about revisions? Can you take criticism? How many words/pages do you feel should be written per day? How many words should a finished book contain? How will you resolve disagreements about plots, characters, sentence structure, etc.? How will you divide the work on each project?

The more compatible you are on these points before you start, the smoother your writing partnership will go.


This seems like a no-brainer, but it can surprise you how much different your viewpoint is from your co-author’s. For instance, when writing our second novel we assumed we had pretty much the same idea of how a particular house would look. When it came time to write the scenes, we were surprised to learn we each had wildly differing images in mind. This experience taught us it’s a good idea to decide as much as possible in advance of writing the first page. Of course, not everything can be decided ahead of time because the writing process is a fluid thing and often changes are made mid-story, but much can be determined at the beginning.

How to we accomplish this? Pictures help. We find photos on the internet of what our characters look like. We also use pictures as a starting point for certain structures. Even animals. Those pictures never make their way into our books; they are for our private use only. Diagrams and maps are useful tools as well. For instance, the Guju bird in our novel Tangerine is loosely based on a white peacock; and before finishing Betrayed we knew exactly how Lance’s cabin was laid out because we had already drawn it.

We also find it beneficial to describe our characters, just for our own information, well in advance of starting the story. We need to know what their personalities are, their histories, their attitudes, their approaches to situations, their habits, their flaws, their positive qualities.

The bottom line is, never assume you and your co-writer have the same idea in mind. That said, do we always get all the bases covered? No, of course not. There are still times when something will crop up and we’ll be surprised at each other’s perspective. Then at least one of us has to reconfigure her mental outlook, but often we end up somewhere between our individual visions. 


Ego has no place in writing. Confidence, yes. Ego, no. If you are so married to your work that you refuse to make changes, working with a writing partner may not be the right move for you. Keep in mind that the ultimate goal in your writing is to produce the best possible end result. If something will make your project better, then it’s worth considering.

For us, there is a lot of compromise, and it’s surprisingly easy to do. For instance, one of us wanted a character of ours to have scars and the other did not like the idea. In a separate story, one of us wanted a character’s wife to be a baker, but the other didn’t think it necessary to include her livelihood. A trade ensued. We kept the part about the baker and eliminated the scars. This was an agreement we could both live with. Often if one of us has a cherished line of dialogue or other element we wish to keep in the story, the other will acquiesce. Then the next time around, the one who previously yielded will prevail. It’s a balance.

There will be times when no compromise is acceptable. Our best advice for those times involves three things. Number one; be ready to make your case for why you want a certain element in the story. Back it up with good reasons. Number two; be willing to listen as your partner makes his/her case. Ask questions and sincerely make an effort to see the other’s point of view. Be willing to give the matter careful consideration. And number three; know when you need to take a break from each other. It might be just a several hours or possibly even a couple of days before you can come together again and resolve the issue.

How we do it.

There are four main steps in our process.

Planning comes first. We take an idea and toss it around. Sometimes one of us will have a clearer vision than the other. In those cases, communication plays a very important role. Through many hours of discussion, we lay out the gist of the story, work with outlines, photos for inspiration, maps, and diagrams.

Next, one of us will begin the book with a chapter or two. When completed, it is then sent to the other for editing, revision, and addition of material. We pass it back and forth. Sometimes we assign certain parts. For instance, if we know a fight scene and a love scene are both approaching, we assign one scene to each of us. However, ultimately we both work on all scenes, making our own contributions and suggesting changes. This step is the actual writing of the book.

The third step is editing. When we have finished a book, each of us will go through the entire thing, make comments, and send it back to the other. She will then consider the comments, accept or reject the suggested changes, and read through the entire book to make her own suggestions for revision. This back-and-forth continues until both of us feel there is nothing left to add or subtract from the manuscript. This way, the book is gone through multiple times by each of us until we are satisfied with the result.

The final step is proofreading. It’s important to note that even with multiple proofreading efforts, errors can sneak in. After publishing the book, we each re-read it in its published form to ferret out any mistakes that slipped past the pre-publication proofreading stage.

Advantages to co-writing

There are many advantages to the co-writing experience. For purposes of brevity, we will mention only three.

An expanded supply of ideas. Co-writing gives you access to another person’s brain, their perspective, their entire history of experiences, and their creative ideas. This can add dimension to the story that had not occurred to you.

Two sets of eyes. It is a huge advantage to have two sets of eyes as far as editing and proofing are concerned. What you miss, hopefully your co-author will catch, and vice versa.

A division of labor. Splitting the work load can be a relief. It can also mean getting twice as much accomplished or finishing twice as fast.

*This article was first published as a guest post on blog of author, Brad Cameron:

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