So far I’ve done nothing but talk about how great and easy cowriting is. I have found that to be true for the most part, but even the smoothest of working relationships has its challenges. So why try collaboration at all, you might wonder? Why not save yourself the extra effort?
I fell into the collab life by accident, sort of. But here are some reasons why you might want to do it on purpose.
Enough said, right? Cowriting makes you vulnerable! It makes you give someone a wide-open door into a very intimate part of yourself! Exhilarating, right?
Not so much, at first.
The way I approach sharing my writing is the same way I approach relationships, for the most part. I start out with a wall up, and slowly disassemble it brick by brick as I spend more time with the person. Then, finally, I allow them to get to know me. It’s not ideal, and it’s something I’ve been trying to work on for a long time. I recognized that same caution in Marissa (but I’m not sure if she’ll see it this way–maybe she’ll let us know in her post tomorrow?) We were both apprehensive about letting someone else observe our process, but I admired her for putting the idea out there in the first place. Plus it sounded fun. So I just decided to risk it.
I wish my story had more concrete examples of how to overcome that fear of vulnerability, ridicule or rejection. But it really did feel that simple; I just decided that I wasn’t going to have that wall up. I shared barely-started Google docs with Marissa and let her observe while I wrote first drafts. This, I’m aware, is like handing someone a knife to cut you down with. But instead of pointing out how horrible they were (my biggest fear) she left funny and insightful comments, and shared her first drafts with me too.
Conversations about life soon bled into the conversations about writing. We were spending the majority of our spare time in Google docs talking to each other; personal talk was pretty much unavoidable. I knew that I could trust her with my other life issues, because she had already proven herself trustworthy with my writing life. About a hundred thousand text conversations (and two in-person meetings!) later, and I now have a friend for life.
Marissa and I wrote a multi-chapter fanfiction work together a few years ago. We even met our self-imposed deadline by the skin of our teeth. How did we do it? We committed to meet for writing time several days a week. We set dates every week to post chapters, alternating back and forth between us. And it was just as difficult as I’d thought it would be. Ris is the organized one in our partnership; she was the one who started talking about schedules, and I had this sinking feeling that I was going to be late with every chapter. I’m late writing this post right now! It was supposed to be up hours ago. Flying by the seat of my pants is just who I am as a writer–or so I thought.
Meeting our deadlines was a challenge, but I knew I had to rise to it because there was another person counting on me. Our project meant just as much to her as it did to me. The stakes are higher with a cowriter; you push yourself to be better because your partner needs you. That’s exactly what I had to do with that first big project. It remains the longest piece of work I’ve ever finished, and I owe that to Marissa putting structure on the process. I’ve come away from that experience with skills I didn’t have before. This is a twofold benefit of cowriting; it gives an opportunity to work on your weaknesses as a writer, while simultaneously learning from the other person’s strengths.
I always feel most fragile during the early stages of working on a project. Criticism is the most devastating when a story is in its infancy, when I sort of believe in the idea but I’m still not sure if will actually work. When I first started cowriting with Ris, I was confident enough in my fanfic abilities that this wasn’t a huge issue. We both pitched chapter ideas and decided together which ones made the cut. We knew the world of our fandom, and we knew how to be successful there.
My lack of confidence became more apparent when we talked about original fiction. She seemed to share her ideas so effortlessly (again, not sure if she saw it that way!), while I still felt nervous to talk about mine.
Seeing her with such a clear vision for her original work inspired me to flesh out my own ideas. And you never know if your ideas are actually strong or not until you run them by someone else. In telling Marissa about my plans for original work, I had to believe in those ideas enough to let them see the light of day. I had to be ready to answer questions about them. I had to trust my instincts as a storyteller while also being open to constructive criticism.
Having a cowriter who knows how my brain works has been a gift, because she encourages me to just try things and see what happens. I can text her with a “hey I was thinking of writing a story about a half-demon child who moves to a cattle ranch” (btw Marissa that one’s coming down the pike soon) and she’ll respond with “that sounds wild YOU SHOULD DO IT.” Sometimes a little encouragement is all it takes to give an idea wings.
If you start the cowriting process feeling fragile and unsure, like I did, that feeling probably won’t last long if you lean into it. Go for it, even if you’re nervous. And remember that the other person is becoming vulnerable with you as well. There is a lot to be learned from being up close and personal with another writer’s process. If all goes well, you might make a lifelong friend who understands you in a way few people ever will.