So, How Do Two Authors Write as One?
Posted by jmdattilo
It’s the question we are asked most frequently. How do two people write one book? How do we create the plot? Write the chapters? Achieve one voice? And (the most frequently asked question of all) how do a husband and wife manage to do all this without killing each other?
The answer: it ain’t easy! At first, actually, it was easy. When Joe was in college he had a great idea for a story. He met Mary, who loved to write. We met twice a week, on Wednesdays and Sundays, to plot the book and flesh out the characters. We decided to write alternate chapters, Joe chapter one, Mary chapter two and so on. And it worked great for awhile. Then we hit a major stumbling block. We got married.
Who would have thought that living at the same address would put such a crimp in our writing? But it did. We were managing a household. We acquired two cats. Three years later the baby arrived. It’s not that we were busier than when we were in college. We both had carried full course loads, worked full-time, and pursued other activities, yet we managed to make time for our writing sessions twice a week for three years without fail.
After our daughter was born, we realized that living in the same house made us feel we could write any old time. We saw each other every day. We didn’t need to schedule our writing sessions anymore! We could work on the book whenever we wished. And pigs would fly, too. Lesson number one: The truth was, we DID need to schedule time for writing.
So schedule we did. The baby was amazingly cooperative. She would sit with us during these sessions and watch us carefully as if she were attending a lecture on how to write. (Maybe she was. She taught herself to read at age four and at age sixteen is thinking of writing her own book. But that’s another blog.) We came up with some great new plot ideas and decided to rewrite the entire story.
Plotting, by the way, has never been a problem for us, married or not. We’re both very visual and think of our book chapters as scenes in a movie, which is probably why those who have read Time’s Edge say it would be great on the big screen. The rule of our plotting sessions are simple: Anything goes. There is no nay-saying, no buts, no critiques. Plotting, for us, is simply brainstorming at its finest. Every idea is written down, every scene saved. No idea is rejected at this point, even if it doesn’t seem to fit into the story. Our motto is you never know when something will be useful.
And the actual writing? When we first began writing together, we approached the division of labor in a very orderly, business-like way. We would take our outline and each write every other chapter. Neat. Orderly. Simple. However, there was a shift after we married. Perhaps we felt less shy about expressing our writing preferences. Perhaps the change in the plot altered how we viewed the process. Perhaps there was no reason other than the longing we had to write certain chapters. Mary was coveting the humorous party scene where the characters overindulge in wine and the party becomes a little too merry. Joe was lusting after the space battle.
So the negotiations began. I’ll trade you the space battle for the party scene. The meeting-the-monster chapter for the lost-in-the-maze part. The descriptions of the Galactic Armed Forces base? Yawn. It’s yours. The kissing stuff? Yuck. You can have it. We soon discovered that, for the most part, we each weren’t writing entire chapters anymore. Joe would begin a chapter, Mary would finish it. Mary would write a scene and Joe would pick it up and run with it.
Yes, we know the next question: What about the scenes we both want to write? Well, we both write them. Yes, we sit down and each write our own version of the same scene. This works very well for us. Sometimes one version is a clear winner (no smugness allowed). Most of the time, though, we blend the two. A snippet of dialogue from this one, a chunk of description from that one. An enlightened cooperation, you might say.
Now on to editing. This is the toughest part of being a writing team. We have to criticize without being mean (the phrase “this sucks” has been banned from our writing sessions) and without dragging in other things going on in our lives. (“You can’t have the heroine climb to the top of a seven-story building to rescue the baby space alien. She’s afraid of heights.” “Sorry, I forgot.” “Yeah, just like you keep forgetting to fix the bathroom sink.”)
We also have to try and not take critiques personally. This is the hardest part of all. Ask any writer. Criticism can be painful even when it falls under the term “constructive”. Now try to imagine criticism of your writing by your significant other. Ouch! Or you get really, really pissed off. To make matters worse, we’re both perfectionists so editing can be brutal. A person attending one of our book talks once asked Joe how he goes about editing Mary’s work. “From a safe distance,” he replied.
In spite of all this, we manged to produce Time’s Edge, the first book in the Time’s Edge series. It won a Tassy Walden Award from the Shoreline Arts Alliance of Connecticut and was published in the Fall of 2010. We have since published five books in the series: Time’s Edge, Time’s Secret, Time’s Illusion, Time’s Rebels, and Time’s Warriors. We are currently working on Time’s Guardians. It will be available in 2015 if we don’t kill each other during the editing process.
See also: Two Writers, One Voice, Ten Tips
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About jmdattiloJ.M. Dattilo is our pen name. We are the authors of the Time's Edge sci-fi/fantasy series.
Posted on December 16, 2010, in Authors, Writing and tagged books, co-authors, co-writers, how to co-author a book, how to co-write a book, how two authors write as one, how two writers write as one, humor, husband and wife authors, husband and wife writers, husband and wife writing team, marriage, publishing, science fiction. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.