“Aldo is such a kind-hearted guy…”
“Aldo is a thief…”
“And possibly a womanizer but I’m not sure yet…”
“There is no way he’s a thief! I guess he could be something of a womanizer, but it’s not his fault, he’s good looking and wears a uniform, so women tend to throw themselves at him — ”
“Good looking? Are you kidding me? The guy has bad skin and hasn’t showered in over a week.”
“Where are you getting this from? That’s not how I see him. He has dark blonde hair, fit, sort of looks like — ”
“Fit?! He’s a slob!”
“Are we talking about the same character here…?”
What do you do when you disagree or see a character or event differently in a story?
This is a question my co-author, Doreen Rankin, and I get asked all the time. I think it’s an interesting one because, while we have seen characters differently and have had different ideas for how things should be written, in the four years we’ve been writing together it’s never caused a problem for us.
Collaborating can be a wonderful experience or it can be a disaster, whether it’s a writing project, a business venture, or even something as simple as moderating a group. It all depends on who you choose to collaborate with and how well you work together.
But how can you know before entering into a collaboration whether or not you’ll be a good fit? That’s a good question. A great question, in fact.
I’ve collaborated on many different projects in the past. Some collaborations were great experiences while others ended in the destruction of a friendship. So if you’re considering a collaboration, here are a few things I’ve learned to consider before diving into a partnership. Taking these points into consideration can save you a heap of trouble in the future — and may just save a friendship.
1 | How long have you known the person? When considering whether or not to write a book with a friend, take into account how long you’ve known the person. The longer you’ve been friends, the easier it will be to determine whether or not they’ll be a good writing partner. It may sound fun to write a book with your best friend, but it may not be the best idea if you wish to remain friends in the end.
2 | What is their personality type? If you’re a type A personality, working with another type A might not be the best idea as you’ll probably end up butting heads, getting angry and frustrated, and possibly losing a friendship. I’d say if you’re a pretty laid back person and your potential co-writer is more of an alpha dog, then it might work (or vice versa). I also think if you’re both laid back it could work well, too. But you also want to be sure you don’t get walked on. If you tend to be more laid back and your co-writer is a type A, yet you feel strongly about something in particular, you’ll want to make sure the other person has the ability to be flexible. Not everyone has this ability, and it can be detrimental to your friendship and/or your project.
3 | Consider a practice run with short stories or a novella. Writing short stories together is a great way to test the waters, get your feet wet, so to speak. If you can handle a smaller project without any major issues, such as a novella, then you’ll probably be a good fit for a larger project. If, on the other hand, you tend to disagree a lot or find yourselves bickering over tiny details, then you might want to reconsider the whole book idea.
4 | Are you able to communicate clearly with each other or have you experienced a lot of miscommunications within your friendship in the past? If you often find yourself having to explain to your prospective collaborator what you mean, or if your words have been misunderstood or taken out of context on a fairly consistent basis by them, then this person might not be a good fit. Not everyone is on the same page. Not everyone can read intent well and may actually take offense easily. If this is the case, you’ll want to steer clear of any sort of project collaboration as it is a potential disaster in the making.
When you enter into a collaboration, you have no choice but to be flexible with the other person’s ideas. And you have to be okay with that; you have to be willing to give and take. My co-author and I go into each project with this understanding. For example, if she’s insistent that a character has red curly hair and I see him with brown thinning hair, well, I can easily change the way I see him to make it work. Something like that should never be a make-or-break situation. This goes for story events, settings, scenes, etc. But only certain personality types are able to compromise in such a way, and it’s important to recognize that ability or inability to compromise from the get-go.
We also spend a large amount of time planning our stories and communicating about current scenes, etc. This is key to making sure we’re both on the same page throughout the project and don’t end up with completely different visions. It wouldn’t work if we talked about main plot points, then each walked away to write a bunch of scenes just to come back together and find out we wrote scenes for two completely different books.
Our ability to keep things in perspective also plays a large role in how smoothly our projects go. We both believe that no book or project is worth ruining or causing friction in a friendship. The friendship and respect for each other has to come first. I’m always willing to give up on a book, an idea, a character and vice versa if it means maintaining a friendship that is more valuable to me than any book we could write together.
If you’re considering a collaboration, it can be an incredible experience, just remember, flexibility is key. In other words, go into it with a willingness to compromise if need be.
If you’ve collaborated on a project in the past, I’d love to hear how you’ve handled disagreements. Has it caused a problem? Do you have a system to avoid these types of issues?
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Jennifer L. Harris (JL Harris) is a professional editor and writing coach who has worked with writers on over 250 books. She is the published author of 6 books including The Catalyst Series, Providence, Sincerely Grace & Other Short Stories, Something More & Other Short Stories, The Trade, and The Fearless Writer. You can connect with her at JenniferLHarris.com, on Facebook, and Instagram.