Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Perils and Pitfalls of Writing with a Partner

By Peggy Williams & Mary Joy Johnson
Ever want to kill your partner? Life partner? Business partner? Bridge partner? 
Instead of wanting to kill each other, the writing partnership M. J. Williams regularly kills off other people--three last year, three more this year! We are mystery writing partners.
Mary Joy brought to the relationship years of teaching writing on the college level. She's written several long technical tomes, but this was her first attempt at novel writing. She's also an avid reader of mysteries.  Peggy's background includes freelance writing--everything from video scriptwriting to feature articles in magazines to online content.  She reads mysteries among other genres, but what she brings to partnership is her knowledge of story structure as developed through screenwriting.
Most writers, when we tell them we work as a team, are astonished.  They say they could never write with someone else, and they wouldn't want to.  We admit collaborative writing is not for everyone. There are some disadvantages, but there are advantages as well. And there are some things writing teams can do to keep the experience from turning into a murderous affair.
Advantages of Writing with a Partner
·         We build on one another's strengths.  
·         We bounce ideas off one another and brainstorm together.  
·         We help one another through blocks or slumps--that is, if one of us can't think of anything to write about a scene, the other usually can, and then the first develops and expands on that.
·         We push each other by assigning deadlines and holding each other accountable.
·         We share the marketing and utilize each other's strengths.  For instance Peggy enjoys working social media outlets.  Mary Joy prefers person-to-person selling.  When something is tough or onerous, such as approaching a bookstore to take books on consignment, we can ho and hum together and then finally go together to get the job done.
·         When we do book/author events, we have a traveling partner who gets what we're going through and how we are feeling (both positive and negative).
·         When one of us is feeling insecure, either writing the story or marketing, we can turn to the other to bolster us up.
·         We have someone to share bragging rights with, someone to turn to when our egos have been stomped on.
Disadvantages of Writing with a Partner
·         We have to defer to one another's vision for the story, characters, or details; this requires constant negotiating and compromise.
·         We have to work around another person's personal schedule (what do you mean she's too busy quilting this week to get her chapter done?).
·         The biggest disadvantage?  We have to share the royalties!
Tips for Successful Writing Partnerships
·         Be humble.  Sometimes that bit of prose you think was brilliant,  your partner hates--and she's probably right.
·         Communicate often, either meeting in person, on the phone, or by e-mail.
·         Outline the book thoroughly.  This will be the road map and the working agreement for the story. However, be flexible and be willing to change the outline as need dictates.
·         Establish deadlines for one another.
·         Revise lots because that's where your voices blend and become one.  Sit together, read the story chapter by chapter together, and negotiate changes to story, dialogue, and details.
·         Recognized individual strengths and utilize them.  Peggy always defers to Mary Joy when it comes to plotting a mystery; Mary Joy trusts Peggy's need for logic and sense of story pacing.  Peggy loves writing and shaping dialogue. Mary Joy loves describing people and settings (including home interiors!).
·         Laugh a lot! Have fun with the experience.
 Peggy Williams and Mary Joy Johnson write under the penname M. J. Williams. Their On the Road mystery series features Emily and Stan Remington who travel in a used RV and encounter murder and mayhem wherever they go.  Their first novel, On the Road to Death's Door, takes the couple to Wisconsin's Door County, a popular vacation spot surrounded on three sides by Lake Michigan.