Tuesday, May 1, 2012
Co-Author Interview with Wendy Swore and Rita J. Webb
Welcome authors Wendy Swore and Rita J. Webb to my blog today! Thank you for taking your time to answer my many questions. I've always found co-authoring fascinating and for the few times I've done it, I found it fulfilling and as wonderful as you both have said it is.
I have discovered that many writers are afraid of co-authoring only because they have never attempted it. It does sound a bit complicated, but with the insight you've provided, I hope to shed light on the adventure and perhaps encourage any writer out there to try it, it isn't as scary as you think!
Without further ado, here I go . . .
ELIZABETH: What made you decide to co-author a book?
RITA: I had this cool idea for a middle-grade book, but all I had were some characters—a lizard man with a gruff voice and a harsh attitude and a boy who needed to find something and would have to depend on the lizard man to help him find it. But I already had a lot of writing projects on my plate, and by the dragons, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t figure out what the boy could be searching for. I wanted someone to bounce ideas off of and to carry the load with me since I already had enough to do.
WENDY: After one day of emailing back and forth on possible ideas for the story, I knew we had a fun project in the works. It’s out of my comfort zone a little because I write YA, but middle grade fits the story perfectly.
ELIZABETH: I find it amazing that you’re co-authoring with another writer, and it is not easy to find the right one. I’ve asked many writers who tell me, “Wouldn’t you rather tell your own story?” Which is something I do already, but love the idea of writing with another author. How many writers did you ask before you got a yes? Tell us about your journey to finding the “right” person.
RITA: Wendy was my natural first choice for co-authoring my lizard story. We often swapped stories to trade editing favors and had already worked together to compile, edit, and publish YA anthology Unlocked: Ten ‘Key’ Tales. We knew each other’s writing well and seemed to think a lot alike.
Anyway, she said yes (woot!), and we started a Brainstorm Document to flush out ideas on the story and characters. Together, we created a story out of my vague idea and plotted out 3 novels out of the idea. Still working on the first novel. One more chapter to go!
Then she proposed the idea of writing a short story (Strike) together as practice. It was an awesome experience. I admit that now I hate writing alone.
WENDY: I think every writer has had days when our muse refuses to deliver. The best thing about coauthoring for me is that if I have a brain fart and cannot think of a word/phrase/whatever, I can skip it and add a comment bubble there instead. Sometimes we add a comment to our writing that says, “That was terrible. Fix it to sound more natural.” Or maybe, “He discovers some secret thing here that answers his question.” The awesome part of this ability is that we never have to have writer’s block. If we can’t think of the “right” thing, we skip it and add a note. More often than not, the other person sees the solution that we missed and can write it in when they take their turn.
ELIZABETH: When I read another author’s work and find it strikingly similar to my style, I ask them if they’d be interested in co-authoring with me. What qualities do you look for that makes you feel you’re compatible?
RITA: Mutual respect is important in a writing team. You no longer own the idea or the writing, and you have to be willing to let go of your own way. You need a partner who is also willing to let go too. In this way, you can come to a consensus on story decisions.
You need to have a willingness to speak up. If I’m editing for someone, I am hesitant to add anything to their story, but in a co-authorship situation, you need to be able to contribute to their sections in order to make a cohesive story with one style throughout.
Similar goals are also important. Wendy is as dedicated to writing as I am. She’s willing to go the extra mile to meet deadlines and to edit again and again to make things right, and I am the same way.
WENDY: I think Rita and I were already comfortable with each other’s style of writing because we had been beta readers for each other for a couple years. I found her comments to be insightful and she voiced her appreciation for mine as well. I think that’s probably a good way to start looking for a partner—read for them as a beta or ask them to read for you, and if the comments are well received and you seem to share the same vision for where the writing should go, it might be a good match.
Also, I think you have to share the same boundaries or expectations. If one of you feels the story needs profanity, sexuality, or violence, and the other squirms at the mention of those things, then the partnership is doomed. Rita and I agreed to write clean books.
ELIZABETH: For the most part, I write by the seat of my pants, but co-authoring is a whole different animal because there are two different forces at work in creating a single book—and readers are perceptive creatures if they should ever come across inconsistencies. Please describe your process on how you organize who writes what. Do you pants or outline your way through the book together? Do you take charge being an assigned character? Do you each switch out at every chapter, or every assigned number of pages?
RITA: Step One – Brainstorming. Using a Word document, we pass ideas back and forth. In this document, each character and plot point gets a heading. By the time we’re done with the brainstorming, we may have more than 5K words of back and forth conversations…though the fun part is when new characters pop up in our actual writing that we didn’t plan for.
Step Two – Plotting. We use a 7-point structure system, so we converted our brainstorming into the structure, added some try and fail cycles, and broke it out into chapters. One paragraph of description was written for each chapter. (And these changed as the writing evolves, and we make adjustments along the way.)
Step Three – Writing. I wrote the first chapter and sent it to her. She edited my chapter and then wrote the next one. So we continue through to the end.
Step Four – Editing. We swap back and forth, leaving comments and making adjustments. Track Changes is an ingenious device. Once we’ve polished, we send out to beta-readers.
WENDY: Dan Wells goes over that 7 point system on Youtube and does a marvelous job. If you haven’t seen it, you should.
It’s important to note that we have ONE copy. If it’s my turn, I have the copy and she doesn’t write. That way, when we get the manuscript back and download it, we save it over the one we already have. The track changes and comment bubbles are huge factors in making this work. If I feel we need to change something Rita wrote, I’ll delete and comment about why, then write what I think needs to be there. Rita then can see what part was deleted because it’s all still visible and she can either accept change or modify it and send it back.
ELIZABETH: Who are you co-authoring with now? Tell us about Rita J. Webb/Wendy Swore and your experience with writing Strike with her.
WENDY: Strike was a fun way of testing the waters. We had a deadline, a fuzzy idea, and no experience on writing the same story at the same time. We divided it up by sections. I wrote the first one and sent it to her, then she wrote the second section, commented/edited mine, and sent it back. By the end, we had both edited each section enough that the lines between her sections and mine blurred until we sometimes forgot who wrote what. I think that’s the best, when you both comment, “Wow, that was good. Who wrote it? Me or you?” and the other person answers, “I don’t know, but we rock.”
RITA: Wendy already had the idea for Strike, so we brainstormed together to flush it out and then swapped turns on writing. It took us only a week to write and edit—1 day to brainstorm, 3 days to write (a day for each section), 1 day to polish, 1 day for beta-readers, and 1 more day to go through comments from beta-readers—but we had a deadline. Wendy was in her harvest season at the farm, so it was a crazy week. Somehow we submitted our story in time. It was one of the best writing experiences I’ve ever had.
ELIZABETH: Have you co-authored with any other writer? If so, please describe your experience.
RITA: Since writing Strike, Wendy and I have worked together on a middle-grade novel. We work in our joint project around our other projects, so sometimes progress is slow. But we like it that way. It’s our fun project. Our stress free project. And believe me, a writer needs those.
Recently, I have also asked my husband to co-author with me. I had a story that wasn’t coming together at the end, and I realized that the problem was that the story needed another perspective—the male POV. My husband sees all the gray areas I left in my plots, and shines light on them. He asks all the hard questions about the characters and their motivations and goals, things I didn’t even think about.
WENDY: Nope. Just Rita so far—though I pick my children’s brains for ideas when I’m stuck in my own writing.
ELIZABETH: What do you do if there’s a disagreement, how do you work that out?
WENDY: If we have ideas that differ, we explain why we think it should be one way or the other and then we go with whatever sounds better. I think this is where the mutual respect comes in. If I feel strongly about something, Rita says okay and visa versa. When the goal is to make a cohesive story, it’s not about my way versus her way, it’s about finding our way.
RITA: Brainstorm solutions. Honestly, we’ve never had any disagreements. At least not with Wendy. I’ve had loads of writing disagreements with my husband, but we look at the problems from all the different angles until we find solutions. Then once we buckle down to work, I realize he was right. The story is always better once we apply the changes he suggested.
ELIZABETH: It’s not an easy thing, co-authoring. I’ve attempted to co-author with about five different people, and never finished any of the books we’ve started because they’ve turned out either uninterested or too busy. Cooperation and willingness is key to a book’s success—how do you keep each other equally involved in writing a book together?
RITA: We take it one chapter at a time. Sometimes writing a chapter takes a month or two as life, kids, and projects get in the way. The nice thing is that when it’s not on my plate, I can focus on my own work while I wait to get it back. I picked co-authors who are as dedicated and willing to work as I am. I know they’ll get to their part when they can.
WENDY: Strike had a deadline so we got it done right on time. The middle grade book is a fun project for both of us so we’ve agreed not to worry about rushing. If it’s been a few weeks and we haven’t heard back, we might send an email checking in to see how things are coming. The work stays equal because only one writes at a time, so regardless of how fast it comes back, we still have equal time and work invested in it.
ELIZABETH: What are the benefits of co-authoring? What are the heartaches, if any?
RITA: When I first started writing with Wendy, my husband told me that on my own, I’m good, and on her own, Wendy’s good too, but that together the quality of our work more than doubles. There’s a scripture verse in Ecclesiastes about slaving away alone is vanity, but that the three-corded rope is strong.
I have learned where my weaknesses are as a writer, and depending on others turns writing from a stressful endeavor to a joy.
WENDY: A coauthor is a great sounding board for ideas, a built in cheerleader, a constructive critic, a sometimes teacher, and a great friend. I have only nice things to say about the experience.
ELIZABETH: How is co-authoring different from writing a book on your own? Is it as scary as many people think or as time-consuming?
RITA: I love watching the making-of-the-film features on DVD’s because you see all the people who went into making the movie a success. That’s how it feels to co-author. We’re a team and we’re bringing something awesome together. Scary? Time consuming? Quite the opposite. For me, it’s very stress relieving to depend on the strengths of others.
WENDY: Exactly. We writers toil in solitude so it’s a breath of fresh air to work together. Often the other person will add that extra something special that makes the whole scene come together.
ELIZABETH: What have you learned by co-authoring?
RITA: Biggest thing I’ve learned is in brainstorming and planning. The amount of pre-work we did cut down on the amount of work writing and editing. I already knew the characters and their world and their story very well when we got to the actual writing. I’ve carried that practice into my own works as well.
ELIZABETH: Is there anything that comes to mind I haven’t asked that you would love to share with us?
RITA: Wendy and I have never met face to face. She lives in Idaho and I live in Ohio, but we chat online and over the phone about writing, family, and life. In the last three years or so, we’ve put together two anthologies, written a short story together, and a novel, with two more novels to go. Oh, and we’ve modded a few groups on Goodreads together.
Sometimes I forget that I’ve never met face to face with her. I still consider her one of my best friends. Or maybe the long lost sister I never knew I had. My point is that co-authoring can be versatile, but it is also bonding. Treat it right, and the best relationships can come out of it.
WENDY: I vote for long lost twins, separated at birth. I’m sure that would be news to our mothers, but hey, it’s the only thing that makes sense.
ELIZABETH: For those of us who long to co-author, what advice do you have?
WENDY: Beta read for people and keep track of who reads for you. When you find that person that finds your mistakes but doesn’t crucify you for them, and who thinks of things in a different, but complimentary way, keep up with that relationship. You just might have something worthwhile.
RITA: If you have a writing buddy with similar writing styles and reading tastes, you can test the waters with smaller projects. Write a short story together, or put together an anthology. Always have fun and keep an open mind.
Thanks again, ladies, for the fabulous interview. Now that you've got a glimpse of the co-authoring possibilities, would you consider doing it?