musings from Canadian author Cheryl Cooke Harrington ... home of The Write Spot

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

The (co)Writing Life

"How do you write with a co-author?" Readers and writers alike seem curious about the co-authoring experience. It certainly tops my most-asked list, right up there with, "where do you get your ideas?"

Writing tends to be a solitary pursuit and we writers are often perceived as anti-social or, at the very least, somewhat peculiar of habit, so it's not surprising that the idea of collaboration between two such odd creatures is met with some fascination.

Those who know the two of us well won't argue with the "odd creatures" or "peculiar of habit" labels. Anne and I wear them proudly. A shared sense of humour helps, as does a willingness to listen and negotiate. Ego becomes (w)ego in the story-building process. You might think proximity is important, too, but when Anne and I were writing together full-time we lived in different cities, hours apart. This made logistics, shall we say, interesting. Here's how it worked for us.

Like most writers, our stories began with the germ of an idea – sometimes a character, sometimes a situation – and the Big Question: what if…?

At our first in-person meeting, we would brainstorm the possibilities, develop a cast of characters, outline a very rough plot, and together write the first few pages of chapter one. This process involved the better part of a weekend, a borrowed office in a town mid-way between our homes, at least one bottle of wine (maybe it was a bottle each, my memory is foggy on that point), and a lot of laughter. By the end of that initial meeting, we knew our characters and our setting and had a good idea of where the story would take us.

From that point on, we alternated chapters. One of us would finish the rough first draft of chapter one and send it on its way to the other. She would read and comment on that draft and pick up the story at chapter two. We were never strict about the switchover and would often carry on into the next chapter if the featured character was one with whom we felt a particular affinity. In the end the division of work was surprisingly equal.

We'd meet again after the half-way point to thrash out tricky plot problems, smooth out transitions, refine our synopsis and, yes, do a little more drinking and laughing before getting back to our long distance writing relationship. We became each other's most trusted critics and by the time we wrote "the end" our story had been thoroughly edited, proofed and polished.

There are always surprises in writing – characters do and say the most unexpected things – but the co-writing process is particularly dynamic. The anticipation of that next, unknown chapter kept the story fresh and exciting for us. Our combined author voice is distinctly different from our individual voices and many readers have said they can't identify who wrote what. For a writing team, that's the best of all compliments.

Last week our new publisher, Montlake Romance, re-released two books by Anne Norman and Cheryl Cooke Harrington for Kindle:

ROCK SOLID – small town landscape architect meets her match in an abandoned quarry.

FAST FOCUS – photographer tangles with kidnappers in a lively New York City caper.

Rock Solid and Fast Focus by Cheryl Cooke Harrington and Anne Norman

As the song goes, we're a little bit country and a little bit rock 'n roll. We hope you'll give our stories a try.

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At 8:55 am, Blogger Jessica Mahler said...

I love the idea of a writing collaboration, but have never had a chance to try one. A friend and I have recently started collaborating on a webcomic. We're having a blast with it and seeing it develop in some interesting directions!

It sounds like you and Anne have a great partnership going.

At 9:17 am, Blogger Cheryl said...

Your webcomic sounds like fun, Jessica. Hope you'll come back and let me know where to find it. Thanks for visiting!

At 11:15 pm, Blogger Sheila Seabrook said...

Had I not known ahead of reading these books that two authors wrote them, I never would have guessed. You wrote the books seamlessly and I find it fascinating that you were able to do this.

Co-authoring a book with another writer is on my want-to-do list. :)

At 12:26 am, Blogger Cheryl said...

So pleased to know you read our books, Sheila, and thank you for for the lovely compliment. Co-authoring is definitely a worthwhile experience. It's challenging but in a good way, and loads of fun, too. I highly recommend it.


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