9 Tips for Co-Writing

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I’ve attended writers’ conferences, book fair presentations, marketing classes, book workshops, writers’ workshops, and private coaching sessions. But I’ve learned the most by working with my writing partner. She also happens to be my adult daughter.

Before I retired from teaching high school choir, my daughter Elizabeth and I taught in the same school. I produced several publications each year—music theater playbills, student bios, choir concert programs—that she edited for me. I returned the favor by editing her English department grant proposals and committee reports.

Then I retired nd, with time to write personal projects, I envisioned more ambitious ventures. Also around that time, my younger daughter, Elizabeth’s sister Gwen, won the Rio 2016 Olympic gold in triathlon. We had a story to tell.

Elizabeth and I partnered to write a memoir—the story of our family’s Olympic journey. The book, Go, Gwen, Go: A Family’s Journey to Olympic Gold, was published in 2019 by Meyer & Meyer. These are the lessons I learned along the way.

Characteristics in a partner

Elizabeth and I are fortunate to have each other. Our personalities are compatible, perhaps because we are so different. She is talkative and sociable. I am quiet and reserved. Those qualities come through in our writing and compliment each other. When my words need more spice, Elizabeth peppers them up. When her enthusiastic sentences need precision, I clarify them.

In addition to our word personalities, our work personalities fit too. We both accept criticism without offense. We both critique with questions more than demands. We both sprinkle edits with compliments and praise. I wrote more about our partnership here.

Skill level

Elizabeth and I have very different writing strengths, but we are at about the same level. Neither one of us is a Pulitzer prize winner, but we both have a resume of published work. Most importantly, we are open to learning from each other. A writing partner should be someone who is superior in at least a few areas. And they should acknowledge their partner’s strengths.

Interests

When Elizabeth and I wrote our family memoir, we were both invested in the topic. Since then, we have collaborated on smaller pieces about the process of writing—also a mutual pursuit—like this one Elizabeth edited for me:

While common interests can be important, I value the knowledge I get from editing an unfamiliar topic. Elizabeth is a sijo poetry expert. I’ve edited so much information about sijo, I now write my own sijo poems. And I wrote this piece about sijo, with Elizabeth as my primary resource.

In the search for a co-writer, consider common interests and knowledge. But also look for a partner who brings singular expertise to the exchange.

Personal traits

Working with another writer means spending time with their opinions and habits. Consider essential traits. I look for someone who is:

  • honest
  • positive
  • punctual
  • creative
  • open-minded
  • ethical

Working with a partner

Before Elizabeth and I started writing Go, Gwen, Go, we discussed the project and how we envisioned the result. We decided the end goal would be a book, written in two voices, but we left details to be determined. After we established a foothold in the manuscript, we reevaluated. That’s when we registered for a book-writing workshop and gave ourselves a weekly deadline of 3,750 words, the workshop’s maximum. When it was time to market our manuscript, we set a timeline for agent queries, publisher contacts, and periodic assessments.

Define the project with your partner

  • What is the purpose of this project?
  • Who is the audience?
  • Whose voice will be used?
  • How many words will it be?
  • What is the schedule?

Set expectations

During our book writing project, I was retired, but Elizabeth worked full-time. She had weeks when teacher conferences, semester tests, or committee work took precedence over the book. There were also weeks when I traveled to see my grandson and couldn’t produce as usual. It was important to allow flexibility in scheduling and deadlines. Adaptability is vital, as is compassion and understanding. Some questions to ask:

  • How many words will we write each week or month?
  • How quickly are edits expected?
  • What kind of edits are expected? Line edits? Content?
  • How will artistic decisions be negotiated?
  • How many drafts are anticipated?

Use positive language

Since Elizabeth is an English teacher, she is experienced in giving feedback. I continue to learn from her about effective ways to critique. Somewhere, in every edit, she finds something positive to say. She praises an idea, other times a word choice, still others an effort.

Use questions

When Elizabeth examines a word or sentence that needs attention, she poses a question: Is this the right word? Do you think the reader will understand? Is there a better way to frame this? Is this believable? Instead of criticizing, she challenges me to think of alternate choices. She offers a way for me to see my own words through a new lens.

Be forthright

Because we have worked together for so long, Elizabeth and I are comfortable with honest, bold statements. We don’t need every thought couched in delicate language. Sometimes, we simply say, “This feels clunky,” or “This seems wordy.” Amicable partners know honesty is important. Sometimes the best approach is a direct one.

I am fortunate to have a writing partner. She is responsible, dependable, talented, hard-working, and fun. That she is my daughter is even more delightful. But anyone with a compatible partner will find their words improve with collaboration—either in the actual writing or the editing.


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Image for postPhoto by KOBU Agency on Unsplash

I’ve attended writers’ conferences, book fair presentations, marketing classes, book workshops, writers’ workshops, and private coaching sessions. But I’ve learned the most by working with my writing partner. She also happens to be my adult daughter.

Before I retired from teaching high school choir, my daughter Elizabeth and I taught in the same school. I produced several publications each year—music theater playbills, student bios, choir concert programs—that she edited for me. I returned the favor by editing her English department grant proposals and committee reports.

Then I retired nd, with time to write personal projects, I envisioned more ambitious ventures. Also around that time, my younger daughter, Elizabeth’s sister Gwen, won the Rio 2016 Olympic gold in triathlon. We had a story to tell.

Elizabeth and I partnered to write a memoir—the story of our family’s Olympic journey. The book, Go, Gwen, Go: A Family’s Journey to Olympic Gold, was published in 2019 by Meyer & Meyer. These are the lessons I learned along the way.

Characteristics in a partner

Elizabeth and I are fortunate to have each other. Our personalities are compatible, perhaps because we are so different. She is talkative and sociable. I am quiet and reserved. Those qualities come through in our writing and compliment each other. When my words need more spice, Elizabeth peppers them up. When her enthusiastic sentences need precision, I clarify them.

In addition to our word personalities, our work personalities fit too. We both accept criticism without offense. We both critique with questions more than demands. We both sprinkle edits with compliments and praise. I wrote more about our partnership here.

Skill level

Elizabeth and I have very different writing strengths, but we are at about the same level. Neither one of us is a Pulitzer prize winner, but we both have a resume of published work. Most importantly, we are open to learning from each other. A writing partner should be someone who is superior in at least a few areas. And they should acknowledge their partner’s strengths.

Interests

When Elizabeth and I wrote our family memoir, we were both invested in the topic. Since then, we have collaborated on smaller pieces about the process of writing—also a mutual pursuit—like this one Elizabeth edited for me:

While common interests can be important, I value the knowledge I get from editing an unfamiliar topic. Elizabeth is a sijo poetry expert. I’ve edited so much information about sijo, I now write my own sijo poems. And I wrote this piece about sijo, with Elizabeth as my

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