Thursday, 15 April 2010

Co-authorship advice - guest post by Nick Daws

Today I'm fortunate in having a writing friend make a guest post. Nick Daws gives some great advice to anyone thinking of co-authoring.



By its nature writing is usually a solitary business, and it can sometimes also be a lonely one.

For many writers the prospect of working with someone else is therefore attractive for the human contact aspect alone. Plus you have someone else to bounce ideas off. And, of course, having a collaborator means they will do some of the work instead of you!

Of course, there are drawbacks to working with a collaborator too. If you don't get on with your writing partner or constantly disagree with them, the savings in time and effort may evaporate. Instead of being free to pursue your own artistic vision, you may sometimes have to compromise. And, of course, any payments resulting from your labours will have to be shared with your partner instead of all going into your own pocket.

I have worked with a writing partner on various occasions over the years. The person I've worked most often with is my old friend, the poet and performer Simon Pitt. One of our first collaborations was a satirical sketch show called The Naked Apricot (a skit on the then-popular book by Dr Desmond Morris titled The Naked Ape). This was performed by a local amateur theatre company, and in financial terms anyway was their most successful show ever (admittedly, it probably helped that we didn't get paid a fee for it!).

More recently I collaborated with Simon on a couple of non-fiction books: Fifty Great Ideas for Creative Writing Teaching and How to Invite Any Writer, Artist or Performer Into Your School.

The way that Simon and I work is to take a project, divide it into chapters or sections, and then allocate each of these to one of us or the other. When we have completed our assigned chapters, we pass them over to the other one to read, edit and add his own input. In addition, I tend to handle the IT-related aspects, as I'm sure that Simon would admit that this is not his strongest suit.

One thing we don't do (at least hardly ever) is sit down together and go through our draft manuscripts line by line, word by word. Apart from being horribly time consuming, I could easily imagine this putting our friendship under strain. In my experience anyway, it's easier to accept (and give) criticism in the form of a quick note rather than face to face.

My number one advice to anyone thinking of working with a collaborator is to agree how you will work together first. If your collaborator expects you to sit down and write together while you prefer to work alone and just meet for planning, administration, marketing and so on, it's doubtful whether the partnership will succeed.

Likewise, it's important to discuss the proposed topic of your book, screenplay or whatever in detail, to ensure you don't have totally different perspectives on it. That's not to say you have to agree in advance on every point, but unless you have certain basic assumptions in common, the writing process is likely to become a test of endurance. This applies especially in fiction-writing projects.

It's also worth looking into the range of resources on the web that can assist working collaboratively. One well-known example is Google Documents, which lets you publish documents online where they can be viewed and, if you allow it, edited by other selected individuals (i.e. your writing partner/s). This makes it perfectly feasible to work collaboratively with people in other countries and even other continents. I did this recently with The Wealthy Writer, an in-depth guide to making money writing for the web, which I wrote in collaboration with Australia-based author and publisher Ruth Barringham. I have still never met Ruth face to face!

Finally, if you don't have a suitable writing partner at the moment, the Internet offers many methods for finding one. You could, for example, post a collaborator request - such as this recent one - on the Writers Wanted board of my forum at

Alternatively, you could join a site such as Webook which (among other things) hosts a wide range of group writing projects, a growing number of which have led to published or self-published books.

Good luck, and enjoy your collaborative writing!

Nick Daws is a full-time professional freelance writer, editor and writing teacher, living in Burntwood, Staffordshire, UK. He is the author of over 100 non-fiction books, distance-learning courses and e-books, including the best-selling Write Any Book in Under 28 Days. He has a blog at and a homepage at You can also follow him on twitter at


Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

Very useful and insightful. I think all writing is a team sport, and collaborating on a project is a more explicit example of this truth about the business. I blogged a month or so ago about how I felt it was a mistake to think you could go it alone as a writer, that no published writer can work in absolute isolation, but I realise now that I’d not really been as open to the possibility of co-authoring as perhaps I should have been – or indeed now should be. This post has opened my eyes a bit!


sloanwriter said...

As always Nick enjoy your tips and writing advice. I clearly would never have started if it was not down to your courses and advice, thanks once more.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, guys. I do think there is a lot to be said in favour of collaboration in writing, and the Internet does offer a lot of tools that can make it easier. Having said that, a lot does depend on finding the right partner/s for such projects.

Rob Innis said...

Nick - yes this is great advice and I know it works for me especially on humorous pieces.

Nick said...

Thanks, Rob. Yes, I guess it's no coincidence that many comedy scriptwriters work in pairs or teams.