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Tips for writing with a co-author #2: Logistics

Now that you’ve picked a co-author (see previous post), how exactly do you get the work done?

Step 1) Create an outline

What is your story about? Who are your characters? What’s going to happen to them? When you are writing by yourself, it easy to make things up as you go along, but when you are writing with a co-author, it’s hard to cooperate when you’re both going off on different tangents. You should draft an outline together to get you started. You don’t have to get too far; a few chapter should be good enough. You can always discuss changing the outline as you get to know your characters (and your co-author) a little better.

Step 2) Assign roles

Will you be alternating chapters? If you find that you have very different writing styles that don’t mesh (not the case for my sister and me), you may want you might want to consider assigning work by character. That way your separate writing voices can turn into separate character voices. The problem becomes when you go to revise and need to kind of integrate your two characters into one story. But, that being said, this is probably the easier way to write. My sister and I basically write and outline together and then whenever someone has time to write, they write a chapter. The other person revised that chapter and then writes a new one. The first person then revises the revisions and the next chapter and then continues writing, and so on until the story is done.

Step 3) Figure out how to share files

To prevent yourselves from ending up with two different files on different computers using different word processing softwares, you should discuss how exactly you are going to share/save your work. Even if you are going to be writing separate chapters, you will eventually need to compile everything and revise so it’s better to come up with ideas sooner rather than later.

There are tons of strategies for doing this (storing your files on your own server, emailing each other back and forth, etc. etc.), so I’ll just share what my sister and I do. Currently we use Windows Office Live because it allows you to create Word documents (or plain text), upload them, and save your edits/revisions online as well without pressing a ton of buttons. We have a special text file that we update to let the other person know when one of us is working on a file, so we don’t try to edit it at the same time. I like using Word because it does have the “track changes” option where we can write each other notes about why we deleted a section, etc. Office Live isn’t perfect, but it works well enough for our purposes.

Before Office Live, we used to use Google Documents which does you both to edit the same document at the same time. The problem with this was that it was awkward to find the other person’s revisions to your work (we used to physically highlight changed text). The other issue we encountered was that Google Docs isn’t a great word processor, so when it came time to submit to publishers and agents. we had trouble formatting everything consistently. But unlike Office Live, it doesn’t require integration with Microsoft Office products.

Whatever you choose, I would just be sure not to choose to physically mail hardcopies back and forth. Bad idea. Bad idea. Bad idea.

So that’s it for this time. Next time I’ll give you some pointers for avoiding conflicts.

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