Tips for writing with a co-author #3: Avoiding Conflicts
So now you have a co-author and you’ve figured out how you’re going to write together, but chances are, you won’t get very far without some sort of disagreement. But how can you prevent these disagreements from escalating?
1) Give constructive NOT destructive feedback
As you’re revising each other’s work you will find that your co-author will make mistakes in word choice, sentence structure, grammar, spelling, etc. and sometimes, their writing will seem just plain wrong (i.e. wrong direction for the character, the tone isn’t right for how you envisioned it, voice issues, etc.). When you are informing your co-author of these mistake, be kind. Don’t make fun of what they wrote, or say things in a harsh or negative way. Just point out the mistakes and discuss.
Don’t say: “Don’t you know anything about subject-verb agreement? Jeez! Where did you go to kindergarten?” Say: “I think you mean ‘the apples were green’ not ‘the apples was green’. You did the same thing again here. Here is a website you can look at to see why this doesn’t make sense.”
Don’t say: “Why did you make this character such a whiny dork?” Say: “I don’t think this dialogue sounds like something the character would say, because he is usually very strong-willed. I like what you did in this section better.”
Keep in mind you’ll probably make plenty of mistakes yourself (it’s much easier to see mistakes in other peoples’ writing than your own) and often you will find yourself in the wrong.
2) Pick your battles
This relates to #1 above. Simple things like grammar issues and spelling are easily resolved and should be hashed out sooner rather than later. But when it comes to tone and writing style, it can become hard to resolve your differences. My advice? Keep going and worry about it later. Get to know your characters. You may find that a few months later you really like the sentence your co-author wrote that sounded really lame the first time around or your co-author will realize that it doesn’t quite “go” with the rest of what has been written and delete it him/herself. Don’t force your co-author to change things if they don’t want to. It may be that they just aren’t ready to hear criticism since they are still too close to their writing and in a few months time, they may be more amenable to changes (and you’ll find that this applies to you, too). And just like when you’re writing solo — don’t be afraid to make some major revisions later down the line. Unfortunately (as everyone knows) you’re never done after just one draft.
3) Set goals and assign deadlines
Set goals and deadlines to keep things moving at a reasonable pace and thus avoid conflict. For example, I’ll tell my sister that I’ll give her, say, two weeks to start chapter three. If she finishes, fine, I’ll do the next chapter, but if not, I’ll take a week and do it myself, and then she has to do chapter four. This way, there’s no arguing about why things didn’t get done, or why someone didn’t get to write a specific chapter. Likewise, we’ll set goals for ourselves like “we should finish this section by the end of the month” and if we haven’t accomplished it, we’ll discuss why not and make changes to our plans accordingly.
And there you have it! Writing with a co-author can be fun and rewarding as well as being quite a time-saver when it comes to the revision process.
Have you ever written with a co-author? Do you have any tips of your own to share?