The New Writing Partnership: How to Make it Work for You
By Susan B. Stroh & Heide P. Boyden *
It’s Saturday night and you’re all alone! You should be writing but who’s going to know if you watch reruns of The Brady Bunch instead. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a relationship like all those other lucky people? You know, a supportive caring significant other. One who will get you through writer’s block. One you can call when you’ve written that flawless poem and want instant feedback. One who doesn’t care that you can’t cook! What you need and want is a writing partner.
Too tired to search? Don’t sweat it. We suggest you ease into a possible writing partnership like you might a love relationship. Date, do things together– and if you know you’ll be good for each other– propose, get hitched and create lively young things!
Choose a Partner
Go ahead, take the plunge! The dating game isn’t all that bad. Ask a prospective writing partner out for coffee. Get a feel for the person’s sense of humor, lifestyle and ambitions. Discover what you like about each other, what you have in common. Do you value each other’s viewpoints? Where is the other person headed? Are you going there too?
It may be a good idea to visit each other’s workplace to determine if you will be compatible. Check out each other’s desk tops, libraries, and writing tools. If the spark has ignited, fan the flames. Read each other’s work. Do you like it? Also (be honest), do you have comparable talent? Are your skills complimentary? Are you both truly committed to succeed as writers? Ultimately, equal commitment is what makes partnerships work. During this courtship, if the answers to these questions are yes, you can plan your future together.
Create the Partnership
Take the time up front, to ask hard core questions, to dig deep and commit the unearthed answers to paper. First, write a purpose for your partnership—call it your mission statement. Why do you both want to write? What effects do you want to create through your writing and your partnership? An example of a purpose might be: Our partnership will allow us to inspire, enlighten and entertain millions of people through writing.
A lofty ambition—yes. But truly, there are no purposes too big. Mutual support and a step-by-step break down will allow you to achieve your purpose. It is for lack of good planning that they are not met. Your purpose should be something you want to write down and tape to your computer to get you through those bleak periods. It should inspire you.
Now that you’ve agreed on the big picture, make a list of all the individual goals that will help you fulfill your purpose. Is your partnership goal to write a book together? Or is it much more long term? Our first goal was to write and market an original screenplay together. Having accomplished that practical goal, we set a broader one: Our writing partnership will effectively facilitate the completion and marketing of many writing projects. Whether writing together or separately, we will support and vigorously help each other make this goal.
In writing purposes and goals, we have three key suggestions:
- Be a visionary: dream big and hone the words of the goal until you can’t wait to get into action.
- Be a pragmatist: be down to earth and honest about estimating effort in achieving any given goal.
- Be a tactician: be willing to figure out all the practical steps you must take to reach your goal.
Now that you know where you want to go, how do you get there? Do you want to complete that memoir that’s been gathering dust for a year? A half million dollars for a screenplay? A Newbery medal? To achieve goals like these, you must map out the territory and then choose the best route to your goal. If you want the Newbery medal, then begin by writing a book for children. Whatever your purpose and goals, choose the paths that will benefit you as well as the partnership, and which will ultimately fulfill your dreams.
Plan Those Babies
By now, you’re in a healthy relationship and have paved the way for making babies—literary ones that is. But it is here, that the analogy falters, because there is no limit to the amount of products you can produce as a writer and they are far less expensive to raise! It may be that all you want to do is write one good suspense novel. Great, then your route is well defined and the structure less demanding. But if you want to write a variety of products, you may find the need to structure your writing life more carefully.
Define the Steps to Success
Whether writing a project together or writing separately, your aim is to help each other complete products efficiently. Most people know how to go about making babies, but sometimes writers don’t. You do it by breaking down any given product into manageable steps and assigning a time for it to be complete. For example, if you want to write and sell a short story, write down each step it takes from getting the idea– right through receiving that check in the mail and seeing your names in print.
Assign each step a deadline. You will not always meet these deadlines, but being accountable to finishing a step by a specified date helps you focus and become more disciplined. (See Sidebar 1.)
Delineate Goals and Roles
Talk about your division of labor up front. Assessing strengths, one partner might choose to do the public relations and marketing and the other research. Will you write separately and fax or email each other pages? Will you meet at a home office? Or will you go away and write intensively at a retreat? Get practical. Do you have all the tools you need to collaborate successfully such as fax machines, compatible software and computer platforms?
Adopt Policies That Help Keep You on Track
You may have skipped the pre-nuptials, but it’s never too late to agree on policies that will allay doubts, fears and future disagreements. Policy can be derived from actions that have already proven successful in your life and that will help you accomplish your goals. Policy regarding the division of money earned, bylines or credits, professionalism and acceptance of assignments outside the partnership, should be hammered out and written down. A policy can be as general as: We will not invalidate each other’s work or disrespect effort. Or it can be as specific as: We will split proceeds 50/50 after expenses for all our collaborative writing ventures.
Meet at a Regular Time Each Week
We have found it helpful to set aside the same time every week to evaluate progress, generate “things to do lists” and to brainstorm ways of removing distractions and obstacles. We also rave about each other’s work and share our accomplishments. The end result of our weekly meeting is a renewed lease on the following week.
The best way we have found to evaluate progress towards goals is by keeping statistics and graphing them. Statistics are an analytical tool that allows objectivity in determining where more attention or discipline is necessary. Keep track of what you want to increase. When a number goes down, you need to work harder. When a number goes up, so does morale and the closer your partnership gets to achieving goals. Some sample statistics are:
- Number of pages written
- Number of completed products
- Number of products sent to market
- Number of promotional actions completed (from mailing press releases, to book signings)
- Number of people who gave favorable feedback about a product
- Number of paid and published products and
- Gross income from writing. (See sidebar 2.)
If all this structure seems daunting, let us point out how it benefits our partnership. Every year we review our purpose, goals, products and policies. We’ve become bolder in stating our goals and in building manageable steps that help us each gain the experience, know-how and confidence needed to keep fulfilling our writing dreams. We know factually, through statistics, that we have produced ten times more together than we did separately and we are now both published authors.
Deal with Weaknesses and Obstacles
In every relationship, weaknesses and incompatibilities reveal themselves sooner or later and can create problems. Possible problems are disputes over money or credits, lack of organization, procrastination, lack of self-confidence, missed deadlines, different working styles, or distraction from writing due to problems at home.
Before you hot-headedly threaten divorce, talk openly and kindly about the problem. See if you have written a policy that covers this area. Keep an open mind and try not to be defensive. Be willing to confront your own shortcomings and be amenable to change. A supportive partner can help you overcome an obstacle more easily than you might be able to on your own. Maybe all you need is a seminar to learn what it is you’re trying to do.
Oh, and one comment about deadlines. When two partners have agreed upon a completion date, the agreement must be kept. Otherwise, it’s like the husband forgetting to bring home the dry-cleaning when the wife has a high powered meeting the next day! Avoid that kind of friction by delivering what you promise.
Celebrate the Benefits of Partnership
In a partnership, you are supported by someone who wants you to win, who knows your goals as well as you do and ensures every step you take is in that direction. You share everything from writing knowledge and marketing savvy to your favorite battered thesaurus. And by structuring your partnership you will achieve more products in less time.
Whether you choose to author together or independently, you will realize great benefits. If you co-author, your writing will be enhanced by your partner’s fresh viewpoint. Two pens can be better than one. On your solo pieces, your partner can critique and edit your work to perfection with sensitivity, and be there for you when dealing with writer’s block, rejections and difficult clients.
When schedules are tight, one partner can attend a seminar or class and share the knowledge. You can share resources such as books, magazines, guidelines, mailing lists, office equipment and contacts with editors, producers and agents.
Try ghost writing for each other and referring one another to prospective clients. Promote each other and the partnership by authoring press releases and distributing them to your email list. Even write stellar bios and résumés about each other. It’s always easier to blow someone else’s horn than your own!
A writing partnership can be everything you want it to be. Simply structure it to get what you want–to fulfill your dreams. You can write a happy ending, together. You can pop the champagne cork. And if you stick to it, through the highs and lows, you may even celebrate a golden anniversary. Because many will agree, writers get better with age– especially those with a partner.
* Susan B. Stroh and Heide P. Boyden have had a writing partnership for eleven years. As a result of their partnership, they have published several articles, essays, poems, short stories, a children’s book, a biography, and seen their clients publish. They have received short story and screenplay awards.
When you have determined your goals and products, break them down into manageable steps. Give each step a deadline, and then check off each completed step with satisfaction.
The Steps to Writing and Selling a Published Short Story:
-Get the idea (to be complete by month/day) √ done
-Write out the themes (by date) √ done
-Outline the story (by date) √ done
-Write the hook (by date)
-Write the opening (by date)
-Write the middle (by date)
-Write the climax (by date)
-Write the conclusion (by date)
-Send to readers (by date)
-Collect feedback (by date)
-Edit and complete final draft (by date)
-Discover the correct market for the piece (by date)
-Write the cover letter (by date)
-Send to appropriate editors (by date)
-Maintain a submission log (by date)
-Sell your story (by date)
-Receive your payment (by date)
-Celebrate your published short story (by date)
Graph the statistics you keep.
Here is a graph of the statistic “pages written,” kept on a weekly basis. You may choose to keep this as a daily statistic.