Please welcome author Kathleen Neely to The West Corner!
The Pros and Cons of Co-Writing
After completing my third novel, I sat brainstorming ideas for a new project. I kept returning to a series that I had read years earlier, The Potluck Club books, by Linda Evans Shepard and Eva Marie Everson. I remember them fondly since I read them with a book club. We ended each by holding a potluck dinner using their recipes.
As a plan began to form. I approached a colleague to see if she had any interest in collaborative writing, and together, we gave birth to Camellia House.
Co-writing has been a wonderful challenge. Does that sound like an oxymoron? Maybe, but it has a ring of truth. There are pros and cons to be aware of when entering into a collaborative writing project.
Let’s look at the plus side.
Two people can accomplish twice the work in half the time. Although each chapter represented one of four main character’s POV, we designed it not to be repetitive, but to advance the story. It amazed me how quickly the plot developed.
Accountability breaks through barriers that hinder writing progress. It’s difficult to become complacent when someone is waiting for your chapter. The easiest way to overcome writer’s block is to get writing. Co-writers offer support as well as accountability.
Each partner comes with different strengths and weaknesses. With any job in any field, I believe there are things that you love and things that you dislike. Chances are that your areas of challenge may be your partner’s area of strength. Here’s my big secret. I hate technology. You might wonder how that’s possible when I worked in an administrative position for many years. And the answer is—I just called tech. I told them what I wanted, and tada, it magically appeared on my computer. I didn’t want to know how to do it. I just wanted to make a phone call and have it done. I’m really good at making phone calls. My writing partner is tech savvy and a Pinterest guru. Praise God.
I bring other strengths to the table. Primarily, I finish. Good, bad, or ugly, I have three completed novels, all contracted and awaiting a release date. I plow right through, often ignoring laundry, cleaning, and grocery shopping. My husband may argue that this shouldn’t be on the plus side, but it gets the story done.
Two writers will typically approach the writing process differently. Wait—is that a pro or a con? I believe that it’s both. Let’s talk about the benefits. When we sat down to plan, I quickly discovered that it wouldn’t be a quick let’s talk, then we’ll write, session. My ‘plow right into it’ method didn’t work for her. She’s far more meticulous. While we didn’t create an outline in the 1,2,3, A,B,C format, we did plot out our storyline on paper. I had always trusted the plot in my head to be sufficient. Additionally, as the story took shape, we built a file of character traits, physical characteristics, and secondary characters. I found it to be far more efficient that doing a word search to remember what I had once written. I guess that’s why she’s called The Efficiency Addict.
The absolute best discipline that I learned from my partner came through our private Pinterest board. We identified characters with pictures, and throughout the writing process, pinned elements of the story. Our characters are artists, all with different mediums. You’d love seeing our board, but sorry, it’s private. We’ve displayed quilt patterns, Irish lace, paintings, and upcycled art. Our Victorian house is pictured there as well as some inside features. This is more than a nice keepsake, it’s designed so we can see the same things. We were blessed when all three of our beta readers commented on the unity of our writing. We hadn’t told them who wrote which characters, and they couldn’t discern two different voices.
So what are the challenges of collaborative writing?
Two writers will typically approach the writing process differently. Yes, I already said that, but as noted, this can be a pro and a con. As in any job where people interact, much compromise is needed. Sometimes the story doesn’t develop in the manner that I had anticipated. While I might have preferred a slightly different plot path, there needs to be some give-and-take. It’s hard to admit, but my way isn’t the only way. We talk it through and reach an agreement. I don’t dig my heels in unless it’s something I can’t live with.
The timing may hurry or hinder the writer. As I said, when I get writing, I can forget everything around me. I love the process, and sometimes the words are begging to be written. When I can’t sleep at night, it’s typically because scenes are playing a movie in my mind. My writing colleague has other life commitments. She needs to pace writing slower than I would normally do, but maintains the pace that we agreed upon. We’ve fashioned our planning into four chapters at a time, so I can’t move ahead of the process.
Co-authors face a special challenge in character development. We have four main characters, and each chapter represents a different POV. There’s a false sense of control if we assume that we have free reign in developing two characters each. The story advances with each chapter, meaning any or all characters may be present in each chapter. It takes some serious critiquing to maintain the personality, nature, and voice of each.
Would I recommend collaborative writing? Yes! It’s been a learning and growing experience. The lessons go beyond writing, to include working with others and respecting their ideas. Camellia House is in the hands of our agent, looking for a forever home. We’ve designed it to be a series of three, and are more than halfway through book 2.
About the Author
Kathleen Neely is a former elementary teacher. Following her years in the classroom, she moved into administration, serving as an elementary principal. Kathleen earned her Bachelors of Education degree at Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania and her Masters in Educational Leadership at Regent University in Virginia. She held certifications in Early Childhood, Elementary, and Principal. She was a long-time member of the Association of Christian Schools International where she attended numerous leadership conferences. In addition to teaching children, Kathleen taught many staff development workshops and led forums for teachers.
Among her writing accomplishments, Kathleen won second place in a short story contest through ACFW-VA for her short story “The Missing Piece” and an honorable mention for her story “The Dance”. Both were published in a Christmas anthology. Her first novel, The Least of These, was awarded first place in the 2015 Fresh Voices contest through Almost an Author. She has numerous devotions published through Christian Devotions.
Kathleen continues to speak to students about writing and publication processes. She is a member of Association of Christian Fiction Writers.
Kathleen resides in Greenville, SC with her husband, two cats, and one dog. She enjoys time with family, visiting her two grandsons, traveling, and reading.
Trisha Mills, a student in her final semester of law school, has fond memories of listening to the music of Adaline, a once famous recording artist. She learns that Adaline, now Adda Marsh, is a street singer living in the storage closet that she rents for her equipment. Adda’s sole means of support in her senior years comes from the donation box. Along with her meager possessions, Adda has a box labeled, “Things to Remember.” As their friendship grows, the singer agrees to show Trisha the contents of the box. Adda reveals her journey by sharing a few items at a time, beginning as a sharecropper’s daughter in Mississippi, to fame in Nashville, and to poverty in her old age. Trisha cannot overlook the injustices that Adda has experienced, but her involvement with a homeless lady angers her politically-minded fiancé, Grant Ramsey. Aided by attorney Rusty Bergstrom, Trisha convinces Adda to seek restitution. Will her growing relationship with Rusty impact her upcoming wedding?