Three Top Tips for Co-writing from Heidi Belleau & Violetta Vane

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Hi, Carina blog readers! I’m Heidi Belleau. My co-writer Violetta Vane and I are the authors of the M/M urban fantasy The Druid Stone, which is out now from Carina Press. We’re often asked about how we co-write, from the nitty gritty of what programs we use through to how we settle disagreements. So here’s my top three tips for co-writing. If you’re co-writing a novel or are considering co-writing, I’m hoping this helps you get a grip on things! If you’re not a writer, I hope you enjoy this inside glimpse into the making of The Druid Stone.

1. Learn the tech

If you’re writing solo, chances are you have a preferred method of getting those words down. Maybe you like to handwrite in a notebook, then transfer to a computer. Maybe you use the classic Microsoft Word or the writer-friendly Scrivener. Maybe you prefer Write Or Die because it gives you extra motivation. Whatever choice you make, you came to that decision based on what works best for you. Co-writing is no different, except now your priorities have changed. The number-one most important feature becomes, “how do we share our work?”

For many authors, writing on Word with the “Track Changes” feature enabled is their go-to for co-writing. Write a bit, save the doc, email it to your co-writer when you’re done, and then they download it, write a bit more, save and email it back to you, rinse and repeat. Maybe one of you is responsible for a point of view each, or maybe you’ve planned things out and assigned each other chapters, and that’s how you determine when to trade off.

Violetta and I understand the appeal of that approach, but that’s not our thing. We like to write together in real-time, right down to editing each other’s sentences as we write them and finishing each other’s paragraphs. For that, we like Google Docs. In fact, we’re writing this blog post in Google Docs!

So how’s it work? We create a document that we then share. Sometimes we give beta readers access later on. Once we’ve done our pre-planning, we do a point by point breakdown of the chapter we’re working on and just start writing! The important thing is, Google Docs works for our purposes. We like to share, rather than delegate (although we do a bit of that, too), so e-mailing back and forth really doesn’t work for us. There are other programs for writing collaboratively, and each has its own strengths and weaknesses. Give them a try and see what works best for you!

And just as a side note, no matter what program you use initially, your eventual editors will be sending you a Word document with Track Changes on, which you can’t upload to GDocs or other collaborative services intact. So at some point, you’re going to have to work in Word (or a similar one-person-at-a-time processor). You can either email back and forth, taking pieces of the editing separately, or you can use a screensharing program, like we do. We like Teamviewer 6 (which is a bit laggy, but functional enough) or the built-in screensharing that comes with iChat if you have a Mac.

2. Communicate

I wrote a whole post on this for my individual blog, but the jist of it is this: co-writing is a creative and professional relationship. It’s taking something very personal to you (writing a book) and inviting another person into that sphere. If books are an author’s baby, then you are now co-parents. Congratulations! Now comes the hard part.

To mix my metaphor until it’s frothy, I want you to think back to… oh, every group project you ever did in school. Remember that feeling? Wondering who you were going to get paired with, wondering who was going to flake, dreading the thought that you were going to do all the work but your group members were going to get the same grade as you? Co-writing’s a little like that, except now money is involved. Luckily, unlike many school projects, you get to pick who you work with. You’re also both adults. Unluckily, adults can also be flakes or not do their fair share or be difficult to work with, even when it’s not intentional.

I can’t promise you’ll never have conflict or never pick the wrong person to co-write with, but I can give you advice to set you on the right track. Keep the lines of communication open from start to finish. Lay out your expectations. Ask questions. Talk about how you’re feeling. Set boundaries. Be open when something’s not working, but also be sure to compliment each other when something is. Co-writing comes with unique challenges, but it also comes with fantastic rewards. Being open and honest lets you make the most of both.

3. Be flexible – Conflict is good!

We create and design people from the ground up: their personalities, their appearances, their relationships. We control their every move. We may even muck about with their sex lives. Is it any wonder that authors might be a little bit… controlling? Like any artist, we often have a “vision”. We’re passionate about what we create and how. But unless you’ve hired out some kind of word-sandwich artist to write to your exact specifications, co-writing involves compromise. It involves disagreement. Sometimes passionate disagreement.

Now since you’re following tip two of this list and communicating effectively and respectively with your writing partner, you know that a clash of egos where you both go in intending to give no quarter isn’t gonna get anything written. You’re willing to hear each other out… but now what?

Did you know in an early draft of our novel The Druid Stone, the big Galway finale was meant to include a car chase? Violetta was absolutely mad about the idea. She had all these big grand plans and maps and, because she’s so very very visual, a big cinematic concept for the scene that could easily fit right into a blockbuster movie.

…And then I said no. No, that would take way too much explanation and logistics to get the car from Point A to Point B. No, have you ever seen an Irish city street. No, I just don’t think it fits the narrative as we’ve established it. Not surprisingly, she wasn’t too terribly pleased with my shutting her down, just as I haven’t been terribly pleased with her turning down my ideas. So she replied with “Well, we still need a big showpiece scene, so what do you suggest instead?” We talked it over, going back and forth on lots of different ideas, and eventually settled on the scene that’s in the final version.

Arguments and disagreements, as long as you both approach them professionally, can improve your writing. Only the strongest ideas survive. You work hard to convince the other person, and all that hard work shines through for the readers, too. A lot of the time, you come to a consensus or middle ground which is smarter and more unexpected and just plain better than what one person could come up with alone.

Sometimes you give up control. Sometimes you stand by your vision. Sometimes you fight it out until something new and brilliant emerges. Co-writing is chemistry. Sometimes your reactants just fizzle out, sometimes they explode, and sometimes they combine in that perfect way to make something really amazing (like chocolate chip cookies). It all comes down to what you’re mixing and how.

How about you? Have you ever co-written or considered co-writing? If you have, do you have other tips to share? And if you haven’t, why not? And readers, have you read any co-written novels you absolutely love? Ones under a single penname that you were surprised to hear were co-written after the fact?

About The Druid Stone

Sean never asked to be an O’Hara, and he didn’t ask to be cursed by one either.

After inheriting a hexed druid stone from his great-grandfather, Sean O’Hara starts reliving another man’s torture and death…every single night. And only one person can help.

Cormac Kelly runs a paranormal investigation business and doesn’t have time to deal with misinformed tourists like Sean. But Sean has real magic in his pocket, and even though Cormac is a descendant of legendary druids, he soon finds himself out of his depth…and not because Sean’s the first man he’s felt anything for in a long time.

The pair develop an unexpected and intensely sexual bond, but are threatened at every turn when Sean’s case attracts the unwelcome attention of the mad sidhe lords of ancient Ireland. When Sean and Cormac are thrust backward in time to Ireland’s violent history—and their own dark pasts—they must work together to escape the curse and save their fragile relationship.

The Druid Stone is available from Carina Press, Amazon, B&N and ARe. For other retailers and links to other stops on the blog tour, please visit knockmanovel.com. You can can also get in touch with Violetta and Heidi at their websites, or add us on twitter: @HeidiBelleau and @ViolettaVane.

 

Win a sterling silver Celtic triple spiral pendant!
The Celtic triple spiral is an ancient Irish symbol and an important recurring motif in The Druid Stone, and we’ve got a lovely silver version to give away to one lucky Carina reader! Leave us a comment here with your email and we’ll randomly select a winner on August 24th. We’ll contact the winner by e-mail on the day and arrange shipping to a mailing address of your choice to anywhere in North America. Bonne chance!

16 thoughts on “Three Top Tips for Co-writing from Heidi Belleau & Violetta Vane”

  1. J.L. Hilton says:

    I don’t need the pendant (I already have a silver triskele of my own!) but I just wanted to say congrats on the new release. Can’t wait to read it!

  2. Thank you so much, JL!

    I actually have a silver cuff bracelet with a triskele design. And I brought Violetta home a necklace from Ireland with one, too. So we’re all blinged up!

  3. Ruth Diaz says:

    I think I have too many control means to ever co-write well. If the right opportunity ever comes up, I may change my mind, but how I see my characters, in particular, I’m just so picky about, I have a hard time imagining it happening. It works out fabulously for the two of you, though. You have a co-writing voice that’s absolutely distinct from your individual writing voices. :-)

  4. Congratulations on your new release, ladies! I cannot wait to read it!

    I’ve been considering co-writing a project, but hadn’t given any thought to the logistics yet. This is so interesting reading your perspective! Thanks so much for sharing. :)

  5. Thanks Ruth! I think Violetta and I writing together was a very lucky thing. Maybe it’s like marriage, and you just have to wait for the RIGHT person? But then, some people stay single all their lives and are completely fulfilled.

    And thank you, too, Vanessa! I would definitely give co-writing a try if you find someone you like/respect/can work with. It’s very, VERY different from working on your own, but so incredibly rewarding I don’t regret it one bit.

  6. Kirby Crow says:

    Good advice and I can’t wait to read Druid Stone!

  7. I love reading about your experiences co-writing. I think I’m too much of a control freak to ever succeed at it, but I’m hearing great things about this book so I will have to download it this weekend.

    Great post!

  8. Katie F says:

    So excited to read the book! Congrats!

  9. Jin Reads says:

    Hey girlies. Nice perspective on co-writing. I have much to ponder.

  10. Elin Gregory says:

    I miss co-writing so much. We used to do it in Gdocs talking it through via IM during my evening after I came home from work and while my friend in the US was at home waiting for her kids to come home from school. She used to come up with the initial idea – “I want to write a werewolf/vampire/western/medieval/hitman story” – I’d come up with a plot then we’d make up characters and write. Oh the head hopping, but we didn’t know any better.

    I hope Druid Stone does really well. It sounds like a fascinating story.

  11. Thanks for the congratulations, guys! We have been looking forward to this release for so long and a lot of work went into it! :D

    And thank you Angela, if you do, I sincerely hope you enjoy it!

    Elin that sounds very much like my and Violetta’s strategy. Being able to talk in realtime over IM is great, especially because you can scroll back through the chat logs if you forgot one of the things you brainstormed LOL! I wish I’d have saved the logs of our conversations about The Druid Stone when we dreamed it up, it would be neat to see how it compared.

  12. Joni says:

    Congrats on the new release! I’m always on the lookout for new authors to read!

  13. Amy Kennedy says:

    I am literally smacking my head — did not know about the google docs capabilities. D’oh! My sister and I started a light paranormal mystery, but at the time it was so hard logistically to get it written. I can’t wait to tell her about this…

    And your book sounds so intriguing. Thank you so much for the advice.

  14. Oh Amy you’ve got to give it a try! It’s really fantastic for co-writing. The only thing I wish of it was that it had a better track changes feature, so I could see exactly what my partner has edited and how. But otherwise it really can’t be beat, because you can write simultaneously or separately and it updates in real-time, no need to email back and forth or any of it.

    Thanks for commenting, and happy writing!

    And thank you, Joni! :)

  15. bn100 says:

    Congratulations on the book! Good advice.

    bn100candg(at)hotmail(dot)com


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