The Career Author Podcast: Episode 79 – The Dark Side of Co-Writing

Cowriting problems

Collaboration doesn’t always smell like roses. Listen to this candid conversation about the potential problems of cowriting, how Zach and J. cope with these problems in their own business, and more:

  • Recent events in the video game industry and what authors can learn from them
  • Some changes happening over at the Patreon + what novelists can learn by studying other mediums of storytelling
  • Why every fiction writer needs to pick up a copy of The Emotion Thesaurus
  • The recent struggles J. and Zach have faced in their cowriting process, the struggle of creating a shared vision for collaborative work, and why you need to limit your attachment to specific ideas
  • Tactics the guys have used to overcome their cowriting struggles
  • Some of the cowriting problems you need to be prepared for when you start collaborating with others
  • Practical strategies you can use to overcome problems in your own collaborations + the importance of developing systems

Plus, submit your ways and hacks to The Career Author Podcast in the comments section below!

The Career Author Podcast is a podcast where co-authors J. Thorn and Zach Bohannon share their struggles and successes as full-time authors, advice for improving your writing craft, and honest discussions of what it takes to build a successful career as an author.

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The Emotion Thesaurus – https://www.amazon.com/Emotion-Thesaurus-Writers-Character-Expression/dp/0999296345/

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14 thoughts on “The Career Author Podcast: Episode 79 – The Dark Side of Co-Writing

  • Morning guys. Happy fourth of July. Still haven’t got over you dumping all that tea into Boston Harbour. How could you? Coffee maybe, but tea… 😭
    Great Hack Zach. Books like those are a great help – if someone else has done the work why not benefit?
    Fascinating discussion. In my brief experience of collaborating for 2 short stories the investment was small so discussions were comfortably resolved. But your collaboration over a 9+ book series is a huge investment of time, money, work and emotion. That must involve a lot of trust. Have you ever reached the point between yourselves or with others, where a collaboration has not progressed due to disagreements?
    Great idea to analyse TV first episodes.
    Have you thought of analysing classic films like; The Third Man or Citizen Kane or Casablanca etc.? The interesting thing about these is they were made before modern story theory analysis became common knowledge. Do they have 3 Acts? Do they have an Inciting Incident? Do they have the lowest point and the mid-point change? I think Casablanca does. But Syd Field didn’t write about 3 Acts until 1978. So why do these (and other classics) work? Did they accidentally stumble upon story theory? Was story theory created from them because they worked? Or were there different theories way back then?
    Great show.

  • Happy Thursday to you!

    Yes, I’ve had many failed collaborations. I’ll tell you the next time we’re together, maybe over a cup of tea in Boston πŸ˜‰

    I like the idea of analyzing classic movies. Might be the next batch after we do TV episodes…

  • Love the Emotion Thesaurus! I’ve also started using Joe Navarro’s The Dictionary of Body Language.

    Super good topic. I think a lot of people have fears about cowriting, and it’s important to talk about real world examples of how those fears have been realized and managed.

    I’ve had one major failed collaboration, and a couple that were “Hey, this just didn’t work out.” I actually had a conversation with a potential cowriter yesterday, who has never cowritten, and I asked questions like: What are your goals in cowriting? Do you plot? How do you plot? Do your chapters/scenes tend to have a standard length, or are you variable? We’re writing romance, and both write dual POV first person most of the time, so I confirmed that would be the setup for the idea we are playing with. Follow-up questions that I need to ask: How much do you write each day, and what do you envision as your balance between cowriting and solo projects?

    Of course, these are just starting point questions. Like J and Zach say a lot, you’ve got to be similar in life/process, and the differences need to complement each other. I’m fairly comfortable in knowing what my rhythm as a cowriter looks like, but she may find that cowriting flows differently than her solo projects, and that will be a learning process. I emphasized that it’s important to be low-ego and bring up issues when they arise for discussion, but most importantly that she could trust me to be low ego and able to respond well when issues arise.

    Cowriting feels very much like improvisation even when you have a big picture and an outline, building off of each other’s ideas rather than negating. Taking improv classes is high on my list of things to do for this very reason.

    My main cowriter and I took a break after finishing our first series. It was a natural stopping point, and we both had some pain points that created problems for us in our working relationship. But a couple months later, we came back together because cowriting a new series filled a gap, but discussed the issues we needed to address before moving forward, made a plan to fix those issues, and dove back in. There were some bumps the first few months as we made those changes, and it’s been relatively smooth sailing since.

    Communication. Communication. Communication. That’s what it boils down to. For me, my friendship with my cowriters matters more than the benefit my business gets from the work relationship. If the work relationship is hurting the friendship, I make it very clear from the start that I will wrap up the work relationship to protect the friend relationship.

    • Yes. I totally agree. And I think your approach to working with other writers is the best way to do it. You’ve got to ask a lot of questions of each other.

  • Thanks for a honest discussion about co-writing. I don’t believe I would be successful at co-writing or happy with it, but you’ve shown me how I could make it work by addressing the concerns I have.

    If I ever find my self moving toward co-writing, this episode will be my first stop!

    Thanks so much.

  • Sup guys.
    Congrats on selling out the Career Author Summit. I know there had to be some trepidation when you guys decided to shift it over. Looks like I will miss next year but maybe 2021 πŸ™‚

    J, I totally agree. I hate shaving but also hate beards. I picked up an electric razor in the Air Force when time was of the essence and haven’t looked back.

    I would definitely want to see what that one sheet looks like for the 9 book story arc.

    Finally, You guys said you have done 4 trilogies together. 12 books. Why just a 9 book arc? That is all you wanted to commit to? You felt you could get the series sales holding through 9 and but not carry through on 10,11,12?

    As always thanks for the the wisdom.

  • Electric trimmer. [makes a note]

    Our decision on 9 is strictly based on genre and what readers of that genre have said about preferred series length πŸ˜‰

    • I wish it was that easy!

      For the past few months I’ve been lurking and commenting in genre-specific Reddit forums. I’ve been paying attention to what those readers are saying, and sometimes asking questions myself.

  • Great podcast episode!

    I LOVE the Emotional Thesaurus and leave it open during revisions. I use it to help show the emotions externally as well as get the deep POV with the internal feelings. I couldn’t write without it. It helps me from making my characters do the same motions over and over and over.

    I have had one co-writing experience and I enjoyed it for the most part. But there are a few things that I wasn’t overly happy with and time is a factor for me. She doesn’t have a day job and I do. She has young kids and I don’t. So there were times when it was hard for our deadlines to jive. We were both new to co-writing, which I think brings its own set of issues. Like knowing when to communicate and when to give and take. We put a pause on the project for now since we have solo things to work on and I think it’s for the best.

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