We started emailing in 2011. It was her aunt, my Jedi Master and writing mentor, who suggested that we connect. Elizabeth and I were the same age, both loved writing, and, as we found very quickly, shared a lot of interests. (It took only two emails for us to start fangirling over Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance cycle, whose last book had just released.) Before long we were chatting all about our favorite books and movies, stories we’d written, similar hobbies, and life. Nine years and 1450 emails later, we’re still chatting. 🙂
Within a month of the first email, we started a joke that, in another week and a half, developed into the main characters and basic outline of a story. Our emails got longer and longer, the ideas more and more concrete, and two months later we exchanged the first scenes of what would become a 78,000-word YA Arabian fantasy novel. Its sequel, finished less than a year after that, capped off at 104,000 words.
Then we both went through college and started grad school. We began reminiscing about those novels we’d written together in high school, coming up with all sorts of things we would change now that we were older and more developed writers. Eventually we decided to stop talking about those change and start making them, and in December of 2018 the renovations began.
In March 2020, we finished what had become affectionately known as XYZ. The word count had nearly doubled with an extended plot, a more rounded story, and deeper character arcs. We had so much fun, even with work and grad school and our own writing projects, that we kept our hard hats on and moved on to the sequel.
Ten months later–last week–we finished ABC. (I won’t give you the word count because it’s monstrous. Suffice to say we have five main characters.) We’re still in the market for the perfect titles, and maybe someday, after we’ve published our own books, you’ll find us in the market for a publisher too.
P.S. Elizabeth and I still haven’t met in person. It took us until this past Christmas and a mutual friend to branch out beyond our emails and Messenger conversations to a face-to-face Zoom call. I admit I was a little nervous, but it was fun!
After writing essentially four books together, I’ve come to value five aspects of co-writing fiction that you don’t get when you write by yourself:
1. The shared responsibility
When you write a novel by yourself, it’s all on you (with maybe a few friends to provide backup support) to come up with the plot, to build the character arcs, to figure out the timing of things, and to invent (or research) all the worldbuilding details.
It’s a lot.
Not when you’re co-writing. From the very beginning, Elizabeth and I shared the responsibility of all the hard work that goes into writing a book. We both researched. We both brainstormed. We both contributed ideas. We both wrangled with timelines. And we always had each other as a sounding board when we wanted feedback or needed help.
Instead of hours or days of solitary agony, problem-solving became a brief (or not-so-brief) exchange of comments in a Google doc, or a Facebook Messenger conversation, or another email chain. (A common pattern was me word-vomiting all the ideas that came to mind in the first five minutes and Elizabeth sorting through the junk to find a piece that we could fix up and plug in.) But it always worked out, and it was always faster, easier and better than trying to figure it out on our own.
2. The easier load
Co-writing also takes an enormous load off your shoulders because you only have to physically write half a book–at least, that’s how it was with our pattern of co-writing: Elizabeth wrote the scenes of one MC and related characters, and I wrote the scenes of the other MC and related characters.
It’s still a lot of work because you’re writing a book, and you have to work around each other’s scenes and ideas and timelines, but it’s a lot less intimidating than trying to write 80K words (or more) all by your lonesome.
Our co-writing also spread out the work of writing in a way that really lessened the weight on my brain. We wrote the scenes that involved our respective characters while working our way chronologically through the story, so Elizabeth would write a scene of her character(s), and if my character(s) showed up next in the story I would write my scene, and then it was back to her for her next scene, and so on.
Having a week or a few weeks between my scenes gave me plenty of time to brainstorm, gather inspiration, write, rewrite, or take a complete break. I struggled with a lot of brain fog this past year, so this cushion time in the writing process (compared to my own project, KJ, where I tried to write every day) made our project more manageable for my brain.
3. The outside eyes
Each time Elizabeth and I finished a scene, we shared it with each other so we could read through it, critique it, and check for typos or story inconsistencies. If we caught mistakes, we pointed them out. If we thought something should be changed, we made a suggestion. We then fixed any typos, made any changes, re-submitted the scene, and waited for final approval before adding it to the rest of the book. (Can I get an amen for Google docs?)
So not only is your co-writer helping you write the book, but she’s also beta reading every scene you write, as you write it, and that’s an invaluable aid to the writing process. Elizabeth saved my bacon plenty of times with both little writing things and big story things. Shoutout to her eagle eyes and great suggestions!
4. The common experience
If you’ve written fiction, especially fantasy, you know how lonely it can be to build an entire world in your head, visit there with your characters, and be the only person in real life to know what it’s like.
Not when you’re co-writing!
Elizabeth and I have shared our books’ fantasy world since day one. We know the geography, we know the cultures, we know the characters, and we know the languages. We wrote this world together, and I honestly can’t put into words the joy of being able to share a fantasy world at such a deep level with someone else. (Yes, readers can share your world when they read your book, but not to the same degree as someone who’s built that world with you.)
We also share a Pinterest board for ideas and visualizations, and we’ve had a lot of fun conversations about our common sources of inspiration (movies like Aladdin and Prince of Persia and books by Megan Whalen Turner and John Flanagan).
5. The inside jokes
Co-writing a novel with your best friend opens the door wide–way wide–for inside jokes, both inside the book and outside the book. We literally could write another book about all the jokes we’ve slipped into the manuscripts (both rounds) and developed in our emails and other conversations. I mean, the whole book idea was born from a joke, so what else can you expect for the rest of the writing experience? 🙂
(If you sense a theme here, you’re picking up on one of our favorite inside jokes. Sorry not sorry for all the camels.)
Co-writing isn’t just another way to write a book, it’s something to do with your best friend. It’s a chance to share a common passion. It’s a way to sharpen each other as writers, critiquers, and human beings. This experience has bettered me in so many ways, and I honestly can’t imagine life–or our friendship–without XYZ and ABC.
Thanks for the journey, Elizabeth! I can’t wait to start book three, and maybe some day fans will find us finally together in person, sitting at a table side by side, signing copies of our book. 🙂
Have you ever co-written a book? What were your favorite parts? Do you have a friend you could co-write with? Let me know in the comments!