Better Together – The Co-Authoring Solution to Ten Common Writing Problems

This is a guest post by author Jess and Keith Flaherty

Jess and Keith are a husband and wife fantasy writing team. In their world magic, gods, angels, and demons all exist, and you may be surprised by who is an ally or enemy. Their recent book, Always Darkest - Book I in the Arbitratus Trilogy is an introduction to what lies beneath the surface of our perceptions. Learn more about their world at Demons Run Lit on Facebook, on Twitter @jk_demonsrunlit, at Crimson Cloak Publishing, or on their author page on Amazon. Reality: It’s not what you think …
We’ve all been there. You sit down to write and suddenly it all seems impossible; generating ideas, handling tricky words, slogging through edits. There are days when the problems of being a writer can make even the most steadfast among us want to give up. But before you push away from the keyboard, never to return, consider the benefits of finding a writing partner. Author Louis L’Amour once said, “Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.” Just like we all occasionally need help opening a stubborn pickle jar, sometimes we need help turning on that faucet of creativity. There are solutions to the problems faced everyday but writers, but a co-author can not only help you solve these problems better and faster, they can make the writer’s journey a more enjoyable one. A co-author can share the burdens, and then you both reap the rewards.

Writer’s block. The two scariest words in a writer’s vocabulary. No matter what’s causing it, whether it’s a lack of motivation, a bad mood, anxiety, being stuck for an idea, when you’re all alone in the game it can be tough to overcome. If you’re on your own, self-care and taking a break are often your only recourse. But if you’re part of a team, you can call for back-up, buddy cop movie style. A co-author can help you review the work, make suggestions, talk it out, all of which may help. The gentle nudge they can provide to go for a walk, read something for fun, and relax can also be invaluable. And you can return the favor the next time they get stuck, too.

On a related, but not necessarily connected topic, a lack of ideas plagues us all from time to time. There are things you can try on your own, certainly. Researching a related topic, reading in the genre or subject, hitting Google for inspiration. But sometimes that’s not enough. When you have a co-author, it’s unlikely you will both hit a creative drought at the same time. Just having someone there to make suggestions or offer a fresh perspective can make the difference between being able to follow through, and falling down the rabbit hole of writer’s block. Being the person who made the suggestion that busted through a writing plateau for a colleague can also be a wonderful feeling, and often gets your own creativity flowing.

Lack of confidence is another common problem for writers. We feel we either aren’t or will never be good enough, or that the piece we’ve been sweating over for months is useless. You can keep writing or selling your work if you don’t believe it’s good enough. Practice, time, and patience can help individual writers overcome this obstacle, but a co-author who is not just your personal pep squad, but who also offers honest, actionable feedback can be the biggest confidence builder in the world. Nothing boosts confidence more than hearing what you’re doing is good, but also that someone takes your craft and your desire to improve seriously. “Hey, I love this piece and your narrative voice is amazing, but have you thought of trying …”

Somewhat related issues writers often struggle with are lifestyle problems, a lack of rest, and emotional imbalance. When you are caught up in your story, or are trying to meet five different editorial deadlines, it is easy to neglect yourself. Grabbing junk food or forgetting to eat, drinking nothing but water or guzzling wine, sitting for ten hours at a stretch with no breaks, not sleeping adequately or retreating to your bed for days, and even just getting caught up in your own internal monologue that may or may not be self-defeating, are all potential wellness potholes we can bottom out in. Once the body is mistreated or the thoughts are overwhelmed your emotions can fall out of balance. Feeling sick, exhausted, or overwhelmed are not only detrimental to your quality of life, but can hurt writing and creativity, as well. When you are co-authoring with someone, you can discuss these pitfalls in advance and develop a plan to support each other’s wellness and to keep each other accountable to sticking to that plan. Meet for a walk or a healthy meal at least once a week. Spend time talking about something other than your current project. Remind each other to step away from the keyboard and get some rest. Put yourself and your co-author’s wellbeing on the same level of importance you put your work. One without the other is not possible in the long run.

One of the most frustrating problems for a writer can be when your use of words or expressions just doesn’t seem to hit the right tone. You write. Then you rewrite. You read. You rewrite it again and, still, you are dissatisfied. Solo writers have to rely on beta readers or even friends for feedback on how their word use or expression is working, and while that is valuable, those people aren’t writers and may not have the same command of grammar, usage, mechanics, vocabulary, or even style and genre that you are looking for. A co-author has all of those things, as well as an investment in the team’s work. Being able to ask for, or conversely offer, advice in this area is invaluable.

It has to be perfect! We’ve all thought this at one time or another about our work. You write and rewrite, proofread obsessively, edit, revise, ask for feedback and do it all again and still you are not satisfied. Having a co-author forces you to set ego aside, to a degree, and put their opinion about the work on par with your own. If you are both committed to your best work, then you have someone you can trust when they say enough is enough on trying to improve a piece and just send it out into the world. Having an ally who knows the feeling of “just one more read through” can prevent the worst possible outcome of trying to be perfect. Perfectionism can paralyze an author. Co-authors are an excellent line of defense against that paralysis. Sometimes you just need someone to paraphrase a ‘90’s Saturday Night Live character to you. “You’re good enough; you’re smart enough. And gosh darn it, people like you.”

Finally, one of the greatest perils of being a dedicated writer: Isolation. Writers live in their own heads a great deal. Often, especially in a troubled world, no matter how dark the story or disturbing the content you happen to be writing, your own mind can become a much more attractive place than reality. Or so it would seem. Unfortunately, what feels like tremendous productivity can lead to unhealthy habits and behaviors, and can ultimately affect your physical and mental wellbeing. Conversation, outside creativity, just unplugging from the work is essential, not just to you, but to the work as well. A co-author provides interaction you might deny yourself otherwise, an opportunity to step away from your computer or notebook, even if it’s still work related. You can even drag each other out to the movies or to a café for some interaction with other non-writers. Isolation isn’t just unhealthy and bad for your craft; there’s an idea waiting around every corner. If you don’t go out into the world a bit, you’ll never encounter one.

There are side benefits to co-authoring that aren’t even directly related to writing. Your communication will improve simply because you have to be sure you understand each other for the work to progress. Your openness to other ideas and perspectives will increase, since having a co-author reminds you that nothing is all about you. You will learn to appreciate your strengths – your co-author may come to rely on them. You will feel less ashamed or timid about your weaknesses – you co-author may share them or may offer non-judgmental help to you just as you do for them. Your ability to navigate the complexities of other relationships will improve. To write together you must occasionally set ego aside for the good of the work. When you can do that about your passion effectively, applying that principle to other aspects of life becomes as simple as slipping on a sweater against the cold. Finally, if you have a relationship with your co-author outside of writing, this is likely to deepen and improve because of all of the perks already mentioned. A happily married couple, who can figure out how to successfully write together, becomes the giddy couple their friends may envy.

Writing is often its own reward. Many writers have hundreds, if not thousands, of pages that may never see the light of day that they wrote for the simple pleasure the words brought them, or the catharsis of expelling some unpleasant thought or experience onto the paper. Writing professionally can be much the same, with the added benefit of customer or fan feedback, depending on your preferred milieu. However, if you are open to the idea of co-authoring, you may want to give it a try. You can experience everything you already enjoy about being an author, with all of the benefits mentioned here, as well as a problem-solving partner in overcoming the stumbling blocks we all face. Louisa May Alcott, author of Little Women, said of collaboration, “It takes two flints to make a fire.” Co-authoring may just be the spark you need.