Writing Together (part 2) – What have we learned?

Half my voice is you.

Some notes can only be reached

Singing together.

I’m delighted to present the second part of the conversation about writing collaboratively with my co-writer, Eileen. You can find the first part here.

Caroline. We’ve been writing together for eighteen years now. How would you say we have developed our ways of working together?

Eileen. Over time and through different ways of experimenting, a bit of trial and error really, so that now we write better together than we do on our own – like that haiku you gave me says.

C. So what have we learned?

E. Writing is still hard because we want to get better and better. Now I’m more aware of things than I was at the beginning – like economy of writing, ordering and making points, being more upfront. I’ve been learning those things from writing with you.

C. I think I’ve come to trust the process more, seeing how first off one writes to clarify ideas and then writes to be read and that we have developed ways of doing this together in which I trust. And we’ve consciously reviewed and reflected on our processes from time to time. Including when we decided to write for this blog!

E. When we finished our first draft of that last book we were asked to write it with more edge. We rewrote the whole book (C: 12 chapters!) and it became much better because it had to be more precise.

C. I think we had some good conversations about how we did it, like having a good hook, or being colloquial but avoiding clichés, and putting the important things up front.

E. It was a really good exercise. And it’s interesting because I can’t write like that at the beginning and have to go through the same stages again. There are no shortcuts.

C. I think it’s always lengthy, but at least we can now say to each other this bit of writing is at this stage, or needs editing or whatever.

E. That’s a really good point.

C. I know!

E. One thing I think is different about our individual approaches is that you can go further with that on your own. I spew it all out and need some thoughts from you before I can continue, whereas I think you give me more thoughtful pieces on your own. Perhaps I’m just lazy.

C. You’re just lazy.

E. Seriously, I think it’s about the essence of collaborative writing – I want to check with you that this is the sort of thing we really want to say, rather than steaming ahead on my own and just writing my bit.

C. Perhaps to some extent we have internalised each other’s writerly voices?

E. When we’ve extended the collaboration to include our reader there were several points she made and I did hear her voice, especially about the opening of the chapters not matching the content.

Writing tog

C. So what would you advise people who want to write together, based on our experiences?

E. It’s difficult to start off in a new collaborative writing relationship and what would be helpful would be to talk about, and make explicit, how they see that process happening and what approach they would want to adopt as they go forward.

C. We’ve both had experience of failing to write collaboratively with very brilliant writers. So would we agree that if it doesn’t feel good don’t do it?

E. Yeah! They need to be open all the way through and make clear the processes and feelings.

C. It probably helps that we are good friends then, although of course the friendship has also developed as we have written.

E. I don’t think its necessary to be good friends, although nice, (C: thank you) but I could imagine writing professionally with people. It’s talking openly – that’s the important thing.

C. What can go wrong then?

E. That someone isn’t prepared to adapt. So you need to listen, be flexible, be prepared to change things, see the writing as shared and not your own, not holding onto it, otherwise it’s just joined up pieces of writing.


Caroline and Eileen had this conversation, then edited it together.

For Christmas 2012, Caroline commissioned David Varela to write the haiku quoted at the top of the piece as a present for Eileen.

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