This article will explore whether co-writing plays, novels, and screenplays is a good idea, and canvas some thoughts to keep in mind when weighing up your options.
Co-writing a longer form project like a novel, play, or screenplay can take years (sometimes for screenplays the journey can be 10 years or more), so deciding to embark on a journey like that with someone is a big choice!
It can have long term impacts on the direction of your career, your finances, and your quality of life!
Why You Should Co-Write, and How to Choose a Co-Writer
Writing involves a lot of intense emotions, and it can be really great to have someone there for the highs and lows. Sharing a laugh can heighten the fun of the good times, and commiserating with a buddy can lessen the blows of the low times.
Co-writing can lead to long term friendships. You can spend years writing with someone on one project. If you’ve chosen the right person you will get to know each other more deeply over that time, which will hopefully be rewarding and fun!
When choosing a writing partner I have two criteria. I have to have known the person for a long time (at least ten years generally). People’s true personalities become known to you over long periods of time, so I would avoid rushing into a partnership too quickly. The second criteria is that I have to like the person and feel that they like me. If you don’t have this mutual good will at the beginning of the project, things are likely to get ugly pretty quickly, I think.
Try to chose a writing partner who brings something to the partnership. If you aren’t good at writing comedy, partner with a comedian. If you’re a straight white man, consider writing with someone who isn’t. If you are shy and don’t want to promote your project, find someone outspoken who can’t wait to get on the radio.
One of the major advantages to writing with a partner is that they should be able to help out with promoting / publishing / producing the project. Once the project is finished you will need to sell it, or get an agent to do that for you. If you don’t have an agent, having a second set of hands to get your project out into the world should be invaluable.
Try to write with someone who has successfully done the thing you are trying to do before. Don’t expect someone to change or evolve into being good at a skillset they don’t currently possess.
For instance, if you want to write a comedy screenplay, find someone who has successfully written comedy for the screen before. Don’t pick someone who you think might be good at it. There are too many variables that go into being successful at a certain task for you to be able to predict someone’s ability or inclination in a certain field.
Why You Shouldn’t Co-write
There are many reasons not to co-write. Here are some.
Half the pay. You will have to split any proceeds with your co-writer, and co-writing in my experience doesn’t take half the time. In fact it takes double the time because you need two people to sign off on each decision. The hope is that each decision will be twice as strong with two sets of eyes looking over it.
Expecting your co-writer to work with you harmoniously for ten years or however long it takes to get your screenplay up on the silver screen is just not realistic. People disagree, they argue, they fall out etc. Have you ever heard of an intense and harmonious working partnership? They are pretty rare. You are taking a huge gamble that you and your writing partner will be able to work together throughout the process.
Sometimes it doesn’t work out, of course! Your co-writer may lose interest, they may be overwhelmed with other work, your vision may differ from your co-writer, or you may want different things for the project in the future. These things happen all the time. One way to reduce these problems is to try to be as clear as possible about what you want for the project, especially at the beginning.
Final Thoughts on Co-writing
Take it slow, and if it’s working out well then you know co-writing is for you.
If it’s a disaster, back to the lonely garret!