Writing with a Collaborator

Writers are used to having total control over their work, at least until it goes to an editor. You come up with an idea, maybe you outline it a little or a lot, then you write a first draft. You write a second draft, you revise, rewrite and revamp it until you’re happy with it enough to say, “I’ve done what I set out to do. Off to the editor!” But recently I was involved in a writing project where the process was somewhat different, because I chose to collaborate with a co-writer.

My latest novel release is a short thriller in a series that was created by someone else, but who asked me to collaborate to produce a story that would serve as an “origins” tale to the existing books in the series. The result is Lucifer’s Machine (Ogmios Team Novels 4) from the series by U.K. bestseller, Steven Savile (Silver, Solomon’s Seal, WarGod, and the forthcoming Gold). Lucifer’s Machine is about a 14th century computing device that leads a special ops team on a dark treasure hunt in search of the lost treasure of the Templar Knights.

This was my first published collaboration, so I thought I’d take a moment to reflect on what exactly the differences are when you write with someone else. First of all, there’s a lot of room for interpretation when you hear “collaboration.” Does that mean each writer alternated drafting chapters until the story was finished? Or did the more established one simply sign off on something written by mostly one person? Was the plot the idea of both of them together or one of them already had the plot that both are going to write? Certainly for an author who publishes in excess of a dozen novels per year (looking at you, James Patterson), this latter scenario must come into play in some form or another.

For me, the process involved first brainstorming a general premise that would fit in with the existing series, and then basically having fun writing a first draft that was extensively edited and rewritten by my co-writer. The published result is something both uniquely mine and a novel I never could have written alone. It was interesting to see how much better someone else could implement my own ideas at times (the why the heck didn’t I think of that moments) and also how much fun it was messing around with someone else’s characters while attempting to stay consistent with the existing books in the series.

What about you—have you collaborated before? Never dream of it? Can’t wait? Let me know your thoughts!

Thanks for reading!



0 thoughts on “Writing with a Collaborator

  • Tom Sawyer

    Enjoyed your piece, Rick. Collaboration has for me been a mixed bag, mostly in the negative column. Early in my TV career I co-wrote a couple of scripts, and in each case I did most of the work. Later, I took on a collaborator to work on a stage-show I’d conceived. I found it largely painful, difficult-all-the-way-to-torturous, but it worked and we got the show produced to some acclaim. The capper however was another project, wherein it gradually became apparent that the guy with whom I was working was a sociopath – a pathological liar. That one cured me.

    • Rick Chesler

      Thanks, Tom. I can definitely see how there is potential for it to not turn out so well. It’s important to choose your collaborators wisely, for sure, and to agree on the terms and expectations for the end result up front.

    • Rick Chesler

      Keith, I don’t have any direct experience with that type of situation myself, but I imagine it would be pretty much like a job. You do the work, maybe you like it, maybe not so much, you get paid, and that’s the end of your involvement with it.

  • Steve Manke

    That’s very interesting. I’ve always looked at the idea of a collaboration and thought it must be a lot of work with a strong possibility of both authors tripping over each others contributions. Your approach and experience with it is the first time it actually sounded like fun to me!

    I think I’m changing my mind. With the right co-author and the right project, I can see how this would be far more fun than it would be problematic. A book could become much stronger for the contributions of both authors. And authors could benefit from the shared experience.