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You Asked For It: Writing with a Partner

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It’s time to dip into the digital mailbag for more reader questions here at Canimation.

We recently received a request for info on writing with a partner, balancing a creative and business partnership and collaboration in general.

Here are some basics to keep in mind for a successful team-up.

First question. What types of things need to be discussed going into a writing partnership?

Trust and respect are key.

Knowing you respect the other person’s ability and ideas and they respect yours is the first unbreakable rule. If you find your ideas being dismissed all the time without a real discussion then that’s bad sign. If you think the other person’s ideas are stupid then you will probably make for a very bad partner.

It also helps to know what you both want out of it.

In my partnership, even when we are struggling, I know we are both working toward the same goal (sometimes from different sides of the problem). So our arguments are always about the work, not about each other. If a personal issue comes up, we have to quickly separate it out from the work and deal with it so it doesn’t get in our way.

"You messed up my clever wordplay, partner!" "Serves you right for deleting my awesome fart joke!"

You may also have to discuss how you like to work. Different duos write different ways. Some alternate scenes and trade up, some write in the same room, some do the first pass solo then hand it off. You may find that you start out working one way together but over time it switches as you grow more comfortable as a team.

Most importantly, you need to decide if you can maintain a friendship and work together. If one of you is precious about taking notes, combative or worse, never speaks up for their ideas and lets resentment fester, then the partnership is doomed to fiery, ugly death.

Are there some standard agreements available to help clarify the business part of a writing relationship?

Nope.  Agreements vary from team to team. I don’t know of any writing teams who started out with a contract. Though eventually, you may have to work out an agreement as to who deals with the creative and where the money goes if one of you passes away or quits mid-stream.  My partner and I don’t do anything we haven’t decided on together. Sometimes one convinces the other, sometimes the one with the most passion rules, and sometimes the most tired one simply caves!

What advantages/pitfalls have you experienced (or witnessed) in writing partnerships in Canada?

Advantages to Writing With a Partner

Number one is the idea well you draw inspiration from is magically doubled. When confronted with a blank page or a challenge we have two brains to chip away at it instead of one.  So I guess it basically lowers that inevitable fear of failure!  As long as you have something to show, even if it feels uninspired or still has problems, your partner can usually see something there and build on it.   This eliminates (or at least, diminishes) that fear of failure that cripples writers at times. You are no longer alone. It will be okay.

Uh, partner? Can you help unravel this convoluted plot?

Partnership also opens your writing up to true surprise and improvisation. Sometimes you toss out a silly or outrageous idea you’d normally skip and your partner latches onto it and cries, “That’s brilliant!”.  Suddenly you are off on a new direction instead of your default choices.

Another plus?  You suddenly find yourself creating something that feels more thought out and fuller than something you do on your own, simply because there is more than one point of view and set of experiences weighing in. This especially helps when writing stories with multiple character voices and viewpoints. Suddenly, the characters don’t all sound like you.

You can work faster and accomplish more with a partner. As Cheryl Binning said in her article, “In This Together: Screenwriting Partnerships” (Canadian Screenwriter, Spring 2010, vol. 12, no. 2) “On a practical level, writing teams typically work faster, share the workload, divide responsibilities, and, best of all, can even take vacation knowing the other will be there is broadcaster notes suddenly arrive in the middle of their trip.”

Having a partner also helps overcome the ever-present desire to distract yourself or put off working. If I promised a first draft to my partner by 6 pm, I damn well better deliver, no matter how interesting I find that graph about whether Lindsay Lohan or Paris Hilton is more likely to be taken in the rapture.

You can reach new heights with two creative brains working together.

Finally, it’s much, much easier to deal with script notes and business issues with two heads. We can see the separate sides to an issue or problem better. And if something pisses us off, we can vent to each other and inevitably the calmest one takes the lead on the diplomatic work.

Disadvantages to Writing With a Partner

When the two writers in a team have differing expectations or work ethics, problems arise. The one doing more work will resent it while the lazy one may feel they are contributing all the inspiration (That by the way, is never true).

Who gets control of the ideas or scripts when the split happens? If it’s amicable, then likely you will be able to negotiate the split. If you still hate each other, you will likely have to abandon it all and start over!

The perils are great but the rewards are many. Choose your partner wisely and you will have a true ally and creative inspiration.

Good luck.

Now get writing.  Both of you.

-RP

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  1. Lisa Hunter
    May 24, 2011 at 4:43 am

    I love my writing partner (literally — I’m married to him). But we don’t work together on absolutely everything. For instance, I’d be no help to him on sci-fi, and he’s not really into some of my girlier projects. Being able to step outside of the writing partnership ensures we never get frustrated that the other one “just doesn’t get it.”

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