One of the great things about collaborating is that if you pick the right collaborator (and the right method), you can write until you get to a sticky spot, then hand it off to your collaborator and let them deal with it. In most cases, what is sticky for you will not be sticky for your collaborator (and vice versa), which minimizes “stuck time.”
Another big advantage is that whatever you’ve just written has an immediate audience – your collaborator – who is just as excited about the material as you are. There is nothing quite so motivating as wanting to show off for someone you know is going to giggle and squeak and gasp in all the right places.
If you’re considering collaborating with someone, there are a number of things to remember:
1) If both of you don’t feel as if you’re doing 80% of the work, something’s probably off. If you’re the sort of person who’s going to track time, effort, and word count in some misguided attempt to make sure each of you contributes the same amount to the project, you are probably not well-suited to collaborating, and if feeling as if you’re doing 80% of the work is going to make you grumpy, you probably shouldn’t try it, either. Collaborations are not usually twice as much work as a solo novel, but they do involved more total work than a single-author book. This means that if you divide the total work of a collaboration in half, each author will be doing less work than if they wrote a solo book, but not 50% less. If you’re not prepared to feel as if you’re doing more than your share (and unwilling to recognize that your collaborator also feels this way, and that both of you are, in fact, doing more than you expected), you may wreck the project, and possibly the friendship.
2) Collaborations are a meshing of two different processes, as well as two different writing styles. A number of the folks I know who have done successful collaborations do not work the same way on their collaborations as they do on their solo stuff. Sometimes, both writers end up with a sort of half-and-half compromise style of working that they can both live with; sometimes they do it one person’s way rather than the other’s; and sometimes, the collaboration gets done in a way that neither person uses when writing on their own. Be prepared to be flexible.
When you’re collaborating, you have to be willing to adapt to your collaborator (and vice versa) in terms of working methods, as well as stuff like plot and characters. If one writer normally works in huge bursts of activity with long fallow gaps between, and the other is a three-pages-a-day plodder, they may want to think twice about a collaboration method that means they have to switch off every time a scene, chapter, or POV character changes. If one writer is a “can’t talk about it in advance” sort and the other isn’t, you’ll have to experiment to figure out whether the one who usually can talk isn’t allowed to do it at all (which can kill the project if they’re a must-talk sort of writer), or whether the two of you can talk to each other but not to anyone else, or whether the must-talk writer can talk to anyone but their collaborator.
3) The whole point of a collaboration is that it’s something both of you are doing. I’ve known several promising collaborations that collapsed because one of the writers got so invested in his/her characters or plot twists that they absolutely refused to let the other writer change or invent anything. In a collaboration, no matter how much you love a character, plot twist, idea, style, chapter, prologue, background detail, etc., you are not the one in charge. You can argue, beg, plead, whine, and blackmail to get your collaborator to agree to take the story where you want it to go, but in the end, you both have to agree. There’s no point in winning the argument if it results in your collaborator being totally blocked because they just don’t think it would happen that way. If you can’t agree, you may need to take your lovely shiny plot/character/idea/whatever and turn it into your own solo book.
4) Collaborations are jointly owned. This means that unless you have a written agreement that spells out contingencies, each of you owns half the project, and neither of you can legally do anything with it (or with the characters, setting, elements of background, etc.) without the other’s permission. Much of the time, this is not important…but when it does become important, it is absolutely vital. And if you can’t manage to work out a basic agreement that says either of you can/can’t write about the world/characters without the other’s permission, and that if one of you dies, the other one gets full ownership/gets to make artistic and business decisions/can’t touch it again, then you probably aren’t going to manage a successful collaboration.
This is not about not trusting your collaborator. It’s about protecting both of you. People die; they get Alzheimer’s; they lose interest; they go haring off after possibly-brilliant but incompatible alternatives (“Why don’t we change everything to stream-of-consciousness and make this into a pastiche of Ulysses?”). I’ve known several authors who’ve had to abandon months or even years of work because they didn’t bother making a written agreement, and others who’ve avoided serious potential problems because they had it all spelled out in advance.
Most of the failed collaborations I’ve observed or been involved in have failed for artistic, rather than monetary, reasons. One writer lost interest, or discovered that they couldn’t slow down/speed up to the other writer’s working speed, or got so fascinated by a character or plot twist that they wanted to make it the center of the story (and in at least one case, they went off and did so, with the erstwhile collaborator’s blessing). Or one writer discovered that he/she was so invested in her/his vision of the story or characters or background that he/she couldn’t let the collaborator contribute or make changes.
5) Not all collaborations go to completion. Based on my experience, most of them don’t. It’s OK to start one that’s supposed to be strictly for fun (that’s how Kate and Cecy got going, after all. We didn’t know it was a book until after we finished; we thought we were just having a whale of a good time.)
Which brings me to the last point: if you are not having big fun, collaborating may not be worth the aggravation. And it will be aggravating at times – when your partner is late with their next draft, when she doesn’t have time to meet and work out that little plot-problem you need to settle, when he wants you to meet at an inconvenient time, when they are excited and you’re feeling worn down (or vice versa). It can be fun anyway. If it isn’t, it’s OK to talk it over with your partner and agree to stop.