Posted by: Matt Q. McGovern | May 22, 2012

Pairing Up!

This is a concept that a lot of writers engage in, and there are various ways writers can pair up and work on a manuscript.

The most popular of these methods is called collaboration.  This is where two or more writers work together on the same book.  The roles and responsibilities of each writer have to be well understood early on for this to work best, and that includes who will be doing editing, etc.  Sometimes one of the group will actually be an editor, which allows the others to just concentrate on the writing.  This is a good combination and there are a number of published works that come from collaborating teams.

There are many challenges that come from collaboration, and each writer has to get to know the others in the group.  First time collaborators will have to work through these challenges.  Sometimes it’s best that the editor is the one to call the shots, which might make it easier on the other writers.  The writers have to be able to take a step back from their preferences, and patience is critical.  If the group can work together, they can get great work done.

Another example of pairing up is during the revision process.  The writer of a manuscript reads the work out loud to another writer, and they go slowly through it as they critique it.  This is an excellent opportunity for writers to catch things they wouldn’t have before they read it out loud.  While a writer can do this alone, the other writer can offer very valuable feedback during the revision.  This is an arduous process, and often the writer won’t go through the whole manuscript.  Sometimes reading just certain parts of the book are enough to give the writer enough information to go on before going through the rest of the manuscript by themselves.

Some of the things the writer learns (both writers learn, actually) during this process are invaluable.  They can talk about perspective of characters, dialogue, and even pace of the reading itself, etc.  The challenge is to remain patient as they go through the manuscript, and to allow the listening writer to stop the reading at any time.  This is an intense session but worth it.

The last example of pairing up I want to discuss is a favorite of many writing groups.  This is where two writers begin a scene from scratch, and just take it wherever it goes.  It’s a great opportunity to get the creative juices flowing.  It’s important to keep a rough draft in mind for this exercise, as editing/revising as you type would be counter productive.

There are different ways to do this.  One way is to let one writer “drive” (type) while the other talks about the scene they are both creating.  For this to work, the one driving needs to let the other direct the scene.  Another way (and fun) is to let each writer type in alternating turns.  Either a time limit or number of paragraphs/pages can be the determining factor when the writers switch.

The work that they are creating doesn’t need to be something that would be followed up, or it can be the basis for a future story.  The exercise is purely one that unlocks the mind and lets both writers have some fun without the pressure of making a polished work.

While it’s true that most writers tend to go it alone, the above methods are ways in which writers can help themselves out by working with someone else, and the process also creates bonding moments between writers.


  1. I’ve collaborated with several other writers on works of varying length from short stories to novels. In general these collaborations have worked out quite well — most have been published professionally. My main collaborator these days is my wife, author Grace Marcus. Writing as “Alan Grayce” we’ve had several short stories published and are currently working on a Middle Grade novel. As to how the collaborative process works, for short stories, at least, it seems that most often I have the idea germ, which results in a sketch of the story. This gets passed off to Grace, who fleshes it out, then passes it back. Another pass or two or three and the story is done. (The novel is taking longer, because we’re working hard on the plot and outline before we actually tackle the writing.) We’re very fortunate that we “get” each other and that our styles mesh. Normally I provide the plot and she works up the characters. You wouldn’t think that a genre writer (me) and a lover of women’s fiction (Grace) could provide commercially viable fiction, but there ya go!


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