Posted On February 24, 2012 by Print This Post

Writing as a Team by Robin Saxon & Alex Kidwell

I’m not sure how I stumbled across BLOOD HOWL by Robin Saxon and Alex Kidwell but I bought the book and settled in for a read one afternoon.  I finished the book hours later, grabbed something to eat and started re-reading it over again.  It had everything I like: strong characters, buckets of sexual tension, and smart, witty dialogue.  Then, I started to stalk  . . . umm . . .  friend . .  Alex & Robin on Facebook and I got little glimpses of their writing partnership and realized that their writing process was absolutely fascinating.  That’s when I knew I had to have them here at RU.

Note:  Today is Robin’s birthday so in honor of the special day, I’m giving away a copy of BLOOD HOWL to a lucky commenter.  Happy Birthday Robin!

Writing With a Partner:
It Takes Two to Make a Thing Go Right
Or Doing it Alone Will Make You Go Blind
by Robin Saxon and Alex Kidwell

The stereotypical image of a writer is a solitary one—a person hunched over a typewriter, frantically plinking away, capturing words on paper and ink, surrounded by an array of discarded coffee mugs and wine glasses. We see the author as a shut in, kept company by his creations and nothing more. Ideas exist in one brain, after all, and for many the idea of sharing the load of writing seems impossible.

We have been writing as a team for years. Our recent first novel, Blood Howl, and the next in the series, Blood in the Sand, were written completely in tandem. We may use two laptops—and two times the dirty mugs and wine glasses—and there might be two brains involved, but the story comes out as one cohesive whole. In our opinion, it makes our characters stronger, our plot-lines more varied, and our stories richer than if we’d worked alone.

We do, of course, have occasionally clashing ideas. We have long and wandering documents and notes on plotting, scribbled ideas by both of us, and though we usually run along the same lines of thought, we are two individuals with occasionally differing tastes. For example, one of us who shall remain nameless (Robin) occasionally enjoys watching horror movies and over the top action movies with no redeeming plots. While the other party enjoys medical soap operas and chick flicks with no shame at all. In our approaches to the writing side of entertainment we’re often the same—we combine short, to the point, well edited dialogue with often expansive narration. We take the two things we’re best at and allow those sides to combine, tempering each other and causing the end product to be better than its parts.

Which isn’t to say that we don’t want completely different things to happen in our books sometimes. A good example would be the recently finished Blood in the Sand. We wrote the opening chapter, and one of us liked the rather abrupt start that threw the readers right into the mystery, and the other thought we should start with a prologue instead.

So we had countless fights and neither of us refused to budge on the point at all because we loved our ideas too much. Eventually there was a slap-fest, an arm wrestling contest, and several jell-o shots. When we woke up in Fiji…

No, actually, we didn’t. Unfortunately. Fiji is quite nice! In reality, we talked it out, and decided that instead of pushing our separate ideas, we should figure out which one served the story better. The idea of an abrupt start was a good one, we kept that. The thought of easing our reader back into a familiar setting—Redford and Jed working together—also seemed to show rather than tell the progress of their relationship over the months between the last book and this one. We wrote that prologue, the one that incorporated the things both of us were hoping to achieve, and both of us loved it.

So you want to try it? Writing with a partner, or multiple partners, is a bit like sex. No, really, it is. It requires communication, forethought, more communication, the ability to laugh, and no egos. You have to be focused on the point of why you’re doing what you’re doing rather than your own individual wants or needs or goals. The only way everyone gets off and happy is if you are willing to work together. So here’s a few things we’ve learned.

1. Find a way that you can easily write together. For us, Google Documents is an invaluable tool, it allowed us to type simultaneously in the same document. It also allows us to sit back and lazily watch the other person typing. The great thing about is that it’s saved not on one hard drive but as part of the Google cloud, so you can access it from any computer, anywhere. And unless Google suddenly loses all of their money, there’s no chance of losing your manuscript.

It doesn’t have to be that, though! Anything—a pad of paper, a shared napkin, sitting next to each other with your laptops at a coffee house. Whatever gets you working at the same time at the same place in the story. It is possible to write chunks yourself and put them in a doc for feedback, but be wary of doing that to a huge extent. It’s a bit like painting one section of your wall and then a week later painting an adjoining section. Even if you use the exact same color of paint, it could dry slightly differently and you’ll always be able to see the seam.

2. Identify each others strengths and weaknesses and work with them. This step requires one to be rather ruthless in your view of yourself, but it’s worth it in the end. For us, one of us tends to write too short and too much to the point, and the other says in three sentences what could be said in one. One of us is absolutely terrible at coming up with plots, one of us should not be allowed to name things (see: the title of our article). But we balance. Where one goes on and on, the other can help with brevity. We work on plots together, we take a critical eye to how realistic our narration is.

3. Talk about everything. No, really. Everything. Plot points, character backgrounds, motivations, anything that’s even tangentially relevant to your book, you have to discuss. This is a person you trust, presumably, or you wouldn’t be writing with them. So they need to know your character or plot ideas or story motivations as well as you do. You can’t keep book-related secrets from your writing partner. If the character you’re bringing to the table has a long lost sister whose disappearance is the reason they’re afraid of water, your writing partner should know that, even if said sister is never mentioned or made reference to. Why? Because you’re not writing alone, nor are you only responsible for your ideas, your characters. In the course of the project, what was yours or theirs becomes blurred together until it’s simply ours. That’s the point of this kind of writing. It’s not just your head anymore, it’s yours and your partner’s, and that means your ideas get to become bigger, bolder, more filled out. Ideas you never would have thought of now are integrated with your own, and the entire world you’ve envisioned gets new boarders, new horizons, until it’s something else entirely.

4. No egos. This one is simple, but it’s the most important. What might start off as Person A’s idea should, eventually, become an idea you both love. If you find yourself really attached to an idea that you think is great, but your writing partner doesn’t, you can’t cling to that idea and insist that it absolutely happens—if you write like that, your book will become a series of A’s ideas and B’s ideas, and sometimes that doesn’t flow all that well.

We resolve differing ideas by figuring out what serves the story best. That, for us, is the most crucial thing about writing, and it’s what makes a book flow. We incorporate parts of A’s idea, and parts of B’s idea, until it becomes one, cohesive plot point or scene. If you’re that passionate about an idea, try it out. But also listen to your partner’s feedback. Find out what you really find so important about your idea. Is it a mood you’re trying to capture? An idea you feel you should get across? A plot point you think should be incorporated at that juncture? Communicate all of that to your partner, not just that your idea is what you want to happen but why and what you’re trying to achieve. Listen to their reasons why they don’t agree and then come to a consensus.

Once, an interviewer asked us who won more of the fights in how Blood Howl came together. The answer was it was never about winning. It wasn’t about whose idea it was. All roads have to lead to the characters, staying true to them, and the story we’re trying to tell. If one of us disagreed, we found out why, we talked about how to accomplish those things, and we found an answer that wasn’t one or the other, but both.

We get a lot of questions about how exactly we managed to sit down and write Blood Howl together. A lot of people seem completely mystified that we managed to do it without breaking out into mud wrestling. In reality, the idea of how we’d write the book started very differently. We thought that Robin would write Redford’s chapters, and that Alex would write Jed’s chapters, but it didn’t turn out that way at all. As we started writing the first chapter, one of us would write a partial sentence, and the other would fill the rest of that sentence out. One would write the start of a paragraph, the other would finish it.

It’s true that the idea of the character of Redford, originally, came from Robin’s mind, like the character of Jed was Alex’s idea. But we know both of those characters as if they were both our own, because we talk about them. A lot.

In the end, Blood Howl and its characters, all of them, are from both of us. The original concept of Jed was very different from how he turned out in the book. The same for Redford and David and Victor—we began as two individuals with separate concepts of how things would go and we ended as one cohesive unit, writing a story that came out of both of us. And for us, it turned out to be one that was bigger than either one of us imagined on our own, deeper than we could have written singularly.

There are many reasons to write alone. For many people, it works, and it works well. For us, though, writing together lets us achieve things and drive each other to better places than we would have reached alone. If you’re thinking about taking the plunge into writing with others, we believe that with a little work, it can be an entirely satisfying experience.

***

Have you ever considered writing as a team?  If you’ve done it, what was your experience? Do you have any questions for Robin and Alex?

Harlequin Special Editions author Lynne Marshall is here with us on Monday. See you then!

***

Bio:

Robin Saxon and Alex Kidwell live in the Midwest with their two cats. They spend their time between writing, pursuing nerdy interests, and taming lions. And by taming lions, we mean watching documentaries about people that film lions. They also spend an inordinate amount of time looking up recipes for new baking ideas, and cocktails.

You can find Robin & Alex on their blog, Robin’s Facebook page and Alex’s Facebook page.

BLOOD HOWL: Gun for hire Jed Walker doesn’t figure it for a difficult job—a simple smash and grab retrieval—except his new client doesn’t want money or goods. He wants shy, gorgeous Redford Reed, a man who turns Jed’s world upside down inside a day. He is in no way prepared to fall hard and fast for his newest assignment.

Redford Reed lives his life locked in his grandmother’s house, haunted by a terrible curse and watching the world pass him by until Jed shows up, sent by a man who will stop at nothing to claim Redford as his own. Teaming up with Jed is Redford’s only chance at survival, but as the violence escalates, so does the tension between them. Even though they each finally have something to live for, now it’s going to take all Jed’s skill and every bit of courage Redford has just to stay alive.

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Discussion

31 Responses to “Writing as a Team by Robin Saxon & Alex Kidwell”

  1. Welcome to RU, Alex and Robin! Sounds like you have a great system down. Love your cover.

    Posted by Tracey Devlyn | February 24, 2012, 4:56 am
    • Thanks Tracey! Alex and I were delighted to be offered a chance to appear here.

      And thank you, although compliments about the cover don’t really go to us, I suppose. The cover artist is the talented Anne Cain.

      Posted by R. Saxon | February 24, 2012, 5:18 am
  2. Alex & Robin – Welcome! So glad to have you here.

    I have a logistical question – do you schedule your writing time and is it always at the same time?

    Posted by Robin Covington | February 24, 2012, 5:31 am
    • First, thank you for the birthday wishes! I’ve eaten a ridiculous amount of chocolate so far, which is compulsory for every birthday, I believe.

      Our schedule for writing is basically ‘whenever we’re both on our computers’, though when we’re getting serious about putting out a decent word count, we do sometimes schedule. We always write at the same time, too–it helps to keep the tone the same, and it keeps us on the same wavelength.

      Posted by R. Saxon | February 24, 2012, 5:41 am
    • We’re so happy to be here! It’s a great way to spend Robin’s birthday.

      Both Robin and I are very emotion-based writers. In other words, if we’re not feeling it in a particular moment, we’ve found it does us no good to force writing. We took a long break in the middle of writing our latest, Blood in the Sand, because we were finding that being burnt out was not doing our writing any favors. So while we don’t ‘schedule’ time per say unless, as Robin said, we’re making a concentrated effort for a word count, we do tend to devote all our spare time to writing when we’re in the midst of a book.

      Robin is from New Zealand originally, with family now in Australia. There were times during the writing of both Blood Howl and Blood in the Sand we were not only in two different places, but two entirely different time zones. Australia’s morning would be evening here in the States and vice versa. We wrote through that as well. Really, it just comes down to being willing to make time, even if it’s only a few minutes, even if you’re just trying to get out the next few paragraphs.

      Posted by Alex Kidwell | February 24, 2012, 6:28 am
  3. Oh! A little birdie . . . okay, it was Facebook . . . told me that it is Robin’s birthday today!

    Since I can’t give cake on the Interweb, I can give out a present. In honor of this occasion – I’ll give one lucky commenter a copy of BLOOD HOWL.

    Happy day to you, Robin!

    Posted by Robin Covington | February 24, 2012, 5:34 am
  4. Hi Robin and Alex,

    I wouldn’t recommend myself as a partner. Patience is my least favorite virtue. An understanding, saintly writing partner would be great. I would do the end and she could do the rest.

    Happy Birthday!

    Mary Jo

    Posted by Mary Jo Burke | February 24, 2012, 7:21 am
    • Hi Mary Jo! Thank you for the birthday wishes :)

      Patience, at least, isn’t the most important quality for writing with a partner, I’d say. Sure, you do have to wait to write sometimes because it’s better to write at the same time, but I reckon the ability to just relax and have fun while writing is way more important.

      Plus, hey, you already know one of your strengths! I’m rubbish at writing endings on my own, I fret way too much. Thankfully, Alex is really good at them.

      Posted by R. Saxon | February 24, 2012, 7:35 am
  5. My friend Shelley and I write women’s fiction as a team. We split things up a little differently–she plots, and I do the writing. I call her my Evil Plotting Genius, because she thinks of plot twists that would never occur to me. And I take the 50-75 pages of detailed plot she gives me and I (hopefully) turn it into a 300-page book by fleshing out the characters and giving more depth to the plot points. Sometimes I follow her plots closely, sometimes my fingers end up turning in a different direction and we work from there to reconcile it. As I write, I send her finished sections and she makes her comments, and we adjust things if necessary. It works very well for us.

    Posted by Linda | February 24, 2012, 8:09 am
  6. Morning Alex! Happy Birthday Robin!

    I’m amazed that anyone can collaborate on a book – I’m assuming you are both plotters? I would drive a writing partner crazy in mere moments with my non-existent plotting skills, I’m afraid. Outside of mud wrestling, how do you decide what is best for the story? Is it an ego-buster?

    carrie

    Posted by Carrie Spencer | February 24, 2012, 8:52 am
    • Hi Carrie! And thank you, it’s been an awesome birthday so far.

      Alex is much more of a plotter than I am. When I think of stories, it tends to be situations, such as “it would be interesting if this misanthropic arrogant character was in the middle of a post-apocalyptic car race for the rights to own a crazy rundown bar” (for example – not actually something I’ve written). Alex is the person that thinks “Situation A happens, which leads to B, Character One reacts in a certain way which leads to C.” Occasionally I have my moments of being able to plot something out, but it happens fairly rarely. Alex saves my writing life!

      As for deciding what’s best for the story, it really depends on the situation and what exactly we disagree over. If it’s something as simple as, “Should we include a sex scene here,” we figure out if we’ve had one recently, if it works with the flow, etc. If it’s more specific, to do with plot or character, we go back to our plot outline and figure out which of our ideas fits in better. In the end, the most important thing to us is that our story flows right and works, as logically as a fiction book can.

      We’ve been tempted to mud wrestle a few times, though. Then again, who HASN’T been tempted to mud wrestle, I ask you?

      Posted by R. Saxon | February 24, 2012, 9:16 am
  7. Hi Alex and Robin. Happy Birthday, Robin! Thank you for hanging out with us today.

    I love the sex analogy. It made me laugh out loud.Perfect analogy!

    I’m embarking on co-writing a story as we speak and you’ve given me a great idea with Google Docs. Thanks!

    Posted by Adrienne Giordano | February 24, 2012, 9:04 am
  8. Alex & Robin –

    Thanks so much for being here today. And Robin – happy, happy birthday!

    I think I’d love to have a partner who’s a stronger plotter than I am. Think I could find someone on Craigslist? LOL

    Did the two of you always know you wanted to write together?

    Kelsey

    Posted by Kelsey Browning | February 24, 2012, 9:52 am
    • Hi Kelly, and thank you! Spending my birthday talking to fellow authors is pretty neat.

      We’ve actually been writing together for years (non-professionally, before Blood Howl)–back when we were just friends, before we got together, even–and it happened somewhat accidentally. We were writing our own things, short stories and the like, we started sharing ideas for plots and characters, and then we wound up trying out writing together. We’re very, very lucky in that we wound up with our strengths and weaknesses complimenting each other!

      Posted by R. Saxon | February 24, 2012, 10:04 am
  9. I’m always interested and intrigued when books are co-authored. I can’t imagine writing with anyone else myself.

    It’s fascinating to read about your process – thanks so much for sharing with us!

    Posted by Becke Davis (Becke Martin) | February 24, 2012, 10:07 am
  10. Back again guys – and feel free to not answer if it is too personal.

    How does the writing and personal life work? Does it impact each other or can you keep them separate?

    I ask b/c I had friends who tried to co-write and it ruined the friendship when it just didn’t work.

    Posted by Robin Covington | February 24, 2012, 12:30 pm
    • Haha, interesting question, Robin, and one I’d actually never really thought about! I suppose I didn’t need to, because writing is, in a way, part of our personal life.

      It’s something we’re both enthusiastic about, a passion we both share, a goal that we’re both driving towards. We are, of course, very lucky that we work well together, as we discovered when we started writing non-professionally together. I think if we’d discovered that we DIDN’T write well together, the step to writing a novel would have never happened.

      Posted by R. Saxon | February 24, 2012, 5:11 pm
    • Definitely not too personal – writing is a huge part of who we are, both as individuals and a couple.

      Today, Robin and I were talking while I was at work, emailing back and forth. What started as an off hand joke between us suddenly turned into an epic idea for a trilogy, which then spun off into another idea for a historical romance, which came back around to a third idea for a character. It’s not that all we do is talk about writing, but very often conversations we have will spawn ideas. Writing is not just something we do, it’s part of how we relax, how we have fun, how we spend time together as a couple. I always say that we’ll be writing until we’re 100 because we have so many ideas, so many things we want to do together.

      I know I am extremely lucky to have found my total soulmate; Robin completes me in every aspect of our lives. We couldn’t -not- write together. It’s just who we are. For us, trying not to write would hurt the relationship.

      We’re unique, maybe, but for us, writing together has only made us stronger as best friends and as partners.

      Posted by Alex Kidwell | February 24, 2012, 5:19 pm
  11. Hi Robin & Alex!

    I think it’s fantastic that you can write a book together. I know I’d make a co-writer insane with my need to tweak.

    Do you have a crit partner to read your manuscripts or do you go over each other’s work?

    Thanks for being with us today!

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | February 24, 2012, 4:45 pm
    • Hi Jennifer!

      We can be big tweakers as well, we just have to tell each other, “No, the final publisher edit is done, you can’t change the wording in that sentence.”

      Mostly we go over the manuscript ourselves. Recently, with finishing Blood in the Sand, we did so separately – I did the first round of edits, then Alex took a turn, and then we looked it over together. However, since it’s obviously hard to be objective when you’ve written something, we also have a crit partner we send the manuscript off to when it’s ‘done’ with our edits, and he’s a source of invaluable advice.

      Posted by R. Saxon | February 24, 2012, 5:07 pm
    • Also, to piggyback off what my better half said, we have a saying that a good friend of mine once told me. It’s become our motto and it’s how we keep sane.

      “Write with fire, edit with ice.”

      When we write, we have a firm and fast rule to never, ever go back and edit. If we need to make notes about things to change later, if we need to highlight things that absolutely must be changed, fine. But while we’re writing, our focus is on that, on our muses, on the story we’re progressing. We don’t let ourselves self-edit because both Robin and I are the type of people who would get stuck in this never ending cycle of self-edits until we just burned ourselves out on the first chapter.

      After the book is complete, we go back and edit. And yes, that is where we have to hold each other’s hand and say ‘do we -really- need to rewrite that sentence for the third time’? Trusting our editors has been a learning process for us, but I’ll admit, having an outside crit partner is turning out to be very helpful.

      Posted by Alex Kidwell | February 24, 2012, 5:22 pm
  12. Linda – you are the winner of the copy of BLOOD HOWL! Contact me a robin@romanceuniversity and I’ll get it to you.

    Posted by Robin Covington | February 27, 2012, 7:04 pm

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