Category: Writing as a Team

Two people writing as a team can have advantages over soloist authors. But to have a fruitful writing partnership we must adopt a process that utilizes our strengths, and we need a relationship that’s strong enough to support the endeavor. Here’s where we explore the matter from various angles.

Level Up!

Last night we (finally) passed the 100,000 word mark in Grandson of Science Novel. It feels great, even though we aren’t quite finished. As we mentioned many times, Jen had it in her head that we’d reach this milestone by the end of 2017, which puts us a month and a half behind her (totally arbitrary) deadline. She went into a bit of a tailspin when it became clear we wouldn’t hit the target, and Kent had to step in and take over as head cheerleader and whip-cracker. It’s a good thing he did. It kept us moving forward, and we’ve made a lot of progress.

But we’re still not done. Son of Science Novel came in a bit short for our tastes, but this one is on track to be about 120,000 words, which is a very comfortable place to be. We still have about 20 scenes to write. They’re stubbed and ready to go. We should get to the end pretty soon.

“Pretty soon” is a hard concept for Jen to deal with. She craves a yardstick by which to measure our progress. We do our writing in a program called Scrivener, which has a cool tool that lets you set your word count target and deadline. It then calculates how many words you need to produce per work session to meet your goal. While Jen needed a target, we knew she would be some combination of depressed, frustrated, and furious if we missed another one on this project. Our solution was to set the bar comically low. We chose a deadline way, way too far in the future, which puts the bar we have to clear each night so low that we basically can’t help but trip over it. There have been a few days where we bruised our ankles, but in general we’ve been pole-vaulting way over it.

Having a writing partner means having someone to share the load so that you don’t always have to be the one in the driver’s seat.

Where’d That Come From?

Jen cleaned off her desk on Thursday, and in addition to shaming Kent into promising to tackle his this weekend, it’s made the Writing Cave look really fucking weird, man. We aren’t hoarders or anything, but we are both nesters. Our desks are clutter magnets. When Kent left for work the Cave was its usual comfortably chaotic self. When he got home, he flipped the light switch and a gave a little (very masculine) scream that Jen found very satisfying.

In the course of cleaning, Jen came across several steno pads of notes for upcoming projects. Skimming through them brought a little thrill. She also found some nuggets of gold scrawled on loose papers and transcribed them into the proper steno pads. In the spirit of organization, mind you. Not because she wanted to sit down for a while and the ideas were really good and reading them sparked all kinds of creative juices. That was just a happy side effect.

We’re almost to the point where we can see the light at the end of the tunnel with the first draft of Grandson of Science Novel. It doesn’t feel ridiculous to start looking ahead a bit, and it doesn’t feel like torture either. Those new characters and ideas can come off the bench and do a few warm-up laps. It’ll be their turn very soon.

The piles on Kent’s desk are a bit taller than Jen’s were, a bit more precarious. We’re not in danger of him being squished or getting lost, but if he doesn’t take steps soon he won’t have room for his coffee mug beside his keyboard. And you do not want to know what that would be like. None of us do. Shudder.

It will be exciting to see what gems his excavations uncover.

There’s a metaphor in here somewhere about keeping your mind organized so that you don’t lose your ideas, but it seems a little obvious, no?

Having a writing partner means having someone around who occasionally makes you organize your shit, but it’s totally worth it.


Our regular readers know by now that we’re obsessive plotters. Our process includes multiple stages of outlining in an assortment of often colorful formats. Saves a lot of wear and tear on the seats of our pants.

And yet. Sometimes plot-related issues try to slip past us. Most commonly, for us, it’s some form of magical knowledge on the part of a character: the author knows that Chadwick Q Badguy, esq, didn’t commit the kidnapping, thus Detective Main C Haracter never thinks to ask for his alibi.

A form of this cropped up in our WIP (Grandson of Science Novel). Or, at least Jen thought so for a few minutes. Without getting spoilery about it, there’s an event that depends on there being no one home. No one was, of course, but how would the perpetrators know? The worry was that they seemed to take it for granted, as if the author had tipped them off.

Thinking it through in light of all the details we’re withholding from you, Jen determined that the nefarious deeds made sense as we had them after all. But she brought the matter up with Kent all the same. Because that’s what you do when you have a writing partner: you share your concerns. And your partner sets you straight if necessary, making the work stronger. In this case, Kent confirmed his partner’s reasoning. But it still makes the work stronger, because it deepens both of our understanding of the story.

There’s no substitute for talking story issues through with a partner.


Progress Update II: The Progressening

We’re still rolling forward on Grandson of Science Novel. Well, Jen is. Her current scene, and the next couple after that, are our current bottleneck. So Kent’s occupied with comments from earlier in the story.

Eagle-eyed readers will note that we didn’t say “earlier in this book,” and in fact the comments in question apply to Son of Science Novel. The three Science Novels are all one massive story, collectively, and because we embarked on the writing of books two and three back-to-back it has really felt like we’re writing a single 200-kiloword tome. It’s interesting to revisit stuff from the middle book, now that we’ve gotten to know the characters that much better. The ability to do that is one of the reasons we structured the project as we did, so that we could take advantage of opportunities to tie all three books together more tightly.

That’s just one of the ways we try to go the extra mile. We do it for you, to give you a story world that extends beyond the edge of the page.

Keeping Up the Momentum

Spoiler: we missed our deadline.

But, things are moving forward. Our productivity has been decent, even if it never approached the rarified levels we would have needed in order to hit that mark we set for ourselves.

With a writing partner, you can get double the bandwidth. The thing is, it takes some careful planning to get your work set up to take advantage of it. If you’re each going to work on certain scenes, you have consider what order things need to be written in. Scenes don’t always need to be done chronologically, but it’s easier to avoid continuity gaffes when they are.

This can lead to bottlenecks, such as when Kent hits a cluster of tightly interconnected scenes that will have a big impact on the next cluster, which Jen will write. How do you both keep working when you run into this situation?

Here in the Writing Cave, we have a couple of different strategies. Sometimes one of us will grab a scene that’s far removed from the current bottleneck zone. Sometimes there are tasks that make up our process (such as writing stubs) that advance the project even if they’re not adding to the manuscript’s word count. And we always have tons of placeholders and margin notes from earlier in the story, and it’s good to get some of those picked off. That goes against the “never look back until it’s finished” advice you often hear. And if you feel like it could get you bogged down and you’d never make it back to the leading edge of your WIP, then don’t put yourself at risk. All we can say is it works for us, at this point.

Writing with a partner means you need a process that treats the project as a team endeavor.

Like Sands Through the Hourglass

December is coming to a close, which means it’s time for our annual Year in Review post, 2017 edition.

At the beginning of the year we rather optimistically predicted that we might finish up both Son and Grandson of Science novel, and at least get a start on the third Music novel. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! We were so fucking naive!

While we did manage to get the last two Divided Man books polished and released, we didn’t even come close to finishing the Science novels. Jen was already frustrated at our lack of completion last year, so just imagine how thrilled she is now that it’s a whole year later and we’re still not done!

So what did we accomplish, if not everything on our wish list?

In January we had a belated launch party for Miss Brandymoon’s Device, and fretted a bit about what we would do once we finished writing our current trilogy of trilogies. February was spent editing various Divided Man books.

March brought the release of Tenpenny Zen. Yay! 

In April we seem to have wrapped up the first draft of Son of Science Novel, and were somewhat disappointed by its size. In the months since, we have added a bit more to it and, you’ll be relieved to learn, it now checks in at just a hair over 104,000 words. That’s still a bit slight, but is much less frightening. It’s now closer in size to its Mama.

Along with flowers, May brought major edits to Elsewhere’s Twin, and an important decision about the Music novels. And some delicious Greek food.

June was full of chainsaws — real ones, this isn’t an editing metaphor. When we got done bitching about that, we diagnosed some of what was missing from Son of Science Novel and finally got started composing Grandson.

By early July we’d already banged out 11,000 words for Grandson, which begs the question of why it’s still not done. Some of the blame should lay with Elsewhere’s Twin, which needed more edits before its release.

In August we took a road trip to attend a concert, and had a wonderful time. The band was great, and we used the car time to brainstorm ideas for the Middle Music novel. We also topped 20,000 words on Grandson of Science.

All we could talk about in September was the release of Elsewhere’s Twin. Have you seen the gorgeous cover? Our first trilogy is complete! We felt quite the feeling of accomplishment. We’re very proud of those books and all the work that went into them.

October had the new novel’s word count at 40,000, which is nothing to sneeze at. It also had us jetting off to Europe, which we didn’t talk about until November because we like to keep you guessing. And as soon as we got back from overseas, we turned right around and ran off to a writing conference.

And here we are again, back in December. Grandson of Science Novel is sitting pretty at 70,000+ words, which many people would consider novel-length. Just not us. Apart from that being far too short to fit in with our other work, we’re nowhere near done telling the story we set out to tell.

Our 2017 was quite successful, with the editing and publishing of two novels, the completion of a third, and a really good start on a fourth. Just try telling Jen that. She needs to recalibrate her expectations to be more in line with reality, and Kent is doing his best to help her with that. Maybe 2018 will be the year she finally gets it figured out.

A Progress Report from the Writing Cave

We passed the 60k milestone this week on Grandson of Science Novel, which is great! Of course, that leaves us only three weeks to hit our target of 100k by year’s end. Which would take an average of 2000 words per day. That’s only 1000 words apiece (have we ever mentioned that having a writing partner offers many advantages?), but that’s every day, and it’s significantly more than the pace we’ve been on. Like, very significantly. Back when work started on this one, we ran some numbers and came up with a plan that felt perfectly reasonable. And now, here we are, with nearly half of the book remaining to write and less than a month to do it.

So we’re a little stressed about missing our deadline. Life keeps getting in the way. We have all kinds of excuses, and we think most of them are pretty good. Unfortunately, we haven’t come up with the excuse that’s so good it lets us hit our deadline after all.

Thing about this deadline is, we imposed it on ourselves. Rune Skelley sets Rune Skelley’s schedule. So the consequences for blowing it are rather abstract. Assuming we do end up blowing it, we’ll miss out on the satisfaction of attaining it. And, the longer it takes us to write a book, the longer the gaps between our releases.

Setting goals and deadlines for yourself is vital for being able to measure progress, and even without a mean boss glaring at your tardiness, you need to take these things seriously. You need discipline, and you need to protect your writing time. You just can’t let deadline stress ruin the joy of creation.

It’s Good to Get Out — of the Country

The Writing Cave has been very quiet lately, because no one has been in it. Rune Skelley is only just returned from a seagoing tour of some of the birthplaces of Western thought.

We began in Venice, Italy. A fascinating and crowded place. If you go, wear your most comfortable shoes. Learning your way around the narrow, twisting streets (more like roofless hallways in some cases) is challenging, but finding Piazza San Marco is easy. If the crowds are getting denser, you’re headed toward San Marco. Also, there would seem to be exactly one music shop in Venice, and no two people will give you matching directions for how to reach it. We think it may be enchanted.

Next up: Dubrovnik, Croatia. A gorgeous place with a rich and tragic history (ancient and otherwise). It’s a major filming location for Game of Thrones, a show we don’t watch. But we know people who do, so now we get to tease them about this. Nearby is Cavtat, known as the Croatian Riviera. Due to extensive propaganda when we were young and impressionable, we had entirely the wrong image of Croatia in our minds. It has palm trees and crystalline waters. Some of the “roads” are… well, to call them inadequate would still imply that they qualify as roads in a meaningful way, and they don’t. How about, there are single-lane shared delusions that people drive on in both directions.

Then it was on to Kotor, Montenegro. Another ancient walled city with modern development surrounding it. The Montenegrin language is very similar to Croatian. Both are slavic languages. As one of our guides put it, the people from those countries can understand each other perfectly — when they want to. In Montenegro, we saw signage using three different alphabets (Latin, Montenegrin Latin, and Cyrillic). Sometimes more than one alphabet appeared on a single sign.

In Greece we visited Olympia and Athens. Our visit to the site of the original Olympic games was the day after the lighting of the torch. It was here that we started to slow down on taking pictures of olive trees, because we began to realize that they are everywhere. We visited a farm to learn about how they’re cultivated and processed, and had a nice feast and enough wine to get us dancing in public. We hit Athens during a strike that had the metro shut down, meaning the traffic was even worse than usual. But we still got to go up to the Acropolis and see the Parthenon. If you go, wear grippy shoes — the stones of the Acropolis are polished smooth and slick from the passage of millions of feet.

We bought lots of souvenirs and gifts. So many in fact that we needed to buy an extra suitcase to pack for the trip home. But the best item was one that we didn’t even have to pay for. The shopkeeper gave it to us for free when we bought something else at a store in Athens. It’s a CD of disco bouzouki music (stay with us) including, as a special bonus: recipes! Yes. Not a typo. And they gave us this treasure FOR FREE. We can’t promise such miracles will befall every visitor, but obviously we recommend that you go to Athens.

A writing partner is someone to help you see the world, and join you on inspiring journeys.

PS: back stateside, our rental car had this indispensable feature.

Happy Anniversary!

One year ago today we released our first novel, Miss Brandymoon’s Device. It’s been an exciting and momentous year for us. We’ve finally gotten our hard work out in front of an audience. The financial rewards are, so far, very modest. It’s the other, less tangible rewards that we’re basking in. We’ve racked up some reviews, we’ve added newsletter subscribers, we’ve enjoyed conversations with our readers. It’s been a really busy year, but an incredibly satisfying one.

Just a couple of weeks ago we released our third novel, Elsewhere’s Twin, in ebook format, and we’re thrilled to announce that it’s finally available in paperback, too. Since we’d been through the process twice before, we thought we were old pros. We thought that ordering a proof copy was a mere formality. So when the proof arrived and there was an issue with the cover it threw off our schedule. After a bunch of fiddling and phone calls and reformatting we finally have the cover looking how we want it. Which means it’s ready for you to enjoy!

Elsewhere’s Twin is the final book (so far) in our Divided Man series. Since we’re self-publishing, we do all the steps ourselves. Editing and polishing Divided Man has pulled us away from writing the new Science Novels more than we anticipated, and more than we like. We’re planning to slow our pace a little bit for the next set of releases so that we have ample time to make everything the best that we possibly can.

But right now we’re just basking a little bit in the glow of our accomplishment. Go Team Skelley!