I have always been a solitary writer. But not all writing is solitary. There are many writers who do team writing, some under a single composite name. Then there are the ghost writers whose great contributions go unrewarded while some (usually famous) person gets the accolades that come with sole authorship.
I recently embarked on a team writing project. How I managed to entangle myself in such a venture is still a mystery to me, but it began with a conversation that went something like this:
“Mommy, can I write a book with you?”
“Sweetie, Mommy writes books for adults not eight year old kids.”
“But maybe we can write a kids’ book now and when I get older I can write romance just like you.”
(Blush, blush, blush) “I’ll think about.”
A few weeks later my first team writing project was on the way. It was a science adventure novel, written for children eight to twelve years old. My co-author: my eight year old daughter.
We first started out brainstorming, and boy was my daughter excited and full of ideas. I must admit, I thought her excitement would have fizzled the moment we began writing the manuscript, so I began the first chapter on my own. I discussed the chapter with her and was surprised when she started making recommendations, contributing to the ideas and rearranging the chapter. Then one day I returned from work and found her on my laptop. When I asked her what she was doing, she proudly showed me what she added to the manuscript… all three sentences. It took her a few hours.
We sloshed through it for about a month, writing back and forth, discussing everything until the third chapter. Then we hit a dead end. Weeks went by without either of us touching the manuscript. That’s when I realized what was missing: an outline. As a solitary writer, my outline is written in my head. But my co-author cannot read my mind. So I sat down and carefully planned out the concepts I wanted covered and wrote a detailed outline of the book. Excitedly I showed it to my co-author.
With a shrug of her shoulders, she responded “ok,” before returning to her video game.
I ploughed along anyway. Having a good outline, I wrote the book within a week. With great excitement I shared the rough draft with my co-author. She immediately started critiquing: “This chapter is too long; I want first graders to be able to read it; the sentences are too complex; how would they know where in the cell they are? Kids aren’t allowed at the museum of Natural History unsupervised...”
Her critique was quite valued and I gladly made the changes. But by the sixth chapter (there are ten chapters), she lost interest. Getting her to even read the rest was a challenge. I threatened to remove her name from the book. After all, how could an author not be interested in the book they have written?
So I share this longwinded preamble to ask the question: What defines team writing? Do both authors have to contribute 50/50 to the writing, editing etc? Is it a matter of idea sharing?
I am going to summarize my daughter’s contribution and then my contribution and then I’ll ask you to be the judge.
My Daughter’s contribution:
• Orally suggesting scenarios to set up the story
• Ensuring that the language is age appropriate
• Ensuring that dialogue fits that of a nine year old American
• Critiquing sentence structure, chapter organization, chapter length
My contribution: All of my daughter’s contributions plus
• Writing the story
• Editing the story
• Revising the story
• Checking for scientific accuracy
• Researching the information
Based on this information, should this maunuscript be considered the product of a team writing project or is my daughter’s contribution something that a critique group would do worth only acknowledgement in the dedication? Should her name be included as a co-author on this project?
Finally, what would you do if you were writing as a team and your co-author isn’t contributing as much as you expect?