The Chaotic Joy Of Co-Writing A Series

About a year ago my business partner and fellow indie author, Sim Alec Sansford, messaged me asking if I had ever considered writing a book with someone else. The answer was no. It had never occurred to me and I have always wondered how on earth writers manage collaborative writing projects. It just seemed far too complicated and not at all something I would ever want to try. Sim had an idea for a book and wondered if I would consider writing it with him. I think if anyone else had asked me I would have given an instant no. But Sim and I get on really well as business partners at Chasing Driftwood Writing Group and feel the same passion for writing and for our characters. I’d read some of his work and he’d read some of mine, and I had to admit, it felt like we could possibly pull it off.

So, I agreed. I figured, at the very least it would be an interesting experience and one I could learn from! Little was I to know how Sim’s tentative request and fledgling book idea would snowball!

Roughly a year later, we have completed two books in a paranormal YA series and we are currently racing towards the finish line of the final book in the trilogy. We never set out to write a series, but we soon realised that’s exactly what it was becoming.

I’ll probably blog again when the books are finished and I’ll spend more time telling you about them, but for now I just wanted to write about how the whole process has worked. Because it’s worked in a really strange and unexpected, dare I say, chaotic way!

So, as you probably already know, I have a certain process when I write a book. It goes a bit like this:

I get a character in my head who grows and grows until they get so real and so noisy, I have to start writing it down.

I start a notebook and start adding the ideas for a story, and it’s the character suggesting the ideas, not me.

When I’m able to start the book, I plan out a certain amount of chapters, write all my character bios, and get going.

I do any research along the way, as and when I need to. The first draft normally takes me about three months then I will spend probably about a year doing further drafts, edits and rewrites. By about draft 5 or 6 I will send it to beta readers and then do another rewrite/draft depending on what they said. Eventually it will go to my wonderful editor and proof-reader, then back to me for another round and then finally I will start to organise the publishing process.

Everything goes in the notebook, so I can have it there handy as I write and can jot down future ideas for chapters and scenes, character info and more. In my head at least, it’s kind of an organised process. It might look messy to anyone else, but it works well for me.

Writing books with another author has been so different!

We started off with good intentions and I even started a little notebook of ideas and character bios so we could keep track of who was who and so on. I also started writing chapter outlines to send back and forth so we could keep an eye on what we had written and ideas we had coming up.

All of this fell by the wayside though as the story took control!

Somehow, and I am really not sure how, we have managed to write almost three books in a year purely by swapping messages with each other on Facebook!

Initially Sim had a vague idea and we started creating a character each. He wanted to write the female character, Darcie and I wanted to write the male, JJ. I’m not sure when we decided that they would have super powers, but we did! I wrote the first chapter purely by instinct and luckily it seemed to be what Sim was thinking too. He quickly responded and off we went. Mostly it has been a really fast process, with us swapping chapters most days or every couple of days. We both work and write our own books too, so I am surprised we got so much done. We did keep each chapter fairly short and snappy and ended most on cliff hangers to set up the next chapter, so I guess we helped each other out a bit there! We really didn’t get too stuck too often.

Every time we read the other’s chapter, we would send a message asking what ideas would work in ours so we didn’t mess up the flow of scenes. We would both suggest stuff that could happen and with every chapter we wrote, more and more of the story unfolded before us. We got really excited and our messages reflect this! Once we got going, there was really no stopping us. We whizzed through the first two books and inevitably our original ideas grew more complex, we introduced more characters and storylines and sub-plots.

I think it’s fair to say that we are both totally in love with these characters we have created and the world they live in. We have created a strange little town called Fortune’s Well, which is loosely based on Sim’s childhood home of Dorchester. I recently visited Dorchester and was so excited to see in person some of the locations we have used in the books!

To start with we were both a bit nervous when writing the other person’s character into our chapter. But as the story grew and the characters evolved, we both felt we knew JJ and Darcie equally. Now I think it just feels natural to write both characters and we don’t feel we have to check with each other that we got their mannerisms or speech right.

So, the usual way I write books kind of fell aside and our original plans for writing these books also got left behind. Somehow we just muddled our way through using messages. I’m surprised it worked but there you are, we are nearly at the end of the trilogy and both of us are so excited to share it with everyone when it’s ready.

It’s been a really refreshing and fun addition to my writing life. Most evenings I work on my current WIP, but if I get sent a chapter from Sim, I will read it, digest it and then respond as soon as I have an idea. This way we have both managed to carry on with our own work as well as our co-writing project. Our series is so different to anything I have written before (paranormal, kids with super powers!!) and that’s been really exciting as well. We both love YA but I normally stick to gritty realism, so to dip into supernatural/paranormal/super powers territory has been the best fun ever. I really love this series and these characters and it’s inspired me to try these genres more in the future.

It’s been crazy, unexpected, exciting, challenging, messy, and above all else chaotic, but I have loved every moment of it. So much so, that we have already decided to work on another series together when this one is finished. This time its based on an idea I had that came from a short story I wrote. I think that if writing together worked once, there is every chance it will work again!

I will post about these books another time but for now, here is the blurb Sim came up with!

In the town of Fortune’s Well a dangerous storm is brewing, and two unsuspecting teenagers are standing right at the heart of it.

For JJ Carson, life has not been easy. His father is dead, his mother arrested for the murder, and he has been forced to live on the farm with his alcoholic uncle, Henry. Just when things could not get any worse, JJ discovers his living situation is not the only thing that makes him different from the other kids. A dark, swirling mist has made itself at home inside him and it is slowly changing him from the inside out.

Enter Darcie Duffield. Beautiful, popular, and incredibly misunderstood. Darcie is sick of the status quo and wants to make a difference. After a chance meeting with a strange boy at the river she becomes tangled in a web of lies and deceit as she tries to help save him from the darkness lurking within.

Why is this happening?

Where has it come from?

And why is Darcie the only one who can see it?

Writer’s Block is Really Your Friend (and you should listen to it)

Writer’s block is a horrible term I don’t even like to use. I think most writers hate the term and loathe the reality. We dread getting writer’s block but what does writer’s block even mean? How does it feel to be ‘blocked’ and what, if anything, is the ‘block’ trying to tell us?

I am very fortunate because writer’s block is not something I usually suffer from. I tend to have too many ideas, and too many projects on the go and my main problem is not enough time to do it all in! But recently the dreaded writer’s block struck and in fact I now realise it was with me for some time.

So, what is writer’s block? I think it can manifest itself in different ways. There is a block to ideas, when a writer quite simply can’t think of anything to write about. These writers tend to have big gaps between writing projects while they wait for the muse to show up again. There are blocks that happen mid-flow – one minute you are tapping away at the keyboard and then suddenly it all runs out. Your mind goes blank and you cannot conjure up the next words. There is also what I call plot blocks. Basically, you get stuck. You don’t know what to do next with the plot. Maybe you had it all planned out but now can’t figure out how to do it, or maybe you were winging it from the start and just ran out of steam. I’m not sure what type of block is the worst but I am more than familiar with the dread of sitting down and staring at a blank Word document.

Image by Steve Johnson from Pixabay

The block I’ve been suffering from was none of the above, not really. My current work in progress is a four book YA post-apocalyptic series. I had the idea a few years ago and it had to wait its turn. During that time I started a little notebook of themes, ideas and character bios. I always knew this one was going to be a challenge. I love the post-apocalyptic genre as you might already know from my post here: https://chantelleatkins.com/2021/07/02/post-apocalyptic-fascination/. From the start, I had this feeling that the series was a good idea but someone else would be able to do a better job with it than me. I don’t normally feel like that about my book ideas. I’m usually hugely protective and obsessed with them so I would never consider offering or suggesting the idea to someone else. But this one niggled from the start.

I started book one about a year ago but had to keep stopping to get other books finished and published. I was initially quite surprised with how well it went. The first chapters flew out of me effortlessly and were exactly what I wanted. I genuinely think the first few chapters of book one are excellent and I’m proud of them. It got harder after that. It became a slog!

And that’s the difference between these books and my others. Aside from my YA dystopian The Tree Of Rebels, all of my books follow a familiar pattern. I get the character first, they suggest the plot, back story, dilemma and so on. It builds in my head and everything flows from the characters until my head gets so noisy it feels like it will explode. By the time I get around to writing it it almost writes itself because I know it all so well. It’s not hard. It’s fun. It’s addictive and exciting. I normally cannot wait to sit down at my desk and tap away. Sure, I get stuck here and there and some parts are trickier than others, and first drafts are always a clumsy affair, but I still love it and believe in it.

With these books it has been hard work. I’ve forced myself to write a chapter a night most nights and with that work ethic I have managed to write the first two books and even get them to fourth draft stage. I am now nearing the end of the first draft of book three. I know what will happen in book four so it is all getting there. But it is so painful! When I say I force myself, I really do. I stare at the screen for ages. I nearly always get distracted by my phone, checking social media or emails or playing a game. Because it’s hard and I don’t like it being hard!

The trouble has been not understanding why it has been so hard and the other day I finally worked it out. As I mentioned earlier the only other book I had this trouble with was The Tree of Rebels. And there are similarities with this series – The Tree Of Rebels came from a concept first. I had the idea and then built the characters around it. The other similarity I only just realised was that I started writing that book and this series with an audience in mind. I knew The Tree Of Rebels would be a YA dystopian. It was great knowing that because then I’d know who to market it towards. Normally it’s a struggle to figure out what genre my books are! With this series, I knew it would be YA post-apocalyptic and with both The Tree Of Rebels and this series I wanted to aim them at 12-14 year olds. That’s the younger YA age bracket to my other books. I have some books aimed at adults and some aimed at 14 years and up. With The Tree Of Rebels I wanted to write a book my children could read at the time and with this current series I wanted to write a book the children who attend my writing clubs could maybe enjoy…

And that was the trouble! That was the block! When I realised it was like this light bulb eureka moment! Now I can’t believe it took me so long to figure it out!

Having the idea before the characters was a problem but the main problem was deciding who to aim it at before I even started writing. It’s like having someone watch over your shoulder the whole time and it totally changes the experience for me. I start thinking about what elements are expected in that genre and what things are suitable or appropriate for the age group. It ruins the process. I feel like I am writing a book to order, writing for someone else, and that just doesn’t work for me.

I realised that the age group was a real problem. There is a big difference between books aimed at ‘tweens’ and books aimed at older teenagers. I didn’t feel I could swear in this series and it’s just not as gritty or hard hitting as my other books. It’s just not me.

But all that is going to change. Once I figured out what was causing the writer’s block I made a decision. I’m now going to aim the series at the older YA audience and I am going to do what I normally do. Let rip, let them swear, go as dark and gritty and edgy as I like! I am going to write these books for me and no one else because that is the only way it works for me.

It’s amazing but since I realised all this, the chapters have started flowing again. It feels different. It feels exciting and a bit naughty! I have already wandered into darker territory. I am going to finish book three in this vein and carry on into book four. Of course, then I need to go back and rewrite everything I have done so far. I do think that was partly what prevented me from admitting what was wrong – knowing how much work I’d have to do to correct it! But I’m looking forward to it now. There will be more character development, some extra chapters and lots of rewriting in each book but I think it will all be worth it. And I will keep one thing in mind the entire time until these books are ready to publish – I am writing this series for ME. I am writing the books I want to read.

That should work!

And I suppose the moral of the story is always listen to writer’s block because it’s just trying to tell you something. For that reason, writer’s block is actually your friend. You just need to figure out what it’s telling you.

Do you ever suffer from writers’ block? If so, what kind? And what do you do to push through it?

New Book Babies

It might sound a bit odd when authors compare their books to babies, but I think it sort of makes sense. You spend years putting the work into a book, moulding it, shaping it, nurturing it and encouraging it to grow and evolve at the right pace. And then at some point, when it’s ready, you let go of it and release it into the world. It’s similar to child-rearing in that way. Plus, authors are so connected to their books and often so in love with their own characters, that it just feels right to call them your babies.

Just lately I’ve been releasing a lot of babies that were cooking for a long time, so it felt right to blog about it. My blog posts for a while now have been taken up by wonderful guest posts. More on that and where it’s heading next another time! But for now, it’s really nice to climb back behind the driving seat of The Glorious Outsiders to update you all on my new babies.

Over a year ago I released the first in a YA trilogy, A Song For Bill Robinson. Here is a post I wrote at that time about where the idea for the book originally came from and how it later grew into a trilogy. https://chantelleatkins.com/2019/11/08/10-fun-facts-about-my-new-book/ After releasing the first book, I continued working on the second and third books, but I was also finishing up The Boy With The Thorn In His Side series – another mammoth amount of babies! And because Emily’s Baby finishes with a cliff-hanger, I decided I would hold back its release until the third book, The Search For Summer was also ready. I planned to release the final two books within a month of each other and that’s exactly what I’ve done.

If you are interested in a dramatic, gritty YA series about an unsolved murder, a neighbourhood feud and a self-destructive teenage singer, then A Song For Bill Robinson and Emily’s Baby are available now in ebook and paperback and on multiple platforms and The Search For Summer is available to pre-order and will be released on Friday 30th April.

It feels really good to have another series completed and released. Obviously writing a series of books is a huge challenge and extremely time-consuming and there is always a massive feeling of relief when the final one is out there!

At the same time, you feel a bit strange and a bit bereft. The characters have been with you for so long by this point that you feel lost without them. The good news is I am already in the middle of another series of books, plus I am co-writing a series with author Sim Sansford. So that is more than enough to keep me busy!

My new book babies are a YA post-apocalyptic series of which I have just finished book two. There will be four books in this series. And the series I am co-writing is a YA supernatural series and there will be three books.

After all of that I will be looking forward to writing a standalone book! And funnily enough, I already have one on the go. I’ve written some chapter outlines, character bios and some very rough chapters for a standalone which is actually a spin-off book from The Boy With The Thorn In His Side series. Two brothers are introduced as secondary characters in the final book of the series and I enjoyed writing them so much, I decided to give them their own book. I can’t wait to share news of that with you in good time.

But for now, it’s back to the massive book babies and getting another two series complete and released!

I hope I did my job the best I could and I hope they do well out there!

Guest Post #4 Pandemic Pets – How Are Furry Friends Saved Our Sanity

Welcome to another Pandemic Pets feature! Each week I will be welcoming a guest to the blog to tell us how the furry friends in their life have made getting through the Covid 19 pandemic that much easier. Please welcome YA author KM. Allan who tells us how her new kitten Dash helped fill the hole left by her previous writing buddy, Slinky.

How Having A Pet During The Pandemic Made Things Joyful

When lockdown began in Australia during March, I’d had my new kitten Dash for only a few weeks. He wasn’t a lockdown pet, but a cat I’d been waiting to get for a few months, having lost my last cat, Slinky, to cancer 2 years prior. I’d had her for 15 years and was looking forward to having another furry companion and a new writing buddy.

Slinky – writing buddy

That first lockdown lasted from March until June. Then we had a second lockdown in July that’s still ongoing, although the harshest of restrictions eased last month. Having spent 7 months of the year in lockdown—mostly at home for 23 hours a day—you get to know a kitten pretty well.

While Dash spends a good amount of time sleeping, he’s also playful. Sometimes that playfulness happens at 3am and I wake to find him trying to steal my pillow, but it has made lockdown more bearable.

I tried to keep a routine during this time and stick to writing with the #6amAusWriters on Twitter, and this became part of Dash’s routine too. He’d get up with me and sit near the desk, often stealing my chair (until I got him his own) and would keep me company on cold winter mornings. It even got to the point where he’d wake me if I didn’t get up when my alarm went off (yes, really. And his idea of an alarm is biting me!)

Dash – writing buddy

While I didn’t get a pet to help me through lockdown, I wonder what it would have been like without one. I probably would have checked the news more often, letting the sadness of the world get to me more than it did. I wouldn’t have taken breaks through the day to throw soft balls around and marvel at how high a kitten can jump, and I wouldn’t have discovered how much Ragdoll cats are like dogs and will play fetch with you.

I would have known what it was like to pass the Groundhog Day sameness of lockdown by doing a puzzle without a cat stealing the pieces, but I wouldn’t have arranged boxes from online orders into cat tunnels or upgraded to a cat play system. I got to do those things during a time when we’ve all done things we probably thought we wouldn’t.

Dash – box tunnels

It was, and still is, a hard year to cope with, and I’m glad that I had a pet to help me through it.

Dash wasn’t just there on the days when all the creativity I could muster was to set Netflix to binge. He was also there when I achieved milestones like publishing my first two books.

In a year when being a debut author meant missing out on bookstore events, in-person launches, and celebrations in restaurants with family and friends, having a cat who was just as excited as me to open a box of my published books was fun. Okay, so for him, it might have been about a new box and not the books, but I’ll always smile when I see the picture of Dash nosing his way into the carton.

An event that didn’t pan out like I thought it would because of 2020 was still joyful, and it and many more events throughout year were, simply because I had a pet to share them with during the pandemic.

Thank you so much to Kate for joining us on The Glorious Outsiders and introducing us to the gorgeous Dash! It sounds like having him around really helped the strict lockdowns become more bearable. If you would like to know more about KM Allan and her books her links are below! And if you would like to write a personal piece, story or poem on the Pandemic Pets theme please get in touch!

K.M. Allan is an identical twin, but not the evil one. She started her career penning beauty articles for a hairstyling website and now powers herself with chocolate and green tea while she writes novels and blogs about writing.

When she’s not creating YA stories full of hidden secrets, nightmares, and powerful magic, she likes to read, binge-watch too much TV, spend time with family, and take more photos than she will ever humanly need.

Visit her website, http://www.kmallan.com, to discover the mysteries of the universe. Or at the very least, some good writing tips.