In reality, this should be ‘five things we learned writing LINESMAN’, for there are two of us. Which naturally, leads to our first thing we learned….
Writing together is more fun than writing alone
Co-writing is not for everyone. In some ways it’s like being married. It works for some people, but for others that close, intense relationship with another person is too much.
First of all, we probably wouldn’t have gotten our agent we hadn’t been writing together, because after requesting a full manuscript, our then-not-yet agent came back and suggested we change one of the main secondary characters from male to female. One of us (Karen) was adamant that we weren’t going to change anything. “These characters are great just as we wrote them.” (Guess which one of us created that particular character. Newbie writers. They’re so precious about their stuff.)
Sherylyn persisted. That’s what co-writers do. Talk to each other and if something sounds reasonable, keep talking until the other one at least considers the idea objectively, without the emotional attachment.
As it turns out, it was the best thing we ever did with the book, and turned a stereotype into someone who is a great character in their own right.
But writing together has more benefits than just making sure the other writer be reasonable. You are each other’s harshest critics, and you’re honest with each other. At least, we are. It’s like having an alpha and a beta reader on tap every day.
It’s also faster to fix problems, because you talk them out. A lone writer might mull over a troublesome section for weeks, but two of you can talk it out over a single long evening’s discussion. You get back on track faster.
Best of all, you’re talking to someone who’s as passionate about the story as you are.
Enjoy the unagented time
We all want an agent, we all want to be published, but it’s only after you get one, or both, that you realise you have lost the freedom write any idea that pops into your head. At least temporarily.
Getting an agent is mind blowing, and getting a contract to publish just adds to that high. But once you’re agented (or have a publishing contract) you need to be a little more commercial about your work. You are working to timelines. You are working on what you have committed to produce.
You are also probably, initially at least, working solely in the genre your agent/publisher accepted you in. We write fantasy and science fiction, but we sold a science fiction. Our agent wants to develop us initially as writers of science fiction. We’re happy with that, because we love sci-fi, but you don’t realise how much freedom you have as an unagented/unpublished author.
Enjoy the freedom while you can.
Eventually, you have to come out as a writer
We kept our writing close to our chest for a long time. If people asked what we did in our spare time we’d mumble something and change the subject. Other people travelled, or had kids to take to sports or ran marathons. Us, we stayed at home and wrote novels.
Once you have a contract it’s a little easier to talk about your book, but not much.
When people at work ask what you did on the weekend, they’re not expecting you to say, “I stayed in to finish my novel.”
Then, once you have come out, you have to learn to be positive about your novel, not put it down.
“It’s just a space opera,” isn’t the right answer to someone who asks what you write. You need to start learning to say, “It’s a space opera. Do you know what space opera is?”
“Think Star Wars. Or Guardians of the Galaxy. Only our book is about a guy who repairs spaceships and gets caught up the discovery of an alien ship and is trapped between two warring powers who both think that control of the ship can help them win a war.”
Don’t go on and on, but don’t put yourself or you book down either.
Cultural writing differences
There are more differences between countries than just spelling, or even changing a car boot to a trunk.
Our first copy edit came back with over five thousand changes. That’s right. Five thousand. Most of them were serial comma changes. i.e. putting a comma before the final ‘and’ in a list. We also never put a comma before the ‘too’ at the end of a sentence when we used too to mean ‘also’.
Here in Australia our standard is not to use serial commas (also known as Oxford commas) unless they are absolutely necessary. Our publisher, however, uses the Chicago Manual of Style, and guess what. Yep. Oxford commas everywhere.
(We learned some other things too, like we didn’t need all those ‘toos’. Unfortunately, we left a lot of them in because we didn’t know how many changes we could make at that stage of editing. You live and learn.)
Book two is better. We promise.
Newly published writers are narcissistic
We never considered ourselves vain, but we spend a lot of time searching our name on the intranet. From what we’ve read, you do grow out of it, but right now it’s still a huge buzz to search for ‘S K Dunstall Linesman’ and finding something new. Obsessively stalking GoodReads and Amazon to see if anyone has reviewed your book yet. The high you get when someone gives you a five-star review.
People say “Don’t read your reviews,” but seriously, it’s almost impossible when it’s your first book.
We’re sure we’ll get better, but right now, we’re enjoying the ride.