Five Reflections on the Writing Process

J. L. Harland • October 4th, 2020

Although we write together, we also have separate projects we work on. We’ve been talking about voice and how that differs when we write as individuals. However, we both agree that the greatest fun comes from co-writing. There are steps along the way, and we don’t always follow the same pathway. The end result is the same - where the writing voices become one.

So, here our five steps from idea to draft.

1. Ideas. We usually start with a chat about an idea and wait for the creative sparks to fly. It doesn’t take long before the thoughts are bouncing around like ping pong balls.

2. Planning. Once we have the overview, we start more detailed planning. With short stories this means talking through the events in the story in a linear fashion. With novels it’s usually four chapters at a time. That takes about two hours, sustained by tea, coffee, cake and chocolate.

3. Distilling. We both love this phase and enjoy having conversations with our characters before writing begins. This is where we differ in approach. After distilling Jan likes to write out a more detailed plan of the chapter. Jacqui sees it unfolding like a film so just uses the skeleton plan and goes with the flow. Chapters, and sometimes sections or scenes, are allocated according to which one of us has most experience of an event.

4. Writing. First draft seems to appear quickly. If there are any gaps in the plan, we might consult with the other partner but usually we just write. We are both guilty of, and fairly relaxed about, going ‘off piste’ and adding extra scenes or characters if we feel the story needs it.

5. Editing. Another joyful experience. We know that the edit is what makes the voices blend and make one united voice of J. L. Harland. We doubt if anyone can guess who has written what as by the time we’ve finished we hardly know ourselves. It’s a long process although as time goes on we are becoming more confident at just cutting or adjusting without consultation. It swings back and forward between us until we think it’s ready to be seen by others.

The steps we take are the same as any writer, but with two of us it is a little more complicated. Sometimes we have long discussions about what we think should come next. We don’t always visualise the story in the same way which is why strong communication is essential.

The best way to describe our co-authoring is fun. We get a great buzz from sharing and working together. If you haven’t tried working with another writer perhaps you might like to try. Why not give it a go and let us know, via Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or the website, how you get on?

We’d love to hear from you.

Keep writing.