writing

Writing as a Collaborative Experience

I belong to an online writers critique group called California Writers Circle. As part of honing our writing skills, we produce a variety of anthologies with members. The last two are 1) Masquerade, a collection of stories written by members (free on Amazon January 15-16), and 2)  Knightfall: Midnight at the Montclair, a collaborative novel where each member added their own chapter. The brilliant writer tasked with editing the chapters and fitting them into a novel was Sandy. What an effort! I asked her to share her insights into writing as a collaborative experience. I think you’ll enjoy what she came up with:

Writing as a Collaborative Experience

Picture the familiar image: A solitary writer sits at her desk deep into the night, pen in hand (or hunched over a keyboard), waiting for inspiration—and very much alone. It’s a scene Ernest Hemingway described in the simple words of his Nobel Acceptance Speech, 1954: “Writing, at its best, is a lonely life.”

I certainly can’t argue with Hemingway. Writing is, indeed, a singular activity. However, authors today have more opportunities than ever to share their writing experiences through conferences, social media, online blogs and webinars, membership in genre-specific organizations, and participation in writers’ support or critique groups.

For me, the image of “the lonely writer” disappeared when I joined a writing group and began sharing my material with other like-minded authors. Our regular discussions energize us, keep us motivated, and offer insightful ways to improve our work. In addition, another unexpected benefit has emerged: the chance to work together on writing projects.

The members of my group, California Writers Circle, collaborate once a year to create a book suitable for holiday gifting. Over the past eight years we’ve produced six short story anthologies, a volume of poetry, an art-quality book of travel and culinary delights, and a full-length mystery novel—all this in addition to doing our individual writing. For each of us, there’s satisfaction knowing we’ve perfected our work together, and there’s pride seeing our names in print on the final copies of the books.

For writing groups interested in the collective writing experience, here are 5 Tips for collaboration on a book project:

  1. Decide on a genre and a theme for the project. As an example, last year our group decided to publish a mystery novel, Knightfall, in which each of our members created a character and wrote a chapter connecting the character to the mysterious death of a celebrity author. For our current short story anthology, Masquerade, we centered on the idea of uncovering what lies behind the mask of first impressions.
  2. Assign specific jobs to those most able to do them. With Knightfall, members volunteered in areas where they had some expertise. A member with organizational skills became the overall project manager; a former English teacher proofed and edited submissions; a technical-savvy person handled the self-publishing requirements for Amazon KDP and other outlets; an artistic member did our layout and cover design; one familiar with social media opted to be our publicist; another member handled the royalty income and advertising expenses.
  3. Schedule a month when all members work on the project. During the selected month, members write for one week, submit their work to the group for critique the next week, do revisions the third week, and submit everything the fourth week to the project manager and editor who put together the book’s final draft.
  4. Post deadlines and follow through with reminders to be sure everyone is on schedule. Sometimes obstacles arise that prevent adhering to a posted schedule, but for the most part our members contributed on time to each of our book projects. Even so, it’s important to build a little slack into the timeline in case situations arise. For example, during our preparation of Masquerade, we decided to ask outside readers to critique our first draft. This fouled up our timeline and delayed our anticipated publication date, but it turned out to be an extremely helpful tool that improved the book.
  5. Organize a book launch and ongoing promotion campaign. To launch Culinary Delights, our collection of travel and cuisine memories, we held a “First Look” party for authors and their guests where we took book orders that made popular holiday gifts. For Masquerade, all 26 of the collaborating authors provided their individual plans for promotion through ads, email, social media, and personal contacts.

The time I devote to writing is more productive and satisfying now that I’ve ditched the stereotypical image of the “lonely writer” and found a group of writers interested in reading my work, sharing theirs, and helping each other succeed. We’ve all grown in our craft, and we’ve become caring friends as well—in part, due to our collaboration on writing projects.

Author bio

Sandra Homicz moderates the Dana Point writing group Write On! and is a founding member of California Writers Circle (CWC). Her work appears regularly in CWC anthologies like Masquerade and the community publication Seashore News. Her upcoming mystery Starlet: Mystery, Murder and Old Hollywood is due for release later this year.

Sandy’s latest publication is a short story in Masquerade, “Deirdre Kane and the Chinese Porcelains”:

An undistinguished author knows his work is mediocre but has some fun with it—along with a bit of adventure.

You can get it for free on January 15-16, 2021.

More about collaborative writing

Co-authoring a book

How to Co-author a Book: Two Writers Share Their Story

More great anthologies by Indies


Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, the Man vs. Nature saga, and the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, blog webmaster, an Amazon Vine Voice,  a columnist for NEA Today, and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. Look for her next prehistoric fiction, Laws of Nature, Summer 2021.

114 thoughts on “Writing as a Collaborative Experience

  1. Interesting topic, Jacqui and thank you for elaborating on the principles of author collaborations, Sandra. The CWC must have a lot of members to be able to pull off these anthologies and book collaborations.

    When do you sleep, Jacqui? Seriously, I had no idea that you were involved in a writer’s group and made time for critiquing other people’s work, within this group, as well.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. That’s a clever way to put together a book, where several writers contribute not only to the content but to other aspects of the production process such as publication and promotion. It’s kind of like making a full-length feature film which is impossible for a single person to do as far as covering all aspects goes (e.g. the script, camera work, the publicity, etc.). Several people are needed to produce it and so it takes a team.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Sandy, thank you for a description of how a writing group can become a collaborative publishing group. This seems like a great opportunity to have a first published story. (Especially if you’re in my unpublished shoes – which you and Jacqui, aren’t.) Work in solitary confinement, like all writers stuck in the dark corners of our basements, and then share and share and share until daylight says it’s perfect. I used to think collaborative writing projects were an intruding old aunt but you’ve shown how it can be freeing.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Great sharing from Sandy. It’s a wonderful idea to publish anthology of short stories or poetry. The format and rules seem workable. Thank you for sharing. Jacqui. I’m a member of a poetry group that publish anthology ideally once a year and I took part in it. I also belong to a writing group that helps each other’s writing but hasn’t publish any anthology but I think it’s a good idea.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. This post inspires me so much! I would love to belong to a group like yours. I did belong to a long-standing critique group that helped me immensely publish my first two books. And now I am never a lonely writer because I write with the students in my creative writing classes. But you all have gone way beyond that and thank you for these great pointers.

    Liked by 2 people

    • We do take new members, if you’re interesting (but not pushing it by any means). The meetings are via Zoom eo Tuesday 5-7 pm Pacific Time. No worries if that doesn’t work for you but I’d love to have you be part of our group.

      Like

  6. This is so interesting! Last night I attended two Zoom readings sponored by local writing groups–one in New Hamphire, the other in California–promoting anthologies produced by the group. The main question I have about anothologies produced by writing groups is what happens when a member submits, and the piece just isn’t appropriate for publication..

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m intrigued by your question about submissions that aren’t appropriate for the proposed anthology. In our early years putting together anthologies, we accepted everyone’s stories, poems, essays–different topics, no unity–whatever someone wanted to submit. However, by our 8th anthology Masquerade, we had learned a lot! We knew we needed a theme, guidelines, and deadlines for submission (just as required by contests, agents, and publishers). By stating the expectations upfront, we received material that came pretty close to “the right stuff.” I worked one-to-one with a couple writers to help bring their stories closer to the theme we selected (a peek behind the mask of everyday impressions, things are not what they seem). Things worked out, but we did have one writer who felt the group experience wasn’t working for him and he withdrew. Otherwise, members were eager to work together writing submissions that fit the goals we set up.
      –Sandy

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I have to say the idea of having members with expertise really resonates with me. It’s a great way for everyone to produce better content in a collaborative setting… And gives one room to grow and develop their gifts!

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m intrigued by your question about submissions that aren’t appropriate for the proposed anthology. In our early years putting together anthologies, we accepted everyone’s stories, poems, essays–different topics, no unity–whatever someone wanted to submit. However, by our 8th anthology Masquerade, we had learned a lot! We knew we needed a theme, guidelines, and deadlines for submission (just as required by contests, agents, and publishers). By stating the expectations upfront, we received material that came pretty close to “the right stuff.” I worked one-to-one with a couple writers to help bring their stories closer to the theme we selected (a peek behind the mask of everyday impressions, things are not what they seem). Things worked out, but we did have one writer who felt the group experience wasn’t working for him and he withdrew. Otherwise, members were eager to work together writing submissions that fit the goals we set up.
      –Sandy

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I think the best thing about submitting a story to an anthology is that it forces you to step-up your writing skills, because you want your submission to be as good as the others featured. That’s one of the reasons I enjoyed participating in the California Writers Circle anthology.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Great article Sandy. I agree that writing becomes much less lonely when you have a group to critique your work and to work on projects with. It has been so much fun creating the anthologies with our group and so gratifying too.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Thank you for posting such a wonderful article on colaborative writing. In other projects with teams, not in the literary area, we benfuited from geting a different set of eyes on what we were doing and created a more robust system that functioned better. New to writning, I can see the same possiblity you working with others.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. It makes a lot of sense to have some ground rules and a plan. I guess my question would be, what do you do if somebody doesn’t do their part? You would be choosing your collaborative partners, so this issue probably doesn’t happen much.

    Liked by 2 people

    • You bring up a huge issue related to collaboration in writing or in any project: The need for teamwork. People who work at their own pace, in their own style, under their own rules for how things should be done won’t enjoy a collaborative project at all! In the case of our writing group, we know each other fairly well and can smile (usually) when working together. Also, we only devote a short period of time each year to our group project, with deadlines enforced (again, usually). That has helped.
      –Sandy

      Liked by 2 people

  12. Thanks for sharing this, Jacqui. Great tips from Sandy. My writers’ group and I also did an anthology (this was years ago). It was like herding cats! Lol. I think the most important thing I learned is that everyone has to do their part. We had a couple members that held us up for months. It’s made me leery of collaborative projects. Perhaps some day. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

      • I think pulling together an anthology where there are (impersonal) submissions is easier. I’ve done two of those locally. But trying to do it with a group of writing “friends” gets tricky if you end up having to apply pressure or threaten to leave someone out who can’t get their act together. I felt really uncomfortable doing that.

        Liked by 1 person

    • As I replied to a previous comment, you bring up a huge issue related to collaboration in writing or in any project: The need for teamwork. People who work at their own pace, in their own style, under their own rules for how things should be done won’t enjoy a collaborative project at all! In the case of our writing group, we know each other fairly well and can smile (usually) when working together. Also, we only devote a short period of time to the project each year, with deadlines enforced (again, usually). That has helped.
      –Sandy

      Liked by 2 people

      • Thanks for the reply, Sandy. We had a member that ignored deadlines, and I ended up having to nag, nag, nag, and finally threaten to publish without them. It was awful since that’s not me AT ALL. But how wonderful when it works!

        Liked by 1 person

    • Andrew,
      Our critique group began when the local library offered a free class for people interested in writing. The teacher never showed up, but the few people who came for the class decided to meet again at the library and share writing ideas. That was 11 years ago, and now we are over 30 members in 2 locations. Our group is called Write On! and we meet in Aliso Viejo and Dana Point. Check your local library to see if there are similar groups in your area.
      –Sandy

      Liked by 2 people

    • Andrew, Go to the Meetup website. Put in “Meetup.com Palm Springs” in your browser. When you click that, your screen swill show several social activities. Click on Writing. I found a Desert Writers Club in Palm Springs but you might find others closer to you. Good Luck!

      Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Bette,
      Jacqui’s story in our “Masquerade” anthology is terrific. She frames it as a series of diary entries tracking a single mom’s efforts to find employment in difficult times. Humorous, heartbreaking, honest, heartwarming. All of that.
      –Sandy

      Liked by 1 person

  13. I have worked on a lot of collaborated projects, but nothing as long as a book. I have done some online writing groups (the group I was in when I lived in GA when online after COVID), but I really like in person meetings best. Hopefully, one day, we can resume but now I live out in the country… not 15 miles from a major city.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Grace,
      Oh, you are so right! Without patience and cooperation from all our writing group members, we never could have produced our anthologies. Working together, we’ve shared our skills and grown in our craft. Beyond that, that we’ve also become good friends in the process.
      –Sandy

      Liked by 1 person

    • Norah,
      Thanks for the encouraging words. California Writers Circle began ten years ago as a group where would-be authors in our area would be encouraged to create and publish their works. None of us knew much about how to go about that at the time, but since then — with each anthology — we’ve learned, shared, and grown in our craft together.
      –Sandy

      Liked by 2 people

    • When two of my grandsons discovered my 1950s Remington tabletop typewriter on a shelf in the garage, they gaped in awe. “What is it, Grandma?”
      I showed them how it worked and, for many visits thereafter, they were engrossed plunking at the keys, watching them strike the roller, hearing the ding, returning the carriage, and (most wonderful) producing a paper with letters and symbols printed in faded ink.
      Eventually, the ancient ribbon gave out after so much youthful attention, and I couldn’t find a replacement. End of an era. Alas!
      –Sandy

      Liked by 1 person

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