We hear this often: “I can’t tell who wrote what! How do you do it?”
We create our first drafts by taking turns writing. There are no rules. We discuss the story, and often keep notes, but don’t work to a tight outline. We have tried that, and the result is dull. Our best material is spontaneous.
This process results in drafts that can look like they came from two different pens — as they do. They also suffer from writerly flaws — overuse of pet words and phrases, unreasonable repetition of thematic ideas, deep holes in the plot, unclear organization. We don’t mind. Nobody else ever sees those.
Our finished writing comes out of joint editing sessions. We sit together when we can, but normally work over Skype, using Google Docs. One of us reads aloud while the other comments. We make changes freely — everything from rewording to reorganizing major sections. We focus on one section, from a few paragraphs to a few pages. Then we switch reader/critic roles and start over. We often read a section four or five times.
What comes out of that process is our unified voice.
We’re learning. We started two years ago by writing with no thought of publishing. We finished a dozen titles — about 300 thousand words total — before we decided to publish Norm and Burny, which we first wrote and distributed privately 18 months ago. That’s a long time, and our learning curve has been steep. Revising Norm and Burny, we were astonished to discover how much we’ve changed in that time.
We have such a good time! Writers always whine about the pain of editing. We have some advice for them: buddy up.