How Do Two Writers Write As One Person?
As a writing duo it’s become more fluid as the years have passed. Initially we would finish each others stories and argue about which version was better. We’d spend hours discussing a single word if we felt passionately enough about it. Often one would run out of steam with an idea and simply pass it over to the other who would finish it. Sometimes a story would be finished and the other would revise it — examples would include a 7500 word story that became 13000 and a 14000 that ended as 7500.
With the novels, each one has been different. One, for example, was written by one of us and the other completely revised it, moving chapters around and deleting characters and fleshing out others. Another novel was written by one of us and the other merely touched it up with minor revisions. Another was started by one of us, carried on by the other, and then passed back to the original author who finished it, adding chapters inserted into the earlier parts.
We used to brainstorm, sometimes for weeks on end. We remember one novel we planned early on in our careers was discussed at length and completely story-boarded – a process that went on for weeks if not months. In fact it took so long to plan we both ran out of steam on it and it was shelved. We refined the process after that.
We tend always to begin with an idea, a strong opening sequence and take it from there. Characters are often added in as the plot demands and either get expanded or become secondary.
It was a painful journey to get to the fluent process we have now. Those early stories were all a learning curve of course. What we don’t think we realised at the time was that we were both not only learning to write – and all writers develop at different speeds – but we were also learning to write with another person. Those two things combined certainly made for a combustible mix.
Taking it right up to the present day, when we write as many novels as stories, we each write the complete book/story and then hand it over to the other for revision which includes proofing, copy editing, as well as revising if we feel it needs it. With each book we spend days at the end reading it together, page by page, for grammar, continuity, repetition and other flaws we find.
We find it is important that a book has a single voice – an author point of view, a narrative drive the reader can connect with. Luckily our styles have developed over the years into a single M&S style so there is never a case of anyone being able to see the joins. Although one reviewer did say they could – on a book one of us had written alone. No wonder they couldn’t reply when we asked them where the joins were! We also got a review along the lines of – did it really take two of them to write this pile of **** – which was one reason behind the change of name to Maynard Sims.
We wrote as individuals for a while then realised that we would be competing for the same markets, so the sensible thing seemed to be to pool our resources. And we’ve been writing together ever since.
We have been writing together for so long now that we respect each other’s strengths and recognize each other’s weaknesses.
We were LH Maynard & MPN Sims at first but shortened that to Maynard Sims when we signed with Samhain. As we have grown older we have recognised we each contribute something different to the team, and we always have our own projects on the go, even if they may end up as Maynard Sims stories. We came up with the very imaginative pen name which now works as our “brand”. Downsides include that it sounds a bit pretentious.
Another way we did it was for one of us to completely write a story and then hand it to the other to edit, revise, as needed. That was when a lot of rows began. How dare he suggest changes to my precious story? We had a meeting place by the river, near the pub, and after a row, sometimes hours after, we would meet up there as if by pre-arrangement and come to an agreement about the story. Pregnant pauses were our speciality, with silence as a weapon. We’d spend hours discussing a single word if we felt passionately enough about it. We were, and still are, passionate about our writing.
Over the years we have smoothed it all out. We are open and honest with each other, and no offence is taken when change is suggested. The friendship overrides the writing.
We have written together for so now that we don’t really know any other way. Yet we write pretty much separately until the novel or story is written and then we use the best of each other’s skills to hone the result until it is the best it can be, and is a joint effort. Mick says that no one else would put up with him. We won’t divorce. We are like an old married couple but without the sex – like we said an old married couple. Only death will stop the writing partnership and Mick jokes that he already has Len’s eulogy written and edited. If and when one of us goes will the other carry on? We think so. Writing is in the blood now, it’s what we do. It’s hard work creating a story but there is no better feeling than when it goes well. Mick has a voodoo doll of Len at home with enough pins left to carry us over the next few years.
Len says there are no suitors potential or otherwise on the horizon. It sounds like we have a very cosy writing relationship, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact it’s fiercely competitive, but in a good way. When Len writes something what he wants to do is to blow Mick’s socks off. That’s the challenge. That’s why he thinks we’re very fortunate to have this partnership. Sitting alone at the computer, writing away with no idea who your potential reader might be must be a very daunting process. Len read a writing tuition book years ago and in it the author said that you must write the book for “the anonymous reader looking over your shoulder.” Len doesn’t have to do that. Mick’s the reader looking over his shoulder, and Len figures if he can impress Mick then he must be doing something right.
That is a key secret to a writing partnership. The Ego Has Landed. It must be set aside, the ego, the feeling that you are the better writer of the two. We are lucky that we were friends first, and last. That may have prevented us reaching greater success but it has made it hugely enjoyable. Each writer in the partnership has to have the best interests of the joint venture as the cornerstone of what is being done. If one thinks they are superior it just won’t work. There has to be mutual respect and a common goal.
We write individual projects but generally they end up as joint books. We each have different ideas all the time and will often write them without reference to the other. When they are completed though the book is handed over to the other for revision, proofing, editing, and approval.
As individual people we are very different but there are just enough things we agree on to maintain the partnership. Neither of us is ever totally right and neither is ever totally wrong. It is important when setting out to write jointly that the aim is agreed. What is the partnership trying to achieve? What style will the book be? Market? Who is the lead voice in the book?
So that’s about it. Like the person you are going to write with – or at least respect their writing abilities. Agree on the type of book, style, and outline the plot and story. And then agree how it will get written. Will one write it all and pass it over for second draft? Will each do a chapter, or each write exclusively about one character each? There are different ways to approach it and it is vital to get the structural framework agreed before you even start.
Good luck. We have survived for 40 years. Here’s to it never ending.
Len Maynard & Mick Sims