Co-Writers Writing About Co-Writing Tips for Long Term Creative Partnership and Friendship
--from Jeff Sikatis and Jake Wheeler, authors of The Gullfather
With Mars, the month of fighting behind us and the idylls of spring coming into full view, we want to move from conflict to the copacetic with a post about co-writing. Or rather, on harmonious co-writing, because it isn’t always that. Done with some practice and a little patience, co-writing can be one of the most rewarding creative experiences. We’re here to offer some thoughts on how to make it so.
We’re Jake and Jeff, coauthors of new middle-grade graphic novel, The Gullfather: Birdsy Seagull.
For about 20 years, the two of us have co-written together. Sometimes even successfully. And we’ve
managed to stay friends, which is the more impressive feat, because you know with creative types
things just sometimes explode. We’ve done sitcom development, worked together on a documentary,
partners on advertising campaigns and screenplays, and now our first graphic novel,
The Gullfather: Birdsy Seagull.
There’s a joy in co-writing, as one gets to share the creative process with someone. You can
find your ideas built upon and championed, rough nuggets get turned into gems, and there’s
another brain and set of hands to handle all the administrative and logistical that comes with
writing and publishing. The human version of Chat GPT-4.
But like anything worthwhile it might take time to master. Do it poorly and it can be a place of
friction, turning creative dreams into a reality tv nightmare.
So we offer you some thoughts from our reservoir of victories and failures, because two really
can be better than one. But remember, three is never better than two. Or one. Three is more
often than not an unmitigated, brimstone-riddled disaster. So there will be no post on tri-
writing. Stick to co-writing and some of our tips below and you may unlock a new and
wonderful path on the creative journey.
5 Questions for Jeff from Jake
1) What Is The Most Important Rule for You In Co-Writing?
The journey is a big part of the reward. Be grateful for the opportunity to share the writing
experience with someone you enjoy, you respect creatively, who makes you laugh and allows
you to get closer to the heightened version of creative self.
2) How Do You Recommend Solving Creative Disputes and Differences?
Be aware that it is part of the process and disputes will happen. But ask yourself what
elements are worth fighting over? Is one joke worth disrupting the writing process for multiple
hours or days? Is the name of a secondary character worth an intense tete-a-tete? Where as
the ending or character arc might be worth a writer’s duel.
3) What Part of the Co-Writing Process is The Most Difficult To Navigate?
Back in the day, we were a synchronous writing team but now we are on different time zones
with different schedules and we have a hybrid asynchronous / synchronous writing process
which took some time to get to our previous writing rhythm.
4) What Do You Recommend For People Early in the Writing Partnership Process?
Jump as quickly as you can into the writing part of the partnership. Is there a rhythm? Are you
tonally compatible? Is the collaborative process unlocking another level of story, comedy,
dialogue? Is 1+1 equaling 3? Is it fun?
5) What is the Best Part of the Cowriting Process and How Do You Reach It?
When you develop a short-hand with each other - finishing each other’s ideas, dialogue,
scenes. And when you get to narrative and comedic alignment in warp speed. You reach it by
reps and by putting in the time. And I really feel like Gladwell’s 10000 hour rule can be applied
to writing partnerships as well.
5 Questions For Jake from Jeff
1) How Does a Writing Team Get to a Unified Voice / Tone?
Spend waaaay too much time together. Discuss books, watch movies together, share
memes, travel together. Know where you’re similar, where you’re different, how your
strengths complement each other’s. Try sample projects together. AND Don’t depend
on email or text. Be live together often.
2) Besides the Output, What are the Things You Get Out of Co-Writing?
Someone to laugh with, which cannot be underestimated. Someone who understands
you. In the best cases, someone who intuitively sees where you’re going with a joke or
idea, because they know you so well, and helps you get there.
3) Within a Writing Team, are There Roles and Responsibilities?
Showing up for each other. You may evolve to embrace slightly different roles in some
ways, but you have to be there. Learn how to be truly constructive - anybody can be a
4) What Are 4 traits of a successful creative partnership?
- Trust. Your partner is brilliant, that’s why you chose them.
- Acceptance that you can’t - nor do you want to - do it on your own
- Listening. Try to hear and understand what they’re trying to say even if you don’t get
it at first.
- Understanding that the creative journey is a small part of the bigger life journey, and
being there for each other while you navigate both of them.
5) What are Some of the Signs It’s Time to Throw in the Towel as a Writing Team?
It stops being fun. Your tastes diverge on a more substantial basis. But honestly sometimes
you or your partner just need to explore something - maybe something personal, something
deep that you have to unpack in a different format or pace. In that case, be honest and keep
your partner as a trusted source of advice and support. A good partner can be part of your life
even if your projects pause, and that’s ultimately more meaningful.
You do not want to miss out on The Gullfather. Grab a copy here.