I hear a million horror stories about writing with partners. I’ve written both alone and with partners. Sometimes the partnerships worked. Sometimes they did not. I like writing alone, but there is something about writing with the right partner that is very satisfying. For the last several years, I’ve written exclusively with one partner. I like writing with him; we are able to do things with the writing neither of us does when we write alone. This is our approach to partnership and why I think it is effective:
1. We leave the idea of individual authorship at the door. We recognize that every idea generated out of our mutual work is a mutual idea. It would not exist without the joint work we do, period. It does not matter who said it first, who thinks they thought of it first, who thinks they had the idea ten years ago but only mentioned it now. If the idea comes up in the context of joint work, you cannot separate it from the whole of the work nor should you try. The WGA calls writing partners a “team” and treats them essentially as a single writer. You should, too. If you do not, you are not a partnership. You are two people competing with each other and keeping score while trying to jointly create a screenplay. This is a hard way to write anything, let alone develop a lasting creative relationship.
2. We each advocate our individual ideas during the creative process but do not get overly attached to them. If we strongly disagree on the approach to a specific scene, character, or beat, we work on it until we find an approach on which we both agree. Much of the time, one of us will come to see the other’s point of view and when we don’t, we come up with a third way that usually is better than either of the others.
3. We each individually strive to bring something new to the table for each session of our joint work. Whether it is research done during our time apart, careful thoughtful work on what we are about to do, or a great piece of writing to inspire and inform us, we each show up bringing more than we left with last time. It makes the sessions more productive and more interesting and allows each of us to shine.
4. Neither of us expects the other to think about things exactly like the other nor have exactly the same strengths and weaknesses. That would be dull, merely a division of labor. Instead, we each look to use the hell out of each other’s strengths and differences. If we wanted more of the same, we’d each write alone.
If you find you’re unable to do these things with your partner, my suggestion is, move on. The last thing you want to do is end up selling a script with a partner you don’t want to write with in the future. That would be hell….