What’s It Really Like to be Part of a Writing Team?

Filed in The Writing Life, Who Supports Your Writing Dreams? by on October 26, 2016 • views: 2323

Patty and Roz met through a mutual friend in the mid 1970s. After writing separately for years, they began writing together in the early 1980s. They have five (almost six) books published in “The Val & Kit Mystery Series” (The Disappearance of Mavis Woodstock, The Murder of Susan Reed, Death in Door County, Lethal Property, and Palm Desert Killing), as well as a contemporary women’s novel, Dressing Myself. The working title for their latest Val & Kit mystery, set in England, is Foreign Relations, due out early next year.

roz-and-patty-mainFriendship inspires and informs our every word, whether it is Val & Kit’s friendship in their mystery series, or OUR friendship inspiring our blog posts and other novels.

Early in our friendship, we both discovered we had dabbled in writing, if not yet publishing (short stories for Roz, columns for Patty), so we decided we would share what we wrote with each other, as well as everything we read about writing.

Friendship Inspires a Writing Team

Patty: Roz introduced me to Writer’s Digest magazine. After we’d both completed books on our own, we seemed to stall in our writing efforts, so Roz suggested an exercise whereby we wrote chapters of the same work and sent them back and forth (via U.S. Postal Service, back in the day).

We not only found we were writing again, but we liked what we were creating, and have been co-writing novels ever since.

Roz: Patty and I met accidentally through a mutual friend many years ago. As we spent more time together, and learned we were both writers, we thought it would be a fun “exercise” to start a novel.

We wrote a chapter each, sending it back and forth through the U.S. mail, with no definite outline, and just seeing how it goes. That is basically still our plan, although now, of course, we have defined our characters and we use email. But we still don’t have an outline before we start.

Friends Influence Friends’ Snacking!

Patty: Sickness doesn’t hamper us much. For one thing, we don’t experience much of that (knock on wood), probably due to advancing age. My theory is I’ve been EXPOSED to most of the viruses and am now immune. I can have a little elbow or wrist discomfort and occasionally wear a brace for whichever area is bothersome (those areas bother me more when I vacuum, shake rugs, etc.—or so I tell my husband, to enlist his help).

As for eating sugar or other snacks, or drinking too much coffee, well I can be guilty of all of those bad habits. MOST of the time, I substitute something more healthful, which really works just as well.

For example, after two cups of coffee, I switch to V-8 or cranberry juice or ice water with a slice of lemon. And for snacks, I most often have mixed nuts, celery, or carrot sticks. I’m an oral person so usually need something to eat and/or drink in order to think!

Since we are far apart when we are writing (Wisconsin and Texas), rather than in the same room, there is little effect from what the other is or isn’t eating. EXCEPT when we Skype. I have to admit I’ve been tempted when I see Roz enjoying a piece of chocolate. (Sorry, am I giving away a secret?) Oh, I do have chocolate fairly often, too, but usually the 90% cocoa variety, which is supposed to be better for me, I believe.

I do try.

Roz: The beauty of the partnership is the flexibility it allows. We’ve been lucky enough not to have any physical challenges.

Roz and Patty ready for tennis, circa 1980.

Roz and Patty ready for tennis, circa 1980.

Having the Support of a Partner is Invaluable to Emotional Well Being

Patty: I do not think it is MORE challenging in ANY way. Quite the opposite, and especially where emotional wellness is concerned.

I think, for example, a rejection or bad review could be DEVASTATING, but since we can share the criticism, we can quickly turn it into a “their loss” joke between us. Not that we don’t take note of said criticism and incorporate what we find noteworthy. After we’ve made proper fun of the critic, that is.

Conversely, when we experience a success, in terms of sales or a good review (both of which, I’m happy to report, far outnumber the negative responses), our emotional high is all the higher for being able to share. No one else can truly know just how thrilled we are. It’s so much fun getting giddy together.

Roz: Since Patty and I both worked on individual novels, many years ago and before we started our team, I can happily attest that a team is so much better.

With regard to emotional wellness, whether writing a novel or breaking your ankle, having the support of a partner is invaluable to emotional well-being.

Music, Yoga, and Reading Help Encourage our Best Selves

Patty: I know we’re BOTH moved (literally and figuratively) by music. That old time rock ‘n’ roll can’t be, um, beat. And I am doing yoga for verrrry beginners. Whether it’s yoga or a walk or mowing my yard, I’m always pumped to write afterward.

The hardest part is that I prefer doing what is most important to me the very first thing in the morning, and I just can’t squeeze it ALL into the very first part of my day. So when it’s time for me to CREATE a chapter, I do that first, then exercise later in the day.

But on other days, after that first draft of a chapter is complete, I exercise first and then work on rewriting or editing. Same with marketing and other writing-related tasks; they come after exercising because they’re easier.

Roz: We are both avid readers and part of the fun of reading is sharing our thoughts. Same goes for watching good TV shows and studying techniques.


Patty hiking in Palm Desert, CA, with her husband.

How Does a Writing Team Schedule Deadlines?

Patty: The best part of our job, we remind ourselves, is our extreme flexibility. So we are very good at encouraging the other not to worry if there is a delay.

At the same time, we have evolved into a writing pattern that does include deadlines, and we are so much more productive this way. Basically, we take turns writing chapters and each has a week to do so. We hold periodic Skype sessions, too, which we loosely schedule and don’t freak if we have to REschedule.

Then, on the appointed day, we text each other when we are awake, so that no alarms need to be set. Again, one of the biggest perks of our job!

We have to take occasional long breaks, while Roz goes to England or I get ready for a huge Thanksgiving feast at my house, for example. Once again, we know how lucky we are to have a job we love that we can do at our own pace. Probably only because we have a PARTNER, we don’t take unfair advantage of this, and we really do produce a lot.

Roz: The key is the flexibility team writing allows. We both have other commitments, e.g. promoting our books, formatting our work, vacations, etc., that can throw our schedule a little off balance. But it’s never a problem.

We are on our own time frame. Our deadline is not set in stone, but in general we try to keep to a 7-day turnaround for each of our chapters.

Roz and her life partner Mike on a walk in Door County, WI.

Roz and her life partner Mike on a walk in Door County, WI.

The Key to a Successful Writing Team: Both Have to Approve

Patty: We do have a rule that if we don’t both approve of something, it doesn’t make it into the book or into our marketing plan or whatever.

There have certainly been a few (very few) times where we’ve exchanged e-mails or comments on the phone back and forth supporting why one of us DOES want something. But NO stress or tension involved. As soon as it is clear that one doesn’t want it, the other reminds us that without mutual approval, it’s outta there.

Yet sometimes we later tell each other I’ve changed my mind. Let’s do put that in.

Roz: I can honestly say we’ve never had a disagreement that amounted to anything. And definitely there has been no stress.

Certainly there have been times when one or the other didn’t quite like the way a particular character or the narrative was heading, but we have always talked it out and reached a happy conclusion.

Our main promise to each other is that if one of us really, really doesn’t like something the other wrote, then no question about it; it is deleted.

Team Support: She’s Always in My Corner

Patty: What comes to my mind first is the time someone in a review dared to criticize the editing or maybe even the grammar. Mind you, I’m known in my family as Grandma Grammar.

With degrees in journalism and English, I’ve worked as an editor, where I was known to be an almost psychotic proofreader. So Roz and I both found it laughable. Except it took me a really long time to laugh about it. Every time it was clear that I wasn’t letting go, Roz would lovingly remind me to do so.

I might be in need of another reminder about now, come to think of it.

Roz: I have too many examples of needing Patty’s support through the years to even begin naming them, but none of which really involved writing.

They run the gamut from dealing with my own family disputes to whether I should use Uber. I just know she’s always there if I need her, and always in my corner. Can’t say better than that.

You Can’t Stay Down When Someone is Encouraging You to Get Up

Patty: For me, see above. I mean, really?? My grammar?? C’mon.

Seriously, I think having a partner has kept us from feeling unduly discouraged. Ever. The old saw about a partner doubling the joy and halving the despair has been the answer to all our dark moments.

Believe me, we wrote together for decades, receiving countless rejection letters (as well as many encouraging ones about near misses, which also helped); but I attribute our resiliency and perseverance to having each other.

You just can’t stay down when someone else is counting on you and encouraging you to get up!

Roz: The greatest discouragement is reading a really bad review, but oh how much easier it is to share that with your writing partner.

I’m not sure I am really past that first bad review; it’s still bouncing around in the back of my head somewhere, but I try to concentrate on the many more good reviews and the enormous fun and joy our writing together has brought me.

The Key to a Great Writing Partnership

Patty: Roz once asked me what the secret was to my husband’s and my long marriage (at the time we were at about 30 years; just celebrated 50). After some thought, I decided it was due to the 3 C’s: commitment, communication, and compromise.

And I’d credit those same 3 C’s for our almost-as-long writing partnership. And of course our friendship. Ours AND Val & Kit’s.

Roz: The key is our great friendship. Also, knowing nothing is set in stone, and the ability to discuss and change, or not change, as the case may be.

For me, personally, I write specifically for Patty. If she’s happy, then I am. I trust her judgment implicitly. Teamwork is all about trust, and knowing and loving your partner.

* * *

patty-and-roz-1Now a proud and patriotic U.S. citizen and Texan, Rosalind Burgess grew up in London and currently calls Houston home. She has also lived in Germany, Iowa, and Minnesota. Roz retired from the airline industry to devote all her working hours to writing (although it seems more like fun than work).

Patricia Obermeier Neuman spent her childhood and early adulthood moving around the Midwest (Minnesota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Indiana), as a trailing child and then as a trailing spouse (inspiring her first book, Moving: The What, When, Where & How of It). A former reporter and editor, Patty lives with her husband in Door County, Wisconsin. They have three children and twelve grandchildren.

Roz and Patty, along with characters Val and Kit, agree that friendship, humor, and love are as compelling as solving murders. Learn more about both writers at the following links: website, blog, Facebook, Google+, Twitter, and Instagram.

palm-desert-killing-no-5-in-the-val-kit-mystery-series-1Palm Desert Killing (The Val & Kit Mystery Series Book 5): When one of them receives a mysterious letter, BFFs Val and Kit begin to unravel a sordid story that spans a continent and reaches back decades. It also takes them to Palm Desert, California, a paradise of palm trees, mountains, blue skies . . . and now murder.

The men in their lives—Val’s favorite detective, Dennis Culotta; her boss, Tom Haskins; and Kit’s husband, Larry—play their (un)usual parts in this adventure that introduces a fresh batch of suspicious characters, including Kit’s New York–attorney sister, Nora, and their mother.

Val faces an additional challenge when her daughter, Emily, reveals her own startling news. Val and Kit bring to this story their (a)typical humor, banter, and unorthodox detective skills. Like all the books in The Val & Kit Mystery Series, this fifth one can be enjoyed as a stand-alone novel.

Available on Amazon.

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  1. Thanks so much for featuring us!! We had such fun pondering your thought-provoking questions and taking a stroll down memory lane. And it is an honor to be on your educational and inspirational blog site. Please keep helping us to keep healthy!!

    • Colleen says:

      Thank you, ladies! So fun to hear about what it’s like to write as a team from behind the scenes. :O)