They say writing is a lonely art. For us, it’s exactly the opposite. Over the past five years, whenever either of us has mentioned that we were co-writing a novel, the questions volleyed back at us have been consistent—and consistently skeptical: How in the world does that work? Do you divide up the writing? Does one write and the other edit? What if you disagree? How can two people breathe life into the same characters? Are you still friends? Writing together sounds difficult, but it needn’t be.
While what worked for us might not work for others, here’s how we did it. Here’s how we decided, in our late forties, to try something new—in the words of Brene Brown, daring greatly—and ended up as published co-authors and closer friends than ever.
We worked and we talked and we worked some more.
We talked about everything
Day after day, while our kids were at school, we sat side-by-side. Some days we talked more than we wrote. Other days we wrote more than we talked. Some days it was a 50-50 proposition. But what we came to realize was that even when we were talking, we were working. Writing together meant talking about the articles and books we were reading. It meant talking about our feelings, about our friendships and our parenting and our worries. And of course, we talked about our characters, our plots and how to develop our writing skills.
To stay healthy, we aimed to move our bodies at least five minutes every hour. Some days we walked to town to do an errand. Other days we walked the dog. Some days it was so rainy we walked around and around the dining room table. Some days one of us resisted, and it was up to the other to persist. (“It’s been 55 minutes—we have to move!” “No, not now, I’m in a flow.” “Swimsuit season is around the corner.” “Who cares….” “Being too sedentary will kill you.” “Oh fine.”) We came back refreshed, and we wrote. Writing together sounds tough, but it needn’t be.
It can be fun.
We had so much fun
Most days we laughed while we wrote. Some days we laughed so hard we pushed the limits of our fragile bladders, ever-so-slightly damaged from childbirth. On a whim one day we googled “urinary leakage in mothers,” and we laughed again. But this time the laughter was colored by the reminder that we were in a new phase of life. We leaned into the idea of ourselves as wise women, did a few kegels, and wrote some more.
Some days we were so organized! We brilliantly planned and prepped our respective family dinners before we began writing. Together, we gathered our ingredients, rinsed and minced and stirred them, and victoriously filled our matching crockpots. We set the cookers for five hours, and then turned to our novel. The aromas of chili powder, cumin, and garlic intensified as we wrote. When the timer went off, we rejoiced that dinner would be a success, even if our words that day were not. (And success was defined loosely, as in: No matter how the concoction tasted, at least we would not have to revisit the question “what’s for dinner?” until tomorrow.)
Our characters were never far from our minds, even during the hours we tended to our families. Each night, we looked forward to that blissful moment when our kids were “studying” and our husbands were watching TV. We slipped away to resume our exhilarating text-storms about the fun new plot points we’d work on in the morning.
It wasn’t always easy
From time to time, a sick day interrupted our scheduled face-to-face writing sessions. With the help of our digital-native offspring, we learned how to make better use of collaborative technology. We worked through scenes remotely while pots of chicken soup simmered away on our stoves. We always found a way to honor the commitments we’d made, in sickness, in health, and even in a pandemic (little did we know how handy those Zoom skills would turn out to be). We know, we know, those are marital vows. But we were also married to our book, this joyous joint endeavor. We were writers who wrote—together.
We calmed each other through the anxiety of college applications and the interminable waiting. Although we hadn’t been perfect, we reminded ourselves that we—and our kids—had succeeded in all the ways that truly mattered, and no specific college outcome would change that fact. This awareness made it easier to absorb the sadness of the shifting contours of our families as our boys headed off to college, one by one. What would life be like without the sound and the fury, and the mess? Would we ever adjust to the quiet and the freedom? We pondered this and more as we wrote.
As middle-aged women, we no longer had the luxury to ignore our routine healthcare. We paused our work for mammograms and Pap smears, and exchanged wholehearted hugs to drive back the fear. When the unimaginable happened, we sat together in the chemo suite while one of us received treatment and the other tried to distract with laughter. We raged and we grieved, and then we accepted. We rewrote our life stories on the fly.
Through months of hardship, together we propelled ourselves forward, usually (though not always!) with grace. We dove deep into questions of what binds us together—as women, as friends, as community members. We reflected on villages we’d created and ones we’d left behind. And how crises can sharpen our dreams and our focus. We wrote about all this and more. On those rare occasions when our worries threatened to overpower our combined coping skills, we put on our blinders, and took refuge in our story.
We escaped the drudgery of life
Every now and then, we ditched our families and spent a few days on retreat. Just the two of us. No laundry. No meal prep. No driving. For fifteen hours a day, we would plot, write, and edit. Head-clearing walks and simple grilled cheese sandwiches punctuated these marathon sessions. When we returned to our nests, our husbands gave us sideways looks. A girls’ weekend without wine? Yup… though we must confess about that one time we brought brownies, with a super-fun, extra ingredient. It’s legal where we live and we swear it was research. Don’t judge us, please. We can’t take it!
Along the way, there were many nights of sleep lost to hormones or anxiety. Those mornings required more coffee, but still we wrote through the fog. It often took two to remember a detail: a plot twist, a joke, a scene, or who wrote it. The blessing in disguise? The old was new again. We were our own “unbiased” readers! Would two chaotic minds add up to one engrossing book? That was our fervent hope.
There’s no generic formula for writing together, though we recommend giving it a try. Writing is a gigantic leap of faith. And for us, so was starting a second career from scratch. What we’ve learned is that it’s a lot easier to take risks, endure challenges, withstand rejection, and still come roaring back when you’re in it together with a trusted friend (especially one who’s
extremely stingy with adverbs). Also, it’s way cheaper than therapy.
After supporting each other through two decades of motherhood, Tracy Dobmeier and Wendy Katzman thought: “Let’s write a book and really test the friendship.” Several years later their friendship is not only still intact, but they would even go so far as to grade it an A+. With such a perfect GPA, maybe they should apply to Stanford? Just kidding! They would never leave Seattle where they live (not together, though it often feels that way) with their husbands, pets, and last remaining school-age kiddo. You can find them at dobmeierkatzman.com and @katzndobs on Instagram. Or in Tracy’s kitchen.