How Julien and I Write Together

Chris Brogan and Julien Smith by C.C. Chapman Julien Smith and I wrote Trust Agents the same way we’re writing our new book. I thought it might be interesting to share. Writing is a very unique process to all people, and so this might not be useful to everyone, and yet, it’s always fun to get a sense of how others do what they do so you can see if it makes sense to you.

How Julien and I Write Together

The Tools

We write in Google Docs, which gives us something we can access anywhere on the web. If we’re offline, we use Pages or TextEdit to write stuff, and then dump it into Docs for later.

We communicate while writing using instant messenger. I forget which one we use. Gtalk? I forget because I use the Adium client and have 5 accounts invisibly open when we write.

Those are the tools. Oh, we’re both Mac guys.

The Content

We do a lot of back and forth, over the phone and then more so in IM. We start with ideas that sound really good to us, and then we usually start writing furiously. Somewhere after about 30 pages worth of material, we both independently decide that it’s total crap, and we scrap most of that and we start again.

Neither of us do many “drafts.” We edit inline, real time, and edit each other’s stuff.

The Method

We write at the same time in the same doc when we can. Julien will work on a section and I’ll work on a section at the same time, and then at some point, we’ll switch and see if we can tighten up each other’s stuff. Sometimes, that’s a little weird, because I’ll be editing a sentence and then I’ll see Julien throw some text into the document to say, “what I meant to say was..” and then he’ll delete it. Like ghosts.

We keep most of our chatting to the IM window. Sometimes, something will strike one of us. Julien will say, “I’m not really feeling the word ‘Communicate’ as a chapter. What about ‘Gather?'” I’ll almost always immediately know that he’s right. Other times, I’ll give some thoughts on whether a paragraph makes sense as it’s written, and he’ll concede that I’ve got something.

No egos. Everything is expendable. Everything can be scrapped.

Scheduling

Thanks to Diane Brogan (aka my Mom and executive assistant), we schedule an hour to write each day. Once we get grinding on that, we try not to miss our schedule, no matter what. The more one gets in a habit, the more the habit strengthens and the more you feel accountable to the other person.

This, by the way, is another reason to write with a co-author. Julien and I keep each other sane and keep each other honest.

We schedule an hour a day, and we shoot for as much productivity as we can get into that hour. Quite often, we pick up at off times and just keep writing in the off hours. It just can’t stop at an hour sometimes, but Julien and I stop our simultaneous writing at the end of an hour.

Goals and habits are better when they’re predictable, so “faking it” and writing more than an hour leads to feeling like we don’t know what we’re signing up for, and that’s not useful, either.

The Product

We both think Trust Agents was good. We think the new version that comes out in paperback this week is a bit better. We think our new book is kickbutt. We’ve taken what we’ve learned from our other efforts, and are moving into our new topic of interest (can’t talk much about it but it’s business motivation meets personal development type stuff). The fit has been amazing.

How we write together is part of that experience, and it’s been a great time.

Writing a book isn’t easy. Writing it with a friend and using modern technology and learning how to build sustainable habits is gold.

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