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Most of the time when two people write a book, one person is doing the majority of the writing and the other is critiquing or helping with the plot or providing technical information that the real writer lacks. Other times the writing is "traded," where some chapters/characters/places are written by one person and others by the other person.

But what I've been doing for the past several years is literally "pair writing," in the sense of pair programming (a more common phenomenon that occurs when two people work on the same piece of code at the same time). I'll meet with the other author and we'll write the same document at the same time, and of course we discuss it as we go. Originally this was done with two keyboards connected to the same computer, but we've now moved to Google Docs and Skype, which allows us to work remotely.

I've never heard of anyone doing this before. It's really hard to attribute specific things in the book to any single person. Sometimes there'll be a pithy line here or there that I can definitely say "That was mine!" or "That was his!", but it's fairly rare. Each of us has literally touched almost every sentence.

And now we're hitting the final stretch of writing (our third major revision; we are both perfectionists), and I have to wonder if this has been done before, and if so, was it successful? Are there any examples of work that has been written in the fashion I've described?

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What makes you think it could be less successful than any other method writing a book? –  John Smithers Sep 11 '11 at 19:21
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A lot of reasons - foremost in my mind is the difficulty keeping a consistent style. –  Evan Cordell Sep 11 '11 at 19:24
    
What I've found is that my pair and I develop a consistent pair style--consistent at least for the course of the story or article. –  Dale Emery Sep 11 '11 at 21:11

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I've pair-written a few short articles with my colleague Elisabeth Hendrickson, and those were published in small, online trade journals. And we're pair-writing a book or two, but have not completed those. We're both used to pair programming.

We wrote our articles remotely but simultaneously, using Google Docs to write and Skype to talk. The way we work is this: we chat a bit about whatever idea we want to add next, then one of us takes a crack at writing it in a sentence or a paragraph. Then we both critique and edit more or less simultaneously.

For our books, we've evolved a slightly different technique. We sit together, but at separate computers. We write in lots of small files--one folder per chapter, one file per section. We use a shared repository for version control (Github), and we synchronize very, very frequently--every few minutes.

As with articles, we chat until one or both of us feel like writing, then we write. The blurts of writing are usually short (as with articles), but sometimes we'll write separately for a few minutes, usually on separate but related ideas, usually in separate files. Often while we're chatting one of us will go into stream-of-consciousness mode, and the other will take notes. Then (either together or separately) we turn the notes into something more coherent.

Last year I co-wrote a short story with a writer friend. That wasn't pair writing, but we would each write two hundred words, then turn it over to the other, who would edit then add two hundred more words. Every now and then we would stop to talk (via email or in person) about where the story was going. With such short additions and frequent swapping and editing, we created a story where each sentence felt like it was written by both of us and neither of us.

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I'm pretty sure that there are successful books out there, which used this approach, even though I cannot name one.

If you are afraid of an inconsistent style, I have to say that the different approach (each one writes his chapters separately) would make it more inconsistent, not less.

Read the books from David and Leigh Eddings. Althalus, for example, is a good one. I like the book and I can tell you which passage was written by whom--no consistent style.

Best thing to do, is what every writer should do: find trustworthy test readers. Trustworthy means here, that you can trust that they tell you the truth about your work. By this definition most relatives are not trustworthy.

These test readers can tell you if the style is consistent, if the book sucks, or if you should publish it soon.

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I've read Althalus, actually, and a lot of the Eddings' work, but I seem to recall David Eddings saying that he felt compelled to give his wife author credit because of the help she gave him. I got the impression it was more a discussion/revision type thing than that she actually wrote passages. –  Evan Cordell Sep 11 '11 at 19:42
    
@Evan, honestly I do not know if she has written it herself, dictated it, or whatever, but her influence on the books is obvious. –  John Smithers Sep 11 '11 at 19:54
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Example: Good Omens by Pratchett and Gaiman. Pre-internet, they exchanged floppy(!) disks and talked on the phone. –  Jürgen A. Erhard Sep 22 '11 at 12:04

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