There are so many benefits to writing with a partner that I recommend it for writers lucky enough to find someone they’re compatible with. For example, and most importantly, you both need to be interested in the same career goals; writing TV comedy, writing TV drama, or writing comedic or dramatic feature screenplays.
I’ve tried to work with writers who really only wanted to do one specific type of dramatic comedy. One writer I tried to work with only really liked one TV show, and it was off the air. We couldn’t even pick a TV show to write a spec for.
Writing partnerships are like relationships; the more you have in common, the easier it is to get along. You don’t want to be arguing all the time. That takes up valuable time, and eventually sucks the soul out of you.
My writing partner of over twenty years and I had an agreement; if neither one of us liked a scene, a story, a character or dialogue, we’d brainstorm until we found something we both liked.
Regardless of how well you get along, you’ll inevitably hit some bumps in the road. For example, during a writers’ strike my partner started writing for an animated show, and loved the hours, plus he won an Emmy.
At first, he didn’t want to leave animation. We got over that, but it took time. Another time, I sold a feature and took six months off to write it with my wife. That was hard to get over, too.
We finally agreed that each writer could pursue his own projects, and unless something took off, we’d continue working together. Fortunately, we found lots of work found work on half hour comedies for years to come.
To accomplish that kind of career longevity, you both have to be flexible. And it helps if you actually like each other, because you are going to be spending long, long hours together.
Possibly more important; you need to trust each other. If I couldn’t come up with a story idea, I knew if we talked about it, the two of us could, or my partner could. Same thing with jokes. I always knew he could find a better joke, or we could find one together.
One thing that can help you is having a writing partner who has a special skill set or is a minority. TV showrunners are always being accused of hiring white men only.
Since this is a delicate subject, I’ll add that I’m not suggesting that you go looking for a female or minority partner. However, if you happen to find a talented writer who falls into one or more of those categories, you probably stand a better chance of getting hired these days.
Additionally, if you find a writer with a special skill set relevant to a television show, (a former lawyer or doctor, for example), that can that can really help you get hired s well.
Another smart move to get into comedy shows is to find a standup comic to team up with. Comedies are generally room-written, so to have some standup comedians in the room can be a huge plus for the writing staff.
A partner who does Improv would be even better in some ways. Standup comics can write jokes and deliver them, while people with Improv backgrounds can wing it, in the room, on the spot.
I know a writer that teamed up with a female standup comedian which made the network executives happy, so they could point to their female writers and claim they were inclusive.
The other great thing about being in a writing partnership, is the studio gets two writers for the price of one. There are two minds in the room fixing story, writing and rewriting dialogue, and addressing studio and network notes. They feel like it’s a bargain. The downside; single writers make twice as much money.
Agents and managers love to represent writing partners. They have many advantages over an individual writer. Be careful, though, agents have been known to discreetly find out which writer is the stronger of the two. They’ll make it their business in case you split up, to stay with the stronger writer.
Another tactic writing teams should beware of is agents who intentionally try to split their teams in hopes of making ten percent of two salaries, instead of one. One of our agents tried to do this with us.
I would suggest that teams don’t fall for this ploy. Having a talented partner will definitely come in handy when you need a script overnight, when you need to get new staff jobs, and in studio offices, at get to know you meetings and pitch meetings.
When writers decide to partner up, they need to agree on their process. How are they going to write, so they both get input? Some teams do it all together, break the story, write the outline, and write the script and polish it together, in the same room.
Some teams split the work in various ways. One member can write act one, the other act two, then they switch and rewrite each other’s work. This way each writer gets a pass at the rewriting their partner’s work; it’s fair, and it generally improves the quality of the script.
There are some writing partnerships where one writer takes a pass at a scene, then hands it over to the other writer, who then musters everything to improve on the scene, especially in terms of conflict and what it reveals about character.
Then they switch again, and again, each trying to outdo the other, until the scene is “perfect.” If you have time, and patience, that process has worked pretty well for some writers for example, Joel and Ethan Coen.
In a lot of partnerships, one partner has strengths that the other doesn’t. For example, one writer might be good at story, and the other’s good at jokes, or one’s good with visuals and the other’s good at structure, or dialogue. One might be better pitching to studio executives.
So, partners with complementary skill sets have an advantage. However, two partners don’t want to be too different, especially when it comes to your scripts tone and quality. Otherwise you get arguments all the time.
You want a partner that’s got the same taste as you. You don’t want to be coming up with terrific stories that your partner doesn’t get. You both need to be able to look at different versions of the same scene and agree that one part is better than another part. You want a partner who can recognize why one joke is better than another.
Hopefully, both partners can admit when they’re wrong, can appreciate each other’s contribution, and be resilient when the going gets tough.
If you want to find a partner, keep an eye out when you’re networking, or in a writing class, or a seminar. You want to be on the lookout for someone who meets all the qualifications for a good partner. If you absolutely can’t make partnership work, keep writing your own projects.
Writing alone does offer several distinct advantages. You can write whenever you want, you don’t have to explain, you’ll have nobody to argue with, and you’ll get to see your unique personal vision fulfilled. And when you do work, you’ll make twice as much money as the teams.
Think about it, and if you decide to try writing with a partner, choose wisely. Writing with someone you don’t get along with can be the worst experience ever.
Image credit: Creative Commons, Quando L’italia imita male le serie TV di successo americane, 2015,by Televisione Streaming , licensed by creative commons CC BY 2.0