Guest Post: “Tackling the Schedule: The Benefits and Challenges of Writing with a Partner” by Brad McLelland

Meet Brad McLelland.

Born and raised in Arkansas, Brad McLelland spent several years working as a crime journalist in the South before earning his MFA in creative writing from Oklahoma State University, where he met his writing partner, Louis Sylvester. A part-time drummer and singer, Brad lives in Oklahoma with his wife, stepdaughter, a mini-Aussie who gives hugs, and a chubby cat who begs for ham.

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The Guest Post.

Tackling the Schedule:

The Benefits and Challenges of Writing with a Partner


In February 2016, my writing partner Louis Sylvester and I received the phone call that changed our lives. Our agent, Brooks Sherman, informed us that Henry Holt Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group, wanted to acquire all four books in our Legends of the Lost Causes western series.

After thoroughly thanking Brooks, (and picking ourselves off the floor), Louis and I sat down to a long phone conversation about how to proceed. Since we live more than a thousand miles apart (Louis lives in Idaho, I’m in Oklahoma), we knew that writing three more books under contract with Henry Holt would present a host of challenges for our writing schedules. We had started writing Book 1 all the way back in 2010, and had enjoyed plenty of time to tinker and redraft as needed—but now we were staring at real deadlines with a real publisher.

Needless to say, we couldn’t help feeling a bit overwhelmed. Especially when our new editor informed us that the first draft of Book 2, The Fang of Bonfire Crossing, would be given a five-month window for completion. Not five years—five months! The clock would start ticking in January 2017, and the alarm for the draft would go off in May.

After picking ourselves off the floor again, Louis and I talked out the writing schedule that would become an integral part of our lives for the foreseeable future, a schedule that we still maintain.

Here’s what we do:

Because each novel in the Legends series is divided into three major sections—Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3—Louis and I schedule one part per month for drafting. So for Book 2, we wrote Part 1 in January, Part 2 in February, and Part 3 in March (we approached the first draft of Book 3 in the same way, and are repeating the formula for Book 4). That leaves two months to scribble out any remaining pieces, flesh out underdeveloped scenes, adjust any character arcs, and do a lightning-quick edit job of the entire book. Then we turn the manuscript over to our editor, who then works closely with us on subsequent drafts.

Compounding the challenges of writing under deadline and so far apart, Louis and I both hold full-time jobs outside of kidlit publishing. Louis is an English professor; I work as a technical editor for a publisher of fire service training manuals. Our daytime professions keep us hopping throughout a typical week, so it’s vital that we establish a writing routine that not only succeeds for Henry Holt, but also works for our families and our employers.

In order to keep to our one-part-per month drafting formula, Louis and I alternate the chapter writing within each section of a book. A typical Part 1, for example, consists of about ten chapters, which means that Louis and I will write five chapters each, going back and forth with a detailed outline to ensure plot consistency. If possible, we each stick to a chapter a week. Then we switch our respective chapters to perform personal edits and layering for voice, style, and tone.

For me, this means lots of nighttime and weekend writing. Since I work four days a week at my day-job, Fridays tend to be my most productive days for drafting, but I also grab as many Saturday night and Sunday evening sessions as I can. Each week I spend thirty to forty hours on writing, so drafting each book is the equivalent of a second full-time job. There’s little time for Netflix (though I do sneak in occasional episodes of She-Ra and Scooby-Doo with my stepdaughter).

I would not be able to accomplish any of this, of course, without a wonderful support system. My wife and stepdaughter understand the time that I need to co-write the novels, so they provide me the appropriate space and time to get the work done. Each month we carefully plan our family outings and events, and we take summer vacations after first drafts are turned into the publisher. We schedule activities to get excited about, and we celebrate and embrace the simple things (such as going to the movies or playing board games).

By taking a measured, meticulous approach to our writing schedule, Louis and I no longer feel like we have to pick ourselves off the floor. We’ve endured the challenges, we’ve undergone the adjustments, and now we’re finding ourselves in the Book 4 homestretch.

Our biggest hope, at the end of the day, is that our readers see the story and not the schedule. If we accomplish that, we can wrap up the day’s writing with a sense of pride and purpose.


Thank you Brad for sharing!

Brad’s latest book, The Fang of Bonfire Crossing: Legends of the Lost Causes, is available now!

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