A Writing Partnership: Behind The Scenes

Written by Ali Laventhol

Tawnya and I often get asked about our partnership. Some inquiries stem from pure curiosity, while others are from writers considering becoming part of a team themselves. Here’s some insight into what it’s been like for us (beyond the short answer, which is: pretty freaking great.)

origin story

Our partnership was formed shortly before we got into NBC’s Writers On The Verge program in 2010.

We had written a feature, a TV spec and a TV pilot together in a few short months even though we’d known each other for several years. The creative energy in our work sessions was potent and exciting and we seemed to really complement each other on the page, so we decided to apply to the fellowships as a team.

This meant that if we got accepted, we would be seen as a single entity in the eyes of the town. And that’s exactly what happened. Although no official ceremony was performed, by virtue of getting representation and landing our first tv staffing job out of NBC WOTV, we became “work married.” Luckily, because we knew each other and understood each other’s passion to build a career—and we had written three scripts together (and two more in the program)—we knew we’d chosen the right work-spouse.

PRO TIP: Before deciding to partner with someone be sure it’s a writer you want to make a career-long commitment to. The credits you accumulate and the samples you write together will function as calling cards for the team, not for the individuals. It’s important to ask yourself if you vibe both on and off the page. That’s because…

Tawnya and Ali

a writing partner is much more than a writing partner

As a team, you will do everything together, not just write. You will be living your creative lives together AND navigating business decisions, scheduling decisions, communication decisions, financial decisions, networking decisions, representation decisions and so much more. Make sure to pick someone you see eye to eye with on more than just how to break a story.

That said, you don’t have to find your identical twin. In fact, it’s helpful to have similarities and differences. Tawnya and I have a lot of the same strengths, but we also have some different ones. For example, she is a natural leader and I’m a natural peacekeeper. That’s not to say we can’t do both, but that’s how our innate personalities lay out.

Sometimes people assume we do different parts of the writing process, but for us that’s not true. We break story together, divide the beat sheet up and each write half the outline. Then, we go over it together and tweak. We divide the revised outline up and each write half the script, read it out loud together and tweak as we go. Once we’re into rewriting and getting notes we’ll either each do our halves or one of us will just do the pass if the other is working on something else (since we tend to have a lot going on). For pitches, we usually divide up the pitch sections or someone will do the first draft and then we pass it back and forth a bunch of times.

What we don’t do (if we can help it) is write scenes together from scratch, although we’ve had to in a few situations. It’s not ideal on the productivity meter and doesn’t allow each writer to go very deep internally. We have known teams who sit together and write every word. We also know teams who have one member that writes the first draft of pitches, and the other who writes the first draft of scripts—and they share the rewriting. It’s whatever works best for you, as long as both members agree.

PRO TIP: Allow for evolution in terms of how your team functions. We don’t work together the same way we did when we first started. We know and trust each other on another level now, after 14 years. We have a shorthand. And we’ve learned so much along the way. For example, on our first few shows we covered set together until we realized that set is one place where it’s redundant to have two writers. Now, we divide up set days so only one of us is doing those ungodly hours while the other is either in the room, writing, or doing whatever else is necessary at that moment. We are very open to this divide and conquer strategy, however officially, the WGA is not. They have rules about teams working on shows and how a showrunner can’t split them up. That is because…

teams share one paycheck

The thought is that a team is doing the work of one person. And when writing an outline or script I think the logic holds. However, when staffing on a show both writers show up every day and pitch ideas in the room. Both writers make 100% contributions to the shaping of the season and the breaking of the episodes, while getting paid 50%.

Although I could list countless benefits of working on a show with a partner, the salary is not one of them. However, it is worth noting that the WGA made gains in the latest post-strike contract in terms of increased health and pension contributions for writing teams. Yay!

other fun facts

*We did a lot of carpooling in the first few years (and still do some), which saves on gas but also gives us brainstorming time, strategizing time and venting time—all of which are extremely important.

*There is usually a constant text convo running. Sometimes even when we’re in a zoom room, but especially when we’re off writing. That’s because even though we trust each other to make decisions, it’s so damn nice to have someone to bounce things off of; someone who is as invested as you. Also, we are each other’s memories. Meaning, if she can’t remember something, I probably do – and if I can’t remember something she probably does. Thus, we text.

*We have a joint email account. This ensures both of us always have access to all the information. Highly recommend!

*When we break story, mutual satisfaction is the name of the game. If one of us really likes something but the other doesn’t, we usually trash it. This can be hard at times but ultimately, I believe our work is better for it.

*We try to support each other in the room, especially if it’s a hostile room. If everyone is talking over each other, we help make space for the other’s pitch. Like, if no one hears Tawnya’s great idea I’ll try to say “What Tawnya just said fixes that issue…” or whatever. Having each other’s back applies to so many different aspects of this career and nowhere is that more appreciated than in a writers’ room.

*For important meetings or pitches we check in on wardrobe. Like a quick “what are you wearing” text. That’s because back in the day when meetings were in person, we once showed up in the same shirt.

*We live near each other. This isn’t a necessity but has certainly come in handy at times. If someone’s internet is down and we have a zoom meeting, it’s a short hop over to the other’s house to quickly pull up a chair. This also means we can meet in person to work quite easily.

*Just like in any relationship, we go through phases. We’re lucky, we don’t have many disagreements or bumps. I can basically count 14 year’s-worth all on one hand. But getting through them has given us the confidence to know we can work through whatever lies ahead. The same things that apply to good relationships in general also apply to writing partnerships, like good communication, respect, benefit of the doubt, etc.

*There have been times when we’ve faced conflict – not between us, but with other people in the business. We’ve seen some severely uncomfortable moments that have silenced people in the moment. Tawnya is usually the one who can calmly break the silence and bring the conversation back, so the issue can be talked through. Conversely, when injustices pop up and we feel slighted and we’re about to get on a call or a zoom with someone about it, she’ll usually say to me “you have to do the talking because I’m too mad…” so it works both ways.

*The emotional support is invaluable. When one of us is down, the other picks up the pieces. This career can be full of disappointments, rejection, and insane politics. We’re able to reframe situations for each other so they don’t seem so devastating. Nobody understands what you’re going through better than your writing partner. Of course, the other side of this coin is that you have someone to celebrate the victories with, too. In fact, back when meetings were in person, we’d carpool all over town and usually hit FROMA after the long day, which was a sweet little wine bar by Tawnya’s old place back in the day. Nothing like being able to post-mortem a meeting with your bestie over a nice glass of Sauv Blanc on a regular basis.

So… If you’re trying to decide whether you want to be in a writing team, remember all partnerships are different. You get to make the rules. This is just a rundown of how ours works. From my perspective, the benefits FAR outweigh the financial drawback (if you consider it a drawback) – but that is because I somehow got super lucky and ended up with the right person. I can’t begin to imagine this career without my better half!


Ali Laventhol

Ali Laventhol has been Tawnya‘s writing partner for over a decade, most recently as the Co-Executive Producer for My Life With The Walter Boys (Netflix), and Bel-Air (Peacock), as well as several Lifetime movies. She is a long time Script Anatomy instructor.

 

 

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