Writing with Others

Writing alone is challenging; writing with others even more so. You deal with the same writing problems and decision making, but this time, you have to solve them and make them together.

I write this post because a colleague and I just finished the first draft of a book. We’ve been working on it since last spring, when I came up with an idea and wanted him to be a part of the project. Since then, we worked on the project, negotiated with the publisher and then started to write. You can find some books that describe collaborative academic writing (see chap. 3 in Paul Silvia’s Write It Up), but I would like to share some things that I’ve learned in the past few months.

I can definitely recommend writing a text with someone else. On the one hand, you will learn more about the topic than you would have if you had done it yourself. On the other hand, you will learn a lot about yourself as a writer and your abilities to adapt to someone else’s writing habits and quirks.

Here are two aspects of writing together that you need to think about:

Organizing work
Regardless of how many people are involved, which text genre you are writing and how long the process will take, you need to find ways to organize the work. The better you plan, the fewer the troubles you will encounter.

From the outset, we created a shared online folder with a Cloud-supported service. In the folder we began with simple text documents in order to document our first ideas. Having found a structure for the book, we created sub-folders for each chapter and others for administrative tasks. I guess there are other solutions to do this, but this method did the trick for us. As collaborative writers, you need to have your ideas, decisions, plans, texts and other documents in one place, accessible to everyone in the team. Later in the process, when it comes to giving feedback on one another’s texts, shared files are crucial and make your writing life easier. Only towards the end of the first revision round, however, did my colleague tell me that we could have simplified our feedback process by using the same writing program.

Having a shared folder isn’t enough, though. You need to make written plans and define who is responsible for which tasks. Whatever you decide and talk about, make sure you document the important things. With the first conflict, you will be glad that you can go back to your files and check.

Work strategies
If you have the opportunity to choose your fellow writers, choose them wisely. You should know and accept your coauthors work strategies and style. Even if your work style differs from theirs, you at least know what to expect. You will profit from this knowledge, for example, when it comes to planning the project in the long term. I wouldn’t have asked my colleague to write this book with me, if I hadn’t known or couldn’t accept how he works and writes. Sure, we had some discussions about some minor questions on the process and the content, but nothing that would have interrupted our work.

If you do your job well, you will be able to enjoy writing with others. And as a side effect, you will learn new things about writing, the topic and yourself. If you neglect to prepare the process as a team, you will be in for a rough ride.

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