Collaboration made easy: 6 ways to build a writing relationship

Alexis Brown/Unsplash

Sean Williams, Flinders University

Writing is a pastime best conducted on your own — or so common wisdom would have it. Yet writing teams exist, and in many realms they are expected. Take television, where the writers’ room is the norm. Or the academy: one physics paper has 5,154 authors.

In literature, collaborations are more common than you might realise. For every superstar Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett team-up (Good Omens), there might be an F. Scott Fitzgerald and his uncredited wife Zelda, or a “James S. A. Corey” (The Expanse) being the pseudonym for Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck.

Although new writers such as the Brontë siblings may collaborate, the practice seems to fall away with age, perhaps because writing relationships can be as fraught as familial ones, with as many pitfalls to navigate.

Add to this a collaboration nearly always proves to take as long as a solo work and any monies might have to be divided among the contributors. Why would anyone willingly share their art with someone else for little to no benefit?

Read more:
10½ commandments of writing

In my experience, collaborating can be creatively stimulating, educative, motivating, productive, and revitalising. Plus, it’s great to have a friend to keep you company on a publicity tour.

Here are six techniques to help would-be co-writers take their first steps in this direction.

1. The chain

This is the simplest method, one of two that require first settling on what your story will be and then breaking the writing of it into bits completed separately, in chronological order.

There are many ways to serially tackle the discrete tasks that will combine to form a glorious whole. Some teams might choose to write alternate scenes, chapters or sections; others might alternate whole drafts, giving each participant long stretches of time to work on solo projects.

Whichever way you tear it down, every member of the team has a professional obligation to deliver. Break one link in the chain and it falls apart.

The chain method can give each writer long stretches of time to work on solo projects.
Brad Neathery/Unsplash

2. Parallel processing

The second way to devolve an outline requires trust and communication beyond that required of ordinary collaborative relationships.

In parallel processing, you divide characters among authors, so one provides the voice of X, another Y, and so on. Each arc is written separately, then edited together when complete. If X or Y diverge too much from their expected paths, plotting and structural problems can arise, but the powerful juxtaposition of distinct voices can outweigh the risk.

3. The hothouse

An extreme version of serial collaboration, this method used to require being physically in the same room as your writing partner(s). One starts writing and keeps writing until they get stuck. They then tag in the next writer, who takes over. Repeat until done. Food and sleep are optional.

The benefit of this method is the words are guaranteed to keep coming.

These days the “in person” requirement is greatly relaxed. Google Docs is just one platform allowing writers to work on the same document at the same time, no matter where they are.

4. The undertakers

Brainstorming what a story will contain is, for many collaborators, the fun part — providing they can agree on a final project.

One method of achieving this agreement is by giving one of the co-writers a veto to be exercised when consensus can’t be reached.

Another method requires every element of the final project must be agreed to by every collaborator. This can be time-consuming to achieve but avoids any lingering resentment if someone is outvoted or overruled.

To avoid any lingering resentment, every decision can be agreed on by every collaborator.
Toa Heftiba/Unsplash

More generally, every shared undertaking should have a binding agreement in place before serious work commences, covering issues such as whose name goes first, which agent will sell the work, how any resulting IP will be divided, and so on.

It is much better to have these agreements in place and not need them than the other way around.

5. The Marxist Manifesto

Collaborators should have common ambitions but complementary skills, otherwise you might as well work alone. The way roles are divided in the working relationship can reflect those skill sets – which might, of course, lie in non-writerly areas such as business or marketing.

To some, the perfect collaboration is one in which every participant’s weaknesses are covered by strengths in their fellows. Everyone contributes and everyone learns by example.

Not everyone needs to write. Someone on the team might have the perfect brain for business or marketing.
Helena Lopes/Unsplash

6. Resurrection of the dead

Finally, the easiest and safest way to audition a potential co-writer is to give them a failed draft and see what they accomplish with it. If it’s a success, great: the original author gains a new collaborator and a finished work.

Should this (or any of these methods fail) the author is no worse off.

They can just revert to writing alone – for some their natural habitat.The Conversation

Sean Williams, Senior Lecturer, Flinders University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Now Is Not the Time – The Coronavirus Novel

Over at the Amazon bestsellers list, you’ll often find a number of books reflective of the times or some event/s currently taking place, whether that is a death of a celebrity, an historical moment remembered or even a current crisis unfolding. The link below is to an article pointing out that now is probably not the time to write and release that coronavirus novel you have pieced together.

For more visit:

Digital Readers More Likely to Be Writers

The link below is to an article that reports on a report that found digital readers are more likely to be writers than print only readers. The article contains a link to the report concerned.

For more visit:

Trying to Write in Hong Kong

The link below is to an article that looks at writing in Hong Kong during a time when one crisis follows another.

For more visit:

Great time to try: travel writing from the home

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Ben Stubbs, University of South Australia

Being in isolation might be a great time to try something new. In this series, we get the basics on hobbies and activities to start while you’re spending more time at home.

While many are cancelling treks to Nepal, putting dreams of Venice on hold and wondering what we can substitute for a tropical beach escape, it is worth remembering we’re not the first who have had to rethink the notion of travel.

There is a precedent for thinking about journeys in a more imaginative sense: travel and the near-at-hand.

Vertical travel and travel writing – where we immerse in the spaces around us in greater detail, peeling back layers of history, botany and culture – goes back to the late 18th Century in Turin and a man named Xavier de Maistre.

De Maistre wrote A Journey Around My Room while imprisoned in his bedroom for six weeks after he was caught fighting a duel in the north Italian city in 1790.

Rather than sulk through his imprisonment, he decided to challenge the popularity of imperialist travel writing and he wrote a travel book about the contents of his bedroom. De Maistre observed his surroundings, detaching and looking with new eyes to give the reader an alternative perspective on what travel could mean:

What a comfort this new mode will be to the sick; they need not fear bleak winds or change of weather. And what a thing, too, it will be for cowards; they will be safe from pitfalls and quagmires. Thousands who hitherto did not dare, others who were not able, and others to whom it never occurred to think of such a thing as going on a journey, will make up their minds to follow my example.

De Maistre’s room became a place with latitude and topography.

He immersed in the scenes of the paintings on his walls and saw his bed as a vehicle for imaginative transportation alongside his dog, Rose, his trusted travel companion. De Maistre was so taken by the journey that he subsequently wrote A Nocturnal Expedition Around My Room to “revisit the country which I had formerly so delightfully travelled through”.

Writing of a microcosm

There were many inspired by this new style. Heinrich Seidel refocused his apartment into a microcosm where each item had a history and an interconnected story. Similarly, Alphonse Karr produced two volumes and 700 pages focused solely on his garden where he lived in Montmartre with his pet monkey Emmanuel.

In Henry David Thoreau’s Walden (1854), the author lived alone and in seclusion in a log cabin at Walden Pond; George Orwell meticulously captured the intricate details of weather, vegetable production and an egg count in his domestic diary from the early 1940s.

Read more:
Why philosophy is an ideal travel companion for adventurous minds

This notion of rethinking space and valuing the mundane as an ethical and creative choice acts as a counter to the assumed importance of distance with many travel(ling) writers of the era.

This has not diminished in the modern era.

In Isolarion: A Different Oxford Journey (2007), James Attlee extends the notion of close travel or “home-touring” as he walks along a solitary Oxford street.

A Week at the Airport: A Heathrow Diary (2009) sees Alain de Botton at a desk in the departure hall of London Heathrow’s Terminal 5, confined for the duration of his stay, to understand the airport both as a destination in itself and as a location with a distinct culture.

Meg Watson’s essay Another life in Paris for The Saturday Paper focuses on her experience inhabiting another person’s space as an Airbnb guest in Paris:

On my first night in Canelle’s bed, I watch Midnight in Paris and drink rosé from one of her stained teacups. In a classic display of unabashed French nonchalance, the bedroom door is nothing but a clear panel of glass.

Within the intimacy of the apartment, Watson shows the reader a closer and more nuanced perspective of Paris. Simultaneously, the voyeurism of this approach also allows the reader to appreciate the sameness of many travel experiences.

Tips for your own close travel

Look intimately

Take a closer look at the items around your house.

Especially if you have things from previous travels, take the time to reflect on the item’s journey, write its story, or look through the photos of that period– it might even involve some research of your own, discovering what the pattern on your Moroccan mirror means, or the significance of the Easter Island statues on your bookshelf.

Smell deeply

Stroll through your garden. Take a closer look at all the plants, the soil and the trees. Look closer again.

By sifting through my own soil I discovered shards of 100-year-old-bricks which prompted my journey towards a better understanding of the history of my state.

Remember the outside world

Look out your window. Just as many have in Wuhan, Barcelona and Rome, conversations with new encounters, impromptu music performances and shared meals and experiences (even over a fence or across a road) are much of what we search for in conventional travel.

This new dimension can bring surprising togetherness.The Conversation

Ben Stubbs, Senior Lecturer, School of Creative Industries, University of South Australia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

We should use ‘I’ more in academic writing – there is benefit to first-person perspective


Peter Ellerton, The University of Queensland

The use of the word “I” in academic writing, that is writing in the first person, has a troublesome history. Some say it makes writing too subjective, others that it’s essential for accuracy.

This is reflected in how students, particularly in secondary schools, are trained to write. Teachers I work with are often surprised that I advocate, at times, invoking the first person in essays or other assessment in their subject areas.

In academic writing the role of the author is to explain their argument dispassionately and objectively. The author’s personal opinion in such endeavours is neither here nor there.

As noted in Strunk and White’s highly influential Elements of Style – (first published in 1959) the writer is encouraged to place themselves in the background.

Write in a way that draws the reader’s attention to the sense and substance of the writing, rather than to the mood and temper of the author.

This all seems very reasonable and scholarly. The move towards including the first person perspective, however, is becoming more acceptable in academia.

There are times when invoking the first person is more meaningful and even rigorous than not. I will give three categories in which first person academic writing is more effective than using the third person.

1. Where an academic is offering their personal view or argument

Above, I could have said “there are three categories” rather than “I will give three categories”. The former makes a claim of discovering some objective fact. The latter, a more intellectually honest and accountable approach, is me offering my interpretation.

I could also say “three categories are apparent”, but that is ignoring the fact it is apparent to me. It would be an attempt to grant too much objectivity to a position than it deserves.

In a similar vein, statements such as “it can be argued” or “it was decided”, using the passive voice, avoid responsibility. It is much better to say “I will argue that” or “we decided that” and then go on to prosecute the argument or justify the decision.

Taking responsibility for our stances and reasoning is important culturally as well as academically. In a participatory democracy, we are expected to be accountable for our ideas and choices. It is also a stand against the kinds of anonymous assertions that easily proliferate via fake and unnamed social media accounts.

Read more:
Post-truth politics and why the antidote isn’t simply ‘fact-checking’ and truth

It’s worth noting that Nature – arguably one of the world’s best science journals – prefers authors to selectively avoid the passive voice. Its writing guidelines note:

Nature journals prefer authors to write in the active voice (“we performed the experiment…”) as experience has shown that readers find concepts and results to be conveyed more clearly if written directly.

2. Where the author’s perspective is part of the analysis

Some disciplines, such as anthropology, recognise that who is doing the research and why they are doing it ought to be overtly present in their presentation of it.

There’s more to Descartes’ famous phrase than a claim to existence.

Removing the author’s presence can allow important cultural or other perspectives held by the author to remain unexamined. This can lead to the so-called crisis of representation, in which the interpretation of texts and other cultural artefacts is removed from any interpretive stance of the author.

This gives a false impression of objectivity. As the philosopher Thomas Nagel notes, there is no “view from nowhere”.

Philosophy commonly invokes the first person position, too. Rene Descartes famously inferred “I think therefore I am” (cogito ergo sum). But his use of the first person in Meditations on First Philosophy was not simply an account of his own introspection. It was also an invitation to the reader to think for themselves.

3. Where the author wants to show their reasoning

The third case is especially interesting in education.

I tell students of science, critical thinking and philosophy that a phrase guaranteed to raise my hackles is “I strongly believe …”. In terms of being rationally persuasive, this is not relevant unless they then go on tell me why they believe it. I want to know what and how they are thinking.

To make their thinking most clearly an object of my study, I need them to make themselves the subjects of their writing.

I prefer students to write something like “I am not convinced by Dawson’s argument because…” rather than “Dawson’s argument is opposed by DeVries, who says …”. I want to understand their thinking not just use the argument of DeVries.

Read more:
Thinking about thinking helps kids learn. How can we teach critical thinking?

Of course I would hope they do engage with DeVries, but then I’d want them to say which argument they find more convincing and what their own reasons were for being convinced.

Just stating Devries’ objection is good analysis, but we also need students to evaluate and justify, and it is here that the first person position is most useful.

It is not always accurate to say a piece is written in the first or third person. There are reasons to invoke the first person position at times and reasons not to. An essay in which it is used once should not mean we think of the whole essay as from the first person perspective.

We need to be more nuanced about how we approach this issue and appreciate when authors should “place themselves in the background” and when their voice matters.The Conversation

Peter Ellerton, Lecturer in Critical Thinking; Curriculum Director, UQ Critical Thinking Project, The University of Queensland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.