I have the pleasure of working on writing projects with a lot of different people at the moment. Sometimes it’s an easy experience and sometimes it can be hard-going.
There seems to be three aspects to any writing collaboration which seem to set it up for success or failure.
How easy is it to share the work?
If you’re disorganised, have different drafts all over the place, find it slow to work through any changes, or hard to communicate about the work, then the bedrock of the collaboration is weak.
I’ve been on projects where everyone has their own copy of the shared work, and nobody is in sync. It’s deadly. Technology can help enormously, but you need to be organised and all working the same way.
The collaborators who talk and type at the same time in the same room, have this aspect of things completely sorted!
How much of your ego is intertwined with the work?
Collaborating means giving and taking. It means accepting changes to your work, and being kind about the other person’s work too. Depending on mood, task, and myriad other things, this can be easier said than done.
You need to care about your work, but you need to care about the collaboration’s success too. The point of collaboration is to produce something that’s greater than the sum of its parts, which means your parts have to give.
Have you got a good working agreement?
Do you know the rules about your collaboration? What are the do’s and don’ts?
When Richard Curtis and Ben Elton were writing Blackadder, they had a rule that if one of them removed something the other had written, it wasn’t ok for the other to put it back in the next draft.
A lot of collaborations suffer when the collaborators get into a loop, pulling the work back and forth, rather than finding a third path that’s better than any individual contribution.
A recent success story
I’ve recently been working with a friend, with whom I’ve written before. We hadn’t worked together for a while, but recently agreed to do a quick project together.
Both of us have put a sizeable amount of time into the project so far, and we’ve used Google Docs to share the work. It’s led to us being able to have live conversations inside the text, and even work on the same sentence at the same time (though that was a bit weird) without stopping concentration for a chat.
We started out with the assumption that each was going to work with the best of intentions, and we’ve respected each other’s edits. Admittedly, I’ve made a big plea for keeping some bits that the other suggested we cut, but I’ve also done it knowing I’m asking for a favour, not demanding a right.
The best decisions we’ve made have not been one-sided.
I can be a dreadful collaborator sometimes, I’m sure, but I’d like to try to be a better one.