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Writers’ Bootcamp: Writing Collaboratively

In our Writers’ Bootcamp series, we often use the metaphor of athletics and athletes to explore the challenges of writing and being a writer.  One aspect of athletics we haven’t explored is team dynamics and teamwork.  Athletes often work in teams to achieve their goals.  They practice together; they sweat together.  Win or lose, they work together.  What they do, they do for the good of the group.  As the old saying goes, “there is no ‘I’ in teamwork.”

Using the metaphor of an athletic team, we can think about writing from an alternate perspective.  We all know how difficult writing can be if we are working by ourselves.  There is an “I” in “writer.”  However, ff we work together, perhaps the work isn’t quite as difficult.  We can form collaborative writing groups where all members of the group are equal and each member is dependent on the others to produce written text.  Win or lose (complete a project or not), the team works together to accomplish their goal.

Collaboration is good, but it can be complicated.  If you have been a part of a collaborative group where not all members do their share and some members are more equal than others are, you understand the limitations of this work style.  Nevertheless, the benefits to writing collectively can far outweigh the challenges.

In collective writing:

  • tasks are distributed among the group according to individual strengths
  • brainstorming is more effective, as more people mean more ideas (two heads are better than one)
  • collective intelligence is (usually) greater than individual intelligence
  • encourages diversity in understanding

Collaboration is good, but we tend to use one type of collaboration.  We write by ourselves and then we send our document to another person in the group who then edits or combines it with something she has written.  This person then sends it back or sends it to another group member.  This is collaborative–in a sense–and there’s nothing wrong with this method, but it’s not the only way.

Case Study

As a part of the 2010 Transmediale Festival in January 2010, six writers and one programmer locked themselves in a hotel room for five days in order to write a book about the future of free collaboration.  Using a program called Booki (which we’ll review in an upcoming post), the authors started their book project with a title and ended the week with a completed book.  The book they wrote, Collaborative Futures, is on their website.  You can read about their process of writing in the book’s Epilogue.

The writing process was simple:  they worked in sprints (something Jason will explain in a post this afternoon), they kept their egos in check for the week they worked together, and they took each other’s work (and each other) seriously.  This is not to state that the collaboration worked wonderfully all the time; it didn’t.  However, the team was able to move through the difficulties and get the work done, together.  They were a team.

How about you?  Do you use collaborative writing in your work? What methods do you use?  What are the benefits you’ve found from collaborating with others?  Instead of collaborating by ourselves together, what if we locked ourselves up in a room with our colleagues to produce work?  Would we survive?  Please leave your thought, comments, or suggestions below.

[Image of the PostIt Notes is from the Collaborative Futures session, and is used under the Creative Commons license and is from Flickr user Mandiberg.]

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