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Collaborating – the Bad

May 7th, 2009 Matt Leave a comment Go to comments
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Okay, so collaborative writing can be fun, and there are numerous positives. But there are some things that you should be wary of and aware of.

Firstly, there is the time. There’s that word again. If you’re limited on time, and have a bunch of other projects you can be getting on with, then the idea of spending time on something unknown might not be so appealing. And that’s the other thing – you really don’t know how this is going to turn out. Sure, you might learn a thing or two along the way, but you may well want to go into a project knowing that you will have something solid when you get out the other side. And who could blame you?

Another problem is that it can be pretty hard to keep a collaboration on track using the method I explained before – largely because there is no track when you’re making it up as you go. When do you stop adding new elements to the story? When do you start wrapping it up? What about all those loose ends? And do you even know what’s going on?

This was one problem with our collaboration. It had started with a kind of crime mystery vibe. That’s all very well, but it’s an easy matter to keep adding more and more mystery, especially when you’re somewhat absolved from the responsibility of making good on your intrigues. You may not know what you’re writing about, but it’s okay – someone else can pick it up later.

Now, as much as I emphasised how friendly the atmosphere of a collaboration can be (and I meant it), there will likely come a time when someone writes something that you think is utter crap. Or (even worse!) a fellow collaborator may think that of your writing! It’s not fun to force someone to edit out what they thought was a great idea. This is where it helps to have an odd number of collaborators – at least you can vote on it! Plus, it helps you give or take criticism well. And, you can always console your friend (or yourself), that if it’s that great an idea, they’ve now got it all to themselves and can use it in something else. Still, such hardening stuff, though good for you, can be unpleasant.

And lastly (because this may often be the last thing that happens with a project), they can peter out and die, without ever being finished. After all, when you’re just relying on yourself, you know where you stand, and you can discipline yourself. As fun as it might be to discipline someone else(!) its not necessarily going to work.

I’m not sure whose turn it is on our collaboration (I’m pretty sure it’s not mine), but it seems to have ground to a halt. I am hopeful that it can be resurrected with a bit of persuasion to all involved, but it does mean that there are some rather scary unknowns left at the end of the process. I have no idea what will happen when we come to edit, for example. Whose responsibility is it, and will the more sensitive nature of editing cause arguments?

But for all that, I did enjoy it while it lasted, and I would definitely do it again. If you’re feeling a little demotivated, sorry about that, but maybe you can avoid these things if you bear them in mind during your own collaboration. You can always give my post on the advantages of collaborative writing another read  to get you in the mood again.