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How to Write Collaboratively

Updated on December 31, 2012
Collaborative writing works best face to face, and if you can't do that, there's always Skype.
Collaborative writing works best face to face, and if you can't do that, there's always Skype. | Source

My first book was published by Prentice Hall in 1993. It took two years to get to publication and what I learned in the process is that every piece of published writing is collaborative in nature.

That may not be what you imagine when you think of writing, but it's true.

Many writers prefer to work alone. They lead solitary lives and have laptop computers as their only close companion, but though they may write alone, they don't work alone.

Everyone needs inspiration and feedback, writers more than most. My first book was factual. I approached a publisher with a firm view of it's contents, but over the next year, that view evolved. The book was a work of collaboration, between me, the editors and those who did the technical reviews. Ever noticed the extensive thank you section in most printed books? There's a reason for it. We may write alone, but writers are kind of like icebergs. What you see above the surface is only part of the story. I realised this around six months ago, when my son and I decided to write a book together. Writing with someone else, changes everything.

Writing With Someone Else

While almost every book is a result of some sort of collaboration, some books are written by more than one author. In the academic field this is almost normal. Few papers have a single author, though there is usually one person who writes the paper which describes the work of the other authors.

Writing with someone else requires a very special type of discipline. You may allow the odd deadline to slide, but you'll find it extremely frustrating when your co-author does the same thing. And if you're the type of author who sticks to writing plans, then beware of trying to write with someone who doesn't work the same way. The most important part of collaborative writing is the choice of who to write with.

The Golden Rule When Writing with Someone Else.

When you're doing something creative (even factual writing is creative) egos can get in the way. To be successful at a piece of collaborative writing there is one golden rule. Never, ever, try to write with someone unless you truly respect their knowledge and their opinion. And make sure they feel the same way about you.

Writing a Novel with Scrivener
Writing a Novel with Scrivener

This is an excellent book without which I'd never have known how useful Scrivener and dropbox could be together. Written from a totally practical viewpoint.


Collaborative Writing Tools

If you'e a writer of any kind, you're probably already familiar with Microsoft Word. Word allows you to edit and make changes to a manuscript which you can then send back to the author for approval. You can also add comments and questions. These facilities are very useful for editing, but when you're at the drafting stage, having a coauthor just change your text is simply irritating. You need to know how and why the change was made, you need to talk. As a result my number one choice for a collaborative writing tool isn't Word, or Google Docs, or even my favorite writing program, Scrivener. It's Skype. Nothing beats face to face discussion, and if you want to get down to detail, you can even share desktops on skype. You can bring up a skype session which shows your desktop while you edit a document that's shared by some other means.

Sharing Documents

A book isn't just about the manuscript. There wlll be notes, extracts, pieces of research, even in fiction! I like to be able to keep these altogether. Some people like to use Evernote, to clip together their internet finds. I use Scrivener, as I can store all my notes together in one project. Scrivener isn't a collaborative tool. Unlike google docs, you can't edit the same document at the same time, but you can use scrivener with Dropbox, and since you don't need a lot of space for the written word, the free dropbox account is usually enough. I use it to make sure that I can access the book from my desktop computer in the office or my notebook computer which is usually with me, wherever I am. I can also email my son to say that I've closed the project and it's now his to work with. What we usually find is that I maintain the scrivener version of the book, he writes his pages in Google Docs and shares them that way, but we never make changes to each others work without doing it through face to face communication.

The Right Way to Write

Every writer has their own way of working, and it's not for me to say that any one way of collaborative writing is the right way to do it. If it works for you, then great, please share how you do it with the rest of us.

For me, the most important aspect of collaborative writing is the choice of writing partner. There are many many people I could not and would not work with when writing a book. At one time, my son would have been on that list, but these days, people who overhear our writing sessions tell me that we work very well together, and so far, it has certainly been one of the most enjoyable writing experiences I've had.

Choose someone whose writing you respect, and remember you have a common goal. Both your names will be on the cover.


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    • Amaryllis profile image

      Lesley Charalambides 5 years ago from New Hampshire

      Comments made in an email or in the manuscript are easy to misinterpret, so we find the best thing to do is review things face to face. It also makes the process more enjoyable. I hope it does the same for you! Thank for commenting!

    • BlossomSB profile image

      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 5 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      Some really helpful advice here. I've pinned it as I think I might need to refer to it again. Later in the year a colleague and I are planning on beginning to write a series of books for a specific student audience. We live a thousand kilometres apart and I hadn't even thought of using Skype! Duh! Thank you so very much.