Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Challenge of Collaborative Writing

I am involved in an ongoing project to write a history about containerized shipping in Asia from the 60s-90s. The reason I'm involved is because I grew up there, and my dad was intimately connected with what is now called globalization, because he opened up a number of overseas ports. Anyway, now I am working amongst a group of people and we're all trying to get this history written and published. 

To this end, I have to use my collaborative writing skills. However, the very first stumbling block (or two) you come up against when working collaboratively is that the members of the group might not all be pulling their oars in the same direction, making it very likely that your ship will flounder. To work effectively as collaborators, everyone has to agree to a timetable and a production plan, otherwise, the project is going to do what this one is doing now, which is floundering on certain problems.

One of them is motivation. A collaborative project depends on fairly equal amounts of work put in at the same time. If one person doesn't produce the material you need, you can't move on to the next phase of the plan. Right now, I've got a list longer than my arm of people to contact to get them motivated on producing the copy I will need to create this history. Motivating them to produce their copy is crucial, otherwise we have no history, and the plan is to sell this to libraries and shipping museums, of which there are many.

The second problem is much more personal, and comes down to ego. Now, this is one of the reasons I normally avoid collaborative work. It is slow and tedious and requires a lot of patience to juggle the various pieces to get to the finished product. And... it usually involves at least one person's ego, which gets in the way of getting the work done. I believe that's because of the inherent problem of collaboration, which is that no one person gets any credit. That can really cause havoc for people who need to be treated as though their contribution is enormously special.

Collaborative writing is special precisely because it's a work created by a group, for a larger reading public, and the individual is subsumed to the needs of the groups involved. In that way it is a real challenge for some people to cooperate well enough to adapt to those wider needs, all the while being asked to behave like grownups and not worry so much about whose contribution is more or less important. 

1 comment:

  1. I am glad I don't do much collaborative writing. Not because I can't work with people, but I have a dominant personality that tends to steer the boat, and I don't like upsetting people. LOL.


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