For some time we have thought about writing a post that gives you a glimpse into our collaborative writing process. We often have comments from people about the volume of writing we do, and queries about how we do it. For both of us, having a writing partner is the secret to pushing ourselves as writers. We are both idea people, and having a partner lifts the level of accountability. Writing projects we have always thought about begin to take shape when a writing partner helps you clarify your ideas and holds you accountable for production.
Yesterday, we inadvertently left open the window on our writing process when a note from Jan to Kim was left in our post. Here’s what the post looked like before we corrected it:
“After engaging students in a number of different reading contexts, you may find that students need even more background knowledge support. You may need a simpler text to serve as a bridge to the ideas in other texts. For example, What Makes Day and Night Kim, can you insert the image for this book. I am on my husband’s computer and can’t seem to grab it off the internet. is written for beginning readers (Quadrant 3). It doesn’t have the intriguing aspects of the other texts, but it is more manageable as a transitional text. Note this does not mean that this book is presented to certain students instead of the more engaging and sophisticated texts. It just means the students who need more practice get more to read.”
The relentlessness with which we write, coupled with the fact that we are only a team of two (no staff writers, editors, etc.) means that errors get past us. We assume that the message of the content gets through and that we are better off writing a lot than editing perfectly. So far, our readership has been gracious. Although we cringe with any error, everyone seems to assume that homophonial (we made that word up) slip ups are an indication of the time pressures under which we work, rather than an indication that we don’t know the difference between “there” and “their”.
Thank you for your graciousness and your support. Today we offer you our top ten tips for working with a writing partner.
10. Take risks.
We met on Twitter and launched this ambitious effort after only a couple of phone conversations. If we had dragged our feet, we wouldn’t have learned as much. Just connect and go for it!
9. Be the Yin to your partner’s Yang.
Kim is a morning person. Jan tends to work late. Jan will run with a million new ideas. Kim is steady and focused. We each offer a bit of what the other needs more of, which stabilizes and stretches us both.
8. Tap all of your communication resources.
Become friends on facebook, twitter, linkedin, share phone numbers, text one another. We have begun to write together with a window open on Skype. We chat in Google documents. We have only worked together in person once, but we are virtually connected at the hip (or is it the head?).
7. Have fun.
If you find a partner that really complements you and pushes you, fun in the collaboration is inevitable. With our various projects, one of us is often nudging the other. For example, when we wrote the reading standards in haiku, Kim had little experience with haiku. That project was immensely fun and gratifying for both of us. When we developed the comprehension video, Jan was skeptical. In the end, we were both pleased with the results. Sometimes writing is worse than mopping floors or folding laundry, so a sense of humor is imperative.
6. Be flexible.
You get to make the rules and you get to break them. You can reinvent your mission, your norms, your collaborative processes. At this point, all of our writing is in Google documents. We make a new document each week and name it according to a standardized convention (B&Y_blogs_week of August 6, 2012). It took us many weeks of trial and error to figure out how to manage all the posts in this way. We just reinvented until something stuck. Now we are much more efficient.
5. Set up norms.
Once we decided to write together, everything moved very fast. One of our earliest conversations was dedicated to talking through and establishing norms. At that point we didn’t know each other well at all. We just talked through what we needed from each other. Here are the norms we wrote. Notice that all of them are about keeping the lines of communication open, and 3 out of 5 are about honesty.
- Don’t ignore a nudge. If something bothers you say something.
- Be up front and honest.
- Don’t get too far into something without letting the other one know.
- Talk through before if possible; if not, the one doing the work alone takes the risk.
- We have to make it as safe as possible for the other person to disagree.
4. Assume goodwill.
We have grown to trust each other absolutely. There is absolutely no defensiveness between us. If one of us drafts a piece and the other goes in and revises and edits, we are not territorial at all. Occasionally, one of us will explain why we did something a certain way and then we will talk through which is the better option and why. If you are writing a lot, there is no time to be defensive. So assume that your partner is there to help you write better and let him/her have the freedom to do that.
3. Decide on your collaborative voice.
We decided immediately that we would write in one voice. So our posts are written as “we” rather than “I.” We don’t have “Kim’s posts” and “Jan’s posts.” All the posts are jointly written, published, and even jointly owned (if you want to get technical.) Neither of us is stingy with our ideas. Every now and then one of us wants to write a reflective piece or a piece that connects to a personal experience that just doesn’t make sense as a shared post. In those few cases, we write in first person. This shared voice can get tricky sometimes. We once wrote a post where we used a movie as a metaphor. We talked about how we were on the couch watching it, which made it sound as though we live in the same town, or perhaps even the same house.
2. Contribute more than your share to the collaboration.
There is an element of service within our partnership. Even after four months, we really appreciate each other and neither of us wants to take the other for granted. We don’t keep score on our contributions to the collaboration. In fact, we are often raising the bar on ourselves. Because we are honest when something doesn’t work for us, we know that the added contribution of a partner won’t result in latent resentment. This helps us take care of each other.
1. Be honest with each other.
This is the litmus test for a writing partner, and perhaps any kind of partner: When does the partner let you know that something isn’t working for him/her? For a collaboration to work, it needs to be sooner than later and the partner needs to respond with appreciation. We are so happy when the other person is honest about something difficult. It lets us know that we are still able to truly collaborate and that the other person is still really invested.
Have you worked with a writing partner? What advice would you offer?