Writing together, how do they do it? (part 1)

I’m delighted to welcome Eileen to the book word blog and to present part of the conversation we had about writing in collaboration.

Caroline. In February we sent the complete draft of our book to the publisher. When I tell people I write collaboratively they often ask – what do you actually do? How do you answer this question?

Eileen. We write in several different ways. The most intense is actually sitting together and almost writing every other word.

C. You mean, you dictate, and I type –

E.  – or take over and finish –

C. – the sentence?

E. That’s the side-by-side model. Another approach is that we brainstorm all the things we are going to write about and clarify ideas through that brainstorm about purpose, the learning etc.

C. Does that depend on the stage of our writing?

E. Sometimes, especially at the beginning, but it can occur at any time as we go through a project.

C. Like when we were working on a particular chapter, which needed more development? Or planning this blog?

E. Yes, we might decide that one of us takes those ideas and works on them individually and emails it to the other. It goes back and forth with additions and editing, until you get to the point where we don’t know who’s written what.

C. The back-and-forth model.

E. Another way of moving from brainstorming is that someone will take on a particular section and do all of that and just get feedback. It may not need all that back and forth stuff.

C. We often read out loud to each other …

E. … and when we are on our own! And we often send it to another reader for feedback as well. That’s an extended form of collaboration. There are other approaches. Say one of us has a particular angle, idea or thought, and we allow the other to get on with it. It’s their territory.

C But we would talk about it when it’s written…

E … and see how it fits and makes a contribution from our own angle. Like the introduction to our most recent book. We had decided on a short version. But then we came together and decided there were some overarching themes and we divided them up and came together and talked some more about which bits worked and which didn’t get the point across so well. Then we refined it again, came back together and finished it off together. We don’t always do it that way.

C. It takes a lot of time sometimes.

E. But that means it is much better written. It’s based on more thoughtful reflections. And it’s tighter. And we even mix the different forms of collaboration altogether – a dolly mixture approach. And then we do something else altogether for a different kind of writing like for chapter titles.

C. Yes, but it’s not worked for the title for the book, has it, yet?

E. No indeedy. But it might have, we just didn’t find it.


This photo, by Robert Taylor, was used in our co-edited book Retiring Lives, published in 2007. Eileen is on the right.

In Part 2 our conversation is about how we developed our writing partnership – coming soon!


Filed under Writing

3 Responses to Writing together, how do they do it? (part 1)

  1. Anna

    Thanks for your honest and constructive ideas on collaboration. Read like a dance – good partnership in action. Looking forward to the next part…. oh and the next book…

  2. Eileen

    Looking forward to part 2!
    And the book!

  3. Pingback: Celebrating how it feels to submit the finished manuscript… | The Policy Press Blog

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