choose your writing partner carefully

We hear a lot about the benefits of collaboration in writing. I’m always banging on about how good it is to have regular writing partners.

But not all collaborations work out well. Things can go wrong. People don’t pull their weight. People don’t meet deadlines. They write really badly and it’s hard to sort through the problems without feelings being damaged. People won’t give up ideas, phrases, sentences, paragraphs because they are too attached to them. They are just not prepared to compromise in order to get the writing done. Every change seems to create a problem.

Any of the above can cause conflicts which, at worst, stay unresolved. The reality is that we can’t write with everyone.

The moral is that it is vital to choose writing partners well. This means being selective. It’s tempting to be overly grateful or flattered when someone asks to be our writing partner. It’s equally tempting to ask someone to join in when the writing assignment is difficult or overwhelming.

My regular writing partner, Barbara, remembers how, early in her career, she was invited to contribute a chapter to a high profile book and was simply terrified. She decided to ask a colleague to co-author since they had already done research together. It was a disaster. The person did not produce text on time or meet deadlines and only contributed when Barbara threatened to write as a sole author. Suddenly text appeared, but it was different in style, undigested in its conceptualization and not up to the job. It took twice as much work to massage the two sections together than if Barbara had done it all herself in the first place.

Supervision is not, first and foremost, a personal relationship

oh darling, do let’s write a paper together

One solution would be speed dating for potential writing partners. Imagine yourself  sitting at a table with three minutes to interview a bevy of prospective writing partners. What do you think you would ask?

How quickly do you write? Have you ever not met a deadline? What will you do if we have a disagreement? How do you cope with criticism? Are you precious about your words? What do you think about alternating who is first author? What is your greatest weakness as a writer? What’s the worst thing I could do as your co-writer? Who are your favourite academic writers? Can you provide a reference from a previous co-author? Why and how did your last writing partnership end?

The politics of the academy may not allow us to say such things out loud, but the point is that whether we are choosing a writing partner for a one night stand, or for a long term relationship, the problems outlined earlier can lead to a painful separation. Thinking about potential difficulties in advance mightn’t be spontaneous and romantic, but could avoid unnecessary heartache.

Finding ways to have a conversation about co writing before embarking on a new venture with a new partner might be hard. But it also might be prudent. 

About pat thomson

Pat Thomson is Professor of Education in the School of Education, The University of Nottingham, UK
This entry was posted in academic writing, Barbara Kamler and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to choose your writing partner carefully

  1. Kate Bowles says:

    I love this, Pat, and I’m really just popping in to give a huge global shout out to the person I most love writing with, my fellow CASA editor Karina Luzia. This has made me think of a point that isn’t quite covered in your post: the benefit of writing with someone who has different writings attributes than you do. I find a blank screen really paralysing, and I often put off actually getting writing done because of that sense of disorientation and loss. It’s like being snow blinded by the weight of that emptiness.

    But once someone else who isn’t so afraid to begin has put words on the page my editing brain cranks into life, and I can write whole sentences again. So I’m beyond grateful that I get to write with such a beautiful composer who can counter my “all the things! all the things!” with such a calm and effective “just this one thing, clearly.”


    • pat thomson says:

      Thanks Kate and yes absolutely. Post coming up about what to look for in a co writer so I’ll refer back to your comment. And it’s so good to find the right writing partners…


  2. Kate Bowles says:

    Just as a PS, having just recently had the huge privilege of writing a long piece with Richard Hall, I’m also thinking a bit about the fact that in two different writing partnerships, you can be two different writers. The collaborative conversation that writing can be about is really very open to change. In both cases I notice that I learn intensively from crafting words around the words of others. I’ve often thought of quilting, or any other collaborative craft where the aim is not to sign your individual patch but to harmonise with the overall colouring. Does this make sense?


  3. Hi Pat, great suggestions. It is a very useful tip as well when it comes to looking for collaborators. Thank you!

    Also, cute GIF, though! 🙂


  4. karicalle says:

    Thank you for posting this! I think it’s important to also think about it from a student/professor perspective. It can be intimidating writing with a professor and sometimes I think it’s easy for boundaries to be crossed if the student and professor aren’t clear about their individual responsibility.

    In a class recently, we talked about writing contracts and I think it can be very helpful to keep all writing partners accountable. Again, from a student/professor perspective, it can be a difficult conversation to have if the student is lead author.


  5. pat thomson says:

    I m musing on something about supervisor and doc researcher, currently in Iceland where this looms large as an issue. Seem to be spending lots of time discussing it 🙂


  6. Biblioteca Carlos Albizu Miranda says:

    Reblogged this on Library Competencies.


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