Collaborative Writing? Yuck.

November 10, 2009

I’m trying to reserve judgment when it comes to collaborative digital writing. But my efforts have obviously failed.  When I think about collaborative writing, this is just about the first thing that comes to mind:

Meetings: None of us is a dumb as all of us.

Go back and click on that link.  You won’t be disappointed.  A friend of mine had this Demotivator in his dorm room in college. Like meetings, collaborative writing can be painful. Don’t get me wrong–I loved working with Molly and Maria two weeks ago on our soldier Photo Story.  They knew exactly what they were doing, I learned a lot and our final product was really cool.  But I also remember sitting around a computer in 1997 with six other people trying to collectively write a position paper on whether bison that wandered out of Yellowstone National Park should be killed because they might transmit brucellosis to cattle.  It was awful.

I realize that times have changed.  New technology has made collaborative writing a less painful process.  I can imagine using a wiki to write a research paper or an editorial for a newspaper.  Both of these would require writers to research and then weave the research into a cohesive, well-written final product.  I think that editorials and position papers especially could be stronger because participants would have to collectively decide which arguments are the most persuasive and then expand on those.

But I also know that I am a very picky writer.  I grow easily frustrated with people who don’t know how to correctly use a semi-colon or who use the word “effect” when they should use “affect.”  I am hyper-concerned with formatting.  I click on Print Preview like 18 times before I print a paper.  I can’t send out the team newsletter without editing it for content, punctuation and spelling.  It’s embarrassing but true.  And I prefer to keep those little neurotic habits to myself.  Collaborative writing promises to expose me for the super freak that I really am.

That being said, I know that working together with others can bring clarity to my writing.  I absolutely loved getting feedback from my writing group at the Minnesota Writing Project last summer.  I needed four intelligent, opinionated and supportive women to be really honest and frank with me in order to grow as a writer.  I listened closely to what they had to say and, as you might expect, we didn’t all agree.  But unlike collaborative writing, I still got to make all of the final editing choices. The writing was mine from beginning to end.

I worry that collaborative writing would involve too much compromise–on ideas, arguments, organization, opening lines, etc.  And I am concerned that all of that compromise might result in a product that, in the end, no one is really too happy with.


4 Responses to “Collaborative Writing? Yuck.”

  1. Kim said

    Hi Kelsey-
    It is interesting to hear you talk about your experience with writing a paper in 1997. I haven’t ever had an experience like that but I can imagine how hard it would be. I like how you have exposed yourself as having “neurotic habits” with writing. I can understand how putting yourself out there with the collaborative process would leave a person feeling vulnerable. I, too, feel pretty controlling when it comes to writing and perfecting the grammar and mechanics. I don’t know how I would feel if I was a student in a class that had to write collaboratively. It would be a little, well, uncomfortable, I guess. It seems as though those days may have passed, but I do look forward to the Minnesota Writing Project to experience it in a “safe” environment.

  2. wanderingturnip said

    I wonder if our students will experience collaborative writing differently than we have, mostly because they don’t have a ton of experience as writers yet, and perhaps we will be modeling that writing isn’t a solitary pursuit. We have written in isolation for so long, and that’s how it works best for some of us, but that may be because we didn’t experience collaborative writing in our formative years 🙂 If it’s just a given that writing sometimes means working with others, I don’t think our students would struggle as much as we probably do as adults.

  3. Maria Theissen said


    I, too, recall frustrating group project after group project in college. It always seemed to me that the lesson I needed to learn was: Someone will be the engine, a couple will follow, and one will be a dead weight that earns the same hard-fought grade as the lot of you.



  4. […] forget that sharing our writing and soliciting feedback is yet another type of collaboration…Kelsey brought that point up in her post a few weeks […]

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