Creative Writing Writing 101 2020-08-07 00:00

How to Master Collaborative Writing

If you think writing is a solitary effort, think again. Some types of writing, in fact, might have a better outcome when they're written collaboratively.

In this article, we'll discuss what collaborative writing is, the advantages, the project types that likely succeed when approached collaboratively, how to find and hire qualified co-writers, and what the must-have tools.

  1. What is Collaborative Writing?
  2. Advantages of Collaborative Writing
  3. Projects Likely to Be Successful
  4. Finding and Managing Collaborators
  5. Must-Have Tools
  6. Takeaways

What is Collaborative Writing?

Both fiction and non-fiction works, including business and technical writing projects, can involve a team of several members or one or two co-authors. Academic writing, such as journal writing, has a long history of co-authoring. It is reflected in the long list of co-authors under each reference item on college students' bibliography pages.

Technical, business or marketing white papers usually involve one or two teams of subject matter experts and writers to ensure the highest quality of the deliverables. In business projects, such deliverables typically don't have any byline, which makes many readers aren't aware of their existence.

If you're a fan of best-selling author James Patterson, you probably notice that his novels often involve co-authors. Their names have smaller fonts on the front page, but they're appropriately cited. And there are many more established fiction and non-fiction authors who write with their collaborators, despite whether they're adequately attributed or not. Those who don't get a co-author byline are referred to as "ghostwriters."

Of course, to be successful in any collaboration, begin by choosing your writing partner wisely. Since writing is both a science and an art, sometimes people you're close with in real life may not be able to fulfill your expectations as good and equal writing partners.

Interestingly, if you think that having the right skills is the most important, those who write well may or may not perform their collaborating duties. This said, you and your partner must have similar, if not identical, vision for the substance of the book and work around the schedule to fit in the project.

Ideally, the tone of voice and style must be comparable, and the skills are compatible and complement each other. If the latter isn't possible, a copyeditor would be needed to ensure that the parts of the project are synchronous and in harmony with each other.

Your strong suits complement your partner's. For instance, if you're good at research, but your partner is good at analyses, you must work together, so no overlap occurs. But both of you have a similar level of understanding on the subject.

Personalitywise, both of you need to get along well. It's preferred that you can be close on a personal level and share some activities. However, if it's not possible, at least be respectful and honorable on a professional level. It's recommended not to talk about sensitive issues, like politics, religion, and personal matters.

Advantages of Collaborative Writing

Two heads are better than one. With the power of two minds, especially two influential, well-educated, and well-published writers, you can expect to solve many problems, including combining interdisciplinary thinking to deepen the understanding of various issues and people. This would allow a new level of excellence to emerge and provide an avenue for synthesizing and analyzing ideas.

For fiction writers, such synergy would combine both intellectual and affectional aspects. For instance, one author may have experienced a specific incident in life. Thus they already have a deeper understanding. Such emotional power would be useful in depicting the spirit of the work. With it, the other author would be able to absorb the environment, thus have their passages reflect such profound insights as well.

For non-fiction authors, a collaborative work style has been known for decades. For instance, it's common for journal articles to be written by multiple authors, which can be within one discipline or from multiple disciplines.

As science continues to progress, every researcher (or writer) needs their peers' collaboration to keep their knowledge in check. With a co-author, there is a sense of healthy competition.

Projects Likely to Be Successful

There is no fixed formula on how to work on collaborative writing projects. Everything depends on your and your partner's efforts and commitment. A stable external environment is another determining factor, as background noise would affect a writer's focus.

Having a clear vision on the premise or a thesis statement of the non-fiction project is one thing. Managing the project when it's being executed, such as choosing the right style, tone, and structure is another. And maintaining positive morale is the glue that sticks things together.

Next, both (or all) authors must have clarity on their sections (or chapters or parts) of the project and how they must approach them while simultaneously and seamlessly complementing their partners. For instance, in a non-fiction book, every chapter has clear objectives and answers to specific questions that serve as the overarching framework.

As a team, you and co-authors must be realistic on their work schedules and project milestones, as most likely, every partner has their full-time jobs and family matters to tend. All collaborators must have a strong commitment and are determined to make things happen. On time and every time.

Most project managers would agree that successful projects are completed within the agreed timeframe by adhering to agreed milestones. Naturally, it would require having one's ego in check. The success of the project must be placed at the top of everyone's agenda without having to prove who's the best or the smartest or the most talented. This said, aligning a team's morale is as hard as keeping them focused.

For fiction projects, the tone, the plot, the structure, and the characters must be agreed upon in advance, so the expected completion of each milestone can be scheduled accordingly. For non-fiction papers, every section must go through technical scrutiny to ensure accuracy before it's written down and finally edited for grammatical and punctuation errors. Luckily, now we have cloud-based apps to facilitate such real-time and instantaneous tasks.

Finding and Managing Collaborators

All collaborators should be on the same level of technical mastery. However, their skills shouldn't be too identical that they overlap with each other.

For example, for a business book, the co-authors should have an agreeable understanding of various concepts, such as the key terminologies and theories. With such a solid foundation, it would be easier to write about topic details without misunderstanding.

If you belong to an institution, such as a corporation or a training school, you will most likely find colleagues with whom you can discuss things freely. For instance, if both of you went to a graduate school together, you would most likely agree on certain key concepts.

If both of you have disagreements on crucial concepts that would influence the direction of the project, you can request assistance from an instructor for clarification. Remember, as a team. It's essential to be on the same page on key issues. In a nutshell, all project executors must be willing to work out their differences to kick start the project without delay.

When all writers reciprocate well by adding value with minimal overlaps, most likely, they're good partner candidates. However, personality types matter as well. Remember that no one is perfect. Everybody has their strengths and weaknesses.

You can "test the water" by asking several strong candidates to work on a so-called "mini-project." The thing is, since it takes at least one or two hours of their time, you might need to make sure that they're aware of the hours involved.

Also, make sure to find a way to compensate test takers regardless of the limited hiring budget. It can be in the format of gift cards of a specific value, such as $50 or $75 or $100 or $150 to offset the time they've spent working on the demo projects.

Must-Have Tools

Completing a writing project involves several steps from planning, ideation, first draft writing, copyediting, to final editing. Thus, each step would require all writers to share files, see what each writer is doing in real-time, and be able to edit other writers' works (if necessary and upon agreement).

Using several writing collaboration apps, such as the following, would allow collaborators to optimize their resources, especially time and budget.

For group or team chat and phone/video chat, use Slack, Zoom, and Skype.

For real-time project and milestone management, use Asana or Trello.

For checklist management, use WorkFlowy or Todoist.

For quick sharing of files, use Google Docs or Microsoft Word Online.

For sharing and keeping standard files, use Dropbox or Google Drive.

For grammar and plagiarism check, ProWritingAid is an excellent choice.


Collaborative writing has been done for decades or even centuries. Both fiction and non-fiction works can be done collaboratively.

For collaboration to succeed, all writers must be on the same level in commitment and determination in making things work within the agreed timeframe. Numerous collaboration apps can be used to ensure smooth execution and completion, from planning to final editing processes.

Be confident about grammar

Check every email, essay, or story for grammar mistakes. Fix them before you press send.