Author Bio

Why Write…Together?

posted: 12.8.11 by Andrea Lunsford

Lisa Ede and I asked this question almost thirty years ago in an essay of the same name, and we’ve been trying to answer it ever since, trying to persuade the academy in general and our departments in particular that writing is thoroughly social, that even sitting alone at our computers we are writing “with” all the voices and texts in our heads and at the tip of our fingertips on screen, that all writing is collaborative writing.

For decades we thought our message would never be heard. Especially in the humanities, scholars (and teachers) still resist collaboration and collaborative writing, and the so-called single-authored article/book is still the gold standard for tenure and promotion.  Students also resist collaborative writing, since they’ve been implicitly taught to be suspicious of others who might “steal” their ideas.

But then came the digital age and Web 2.0, with its participatory, collaborative, distributed ways of working.  Perhaps the time has come, we’ve thought (and hoped).  And indeed, those studying and writing about new media and new literacies invariably note the necessity, the inevitability, of collaboration.  If we live another decade, perhaps we’ll see collaborative grades given routinely, collaborative dissertations valued, collaborative teamwork the norm, even in the humanities.

We can always hope!  In the meantime, thanks to Bedford/St Martins, we are celebrating our own thirty years of collaboration and collaborative writing with the publication of Writing Together: Collaboration in Theory and Practice.

The handwriting on the cover is taken from a draft of the FIPSE grant we wrote while taking the ferry from Vancouver to Vancouver Island—no laptops or iPads in those days!

The handwriting on the cover is taken from a draft of the FIPSE grant we wrote while taking the ferry from Vancouver to Vancouver Island—no laptops or iPads in those days!



Putting this book together (it contains a number of our previously published articles along with chapters from Singular Texts/ Plural Authors and five new essays written especially for this volume) was a labor of love as well as just plain fun.  It gave us an opportunity to read over nearly thirty years of our work, and since Lisa is a packrat extraordinaire, we found multiple drafts of many essays and could experience once again the laborious process that is effective collaborative writing.  We even went back through photo files and were delighted when Bedford/St. Martin’s allowed us to include a few in the book (and oh my, how young we looked back then!).  But more important, it gave us a chance to reassess this work, to think critically about it, to identify weaknesses, and still to come out of this process with renewed commitment to the principles we articulated so many years ago.  No writer writes alone.  We argued it then and we are certain of it now.  As Susan Leonardi and Rebecca Pope remind us, “One thing that collaboration teaches you is that there is no last word on anything.  Someone looking over your shoulder or over your draft is going to find a better word or cross out your word entirely” (their article from PMLA, “(Co)Labored Li(v)es; or, Love’s Labors Queered,” is available here if you have JSTOR access).

So we persevere in our crossings-out and in encouraging our students to cross out each other’s words as well.  We applaud as they create projects using Google docs and other collaborative programs, and we ask that they reflect on and write about their own experiences of collaboration.  And we reward these collaborative efforts in every way we can.

Tell me about your (and your students’) experiences with collaboration, inside and outside of class. Would they agree that “all writing is collaborative writing”?

Tags: ,

Categories: Collaboration, Professional Development & Service
You might also like: Verb: That’s What’s Happening
Read All Andrea Lunsford

Comments are closed.