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Collaborative Writing

An extract from Professional Writing
An ebook by our staff, available from
Writing can sometimes be a team effort.  Look in the front of any bestselling novel at the acknowledgements page and you will see the range of different people who they thank. The crime writer thanks the forensic scientist who helps them, their editor and publisher for their help getting their novel together, friends for their constructive advice and criticism and others that helped them in their research.  From reading acknowledgements, it seems as though, although the author has the idea for the book and the talent, it is still a team effort to get work published.

Other writers may write for the newspapers, the media or academic institutions, and still work with a team. They may partner another writer or even several writers; they may be part of a team, and also work with their editors and others involved in a production team.  Writing is therefore often not a one man or one woman effort; working as a team writer may give you a background role, and it certainly won’t give you fame and glory, but it can be very rewarding in a personal context. You still see your name in print along with the others that worked on the text, and it is also a great opportunity to really hone your writing skills. This is an ideal situation for people that are not worried about being in the limelight but still want to write for a living.

Delivering the amount of work required
If an employer wants 500 words, you need to produce around 500 words for them - more is not better. 1000 words might satisfy the writer, but may lead to the employer never giving the writer any more work.  If they have space for 500 words and time to edit 500 words, they may not appreciate having to waste time editing it down to 500 words or asking you to redo it. So if a publisher asks you to write 500 words on the climate in New Zealand, that is exactly what you should give them.

Delivering the type of work required
It sounds obvious, but when you are asked to write about a particular topic, make sure that is what you deliver. Don’t add or detract from the brief you have been given unless you have discussed your ideas with your employer. You may never get another assignment if you do.

Delivering the work in the correct format
Every publisher or employer has unique expectations.  They will have their own style guide that will include what font to use, what size font to use, how they do their paragraphs, and so on. 

A style guide, also known as a style manual, is the guidelines for writing and designing documents set by a particular organisation or publisher. For example, The Times may have a different style guide to Random House publishers.  The standards set by the style guide are called the “house style”.  Any writer should check with the organisation they are writing for as to the style guide. These style guides may be accessible on-line or hard copy available to prospective writers for that publication.

Sometimes the writer will be expected to prepare the document in that way. For more successful authors, someone might do that for them.  I am sure there are still some authors out there that write out their books by hand and send it to their publishers. I am sure there are still some publishers who will accept that, particularly if their client is successful or sells well. More often now though the work is presented to the publisher or editor on a memory stick or CD. But more and more authors are also expected to write in an agreed way. More and more writing is about the business of selling the book, newspaper, or getting people to watch your news channel, watch your play or watch your TV programme.  Talent and creativity, although important, play an equal role to the commercial aspects of writing.  A background in marketing knowledge and business development or trustworthy contacts that have these skills and that can help out in this area, would be a real asset.

The successful writer should be aware of the commercial aspects of what they are writing. If you give them what they expect (or want), they keep employing you; but if you don’t, you reduce your chances of gaining ongoing work. 

Writers have a tendency to take ownership of their work; wanting to write what they want to write, rather than what a publisher may want them to.   A writer with a successful style of writing, on interesting and successful topics, might decide to do something totally different, and write in a different way, which may not be what the publisher wants.

So, as a writer, it is important to consider the balance between what you want to write and the following:
• Are you willing to be open minded about what you write?
• Are you willing to accept criticism?
• Are you willing to write to order?

What is a Writer Like?
Many people aspiring to be a writer have an idealised notion of what a writer is like and what sort of lifestyle they live. What do you see when you think of yourself as a writer - an enigmatic, slightly aloof character living a solitary life in a picturesque village in the countryside? This romanticised image of the writer is common but it is not what (in reality) your lifestyle is likely to be. Even if some writers do have this type of character, it also takes shrewdness, forbearance, positivity, flexibility a thick skin, common sense and business acumen to succeed these days as a professional writer.

Do writers have a particular personality type? If asked to describe a writer, I am sure most people would have a set idea or stereotype of what a writer is. Obviously not every writer will fit into the same stereotype. A science fiction writer may have a different temperament to a travel writer, to a business writer, to a crime writer and so on.  Jane Piirto of the University of Ohio carried out research using a personality test – the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. She found that writers score overwhelmingly high on the “understanding creativity” indicator (INFP).

People who scored highly on INFP are:
• Intuitive
• Feeling
• Intense feelings
• Introverted
• Creative
• Gifted in language
• Curious
• Perceptive
• Have a rich inner world
• Are often individualistic and original
• Prepared to work alone
• Dislike detailed and routine work
• Like to be appreciated for what they do
• Focus on future goals.

Obviously not all writers are going to be exactly the same. Not all writers are introverted or intuitive. Not all writers are able to work alone, as we have seen earlier in the chapter.  It really depends on their personality and what they want to write about.  But this is a good indicator.

What writers write and how they write can tell us a lot about an author. If they are writing about a fictional character or a rainforest, some aspects of the writer’s personality will shine through, even subtly. 

Writing Alone or in a Team
Some people have difficulty being a contributor and blending with others. The INFP type suggests that writers may not like working in teams, but as we have already shown, writers will sometimes/often have to work in teams to produce their writing.  This may be when working with an editor, designer and so on. But it could also be that you are given work that someone else has written and you need to add more detail, summarise it and so on. Going back to twitter, you may need to be able to summarise an article or book and encourage someone to read it in a short twitter statement.  



[01/07/2022 20:52:19]

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