So, you have to share a byline. A particularly difficult feat for the control freak. Here are three things that might help in your quest for co-authorship.
Step one: breathe and let go.
That’s nearly impossible advice for a control freak to take, but I recommend you try. For one reason or another you’ve been required to share your byline so rather than fight it head on the whole time, take a deep breath and let go. Holding on to negative energy and resentment toward your writing partner will only hinder the creative process. Not only that, but it could bleed through into your work, causing the end product to be sub-par. If this happens, it will only reaffirm your thoughts about sharing your writing space so that, the next time you have to co-author something, you will begin this negative cycle all over again. Stop it in its tracks!
I recently read an article about letting go of control. The author, Amy Johnson, compares being in control mode to paddling upstream. That’s exactly it. Stop trying to paddle upstream! You and your writing partner are in that boat together. You might as well turn around, drop your oars, and let the writing flow.
Step two: consider the positives.
Some really amazing things can come from having to share your writing assignment.
1) Less stress for you because
2) Less work for you, and
3) You get the benefits of an alternative point of view.
Remember that old idiom: two heads are better than one? Yeah, well, as much as control freaks want to dismiss it as fable, it is more than likely true. With two people sharing the workload, stress will be minimized. With less stress comes more freedom for creativity. With more creativity comes a more fluid and interesting writing project.
Now that you’ve allowed the creative juices to flow, consider this: in a writing partner you receive a built-in sounding board, editor, and collaborator. They will inevitably possess a different viewpoint, and therefore different ideas. Try to remember that different doesn’t mean bad, it just means different. Writer’s block should be non-existent because if you hit a snag, your partner can offer immediate assistance. They are guaranteed to be the only person near you who knows your work as well as you do. Take advantage of that!
Next, relish in the opportunity to be both creator and editor. Write something, pass it off to your partner, and when you get it back consider their critiques objectively (I know it is hard to separate yourself from your work, but try. It can only help). Now switch! Read something of your partner’s, critique objectively, and pass it back. Continue this process until the end, and witness a magnificent brain child.
Now, I hope you’re listening. This next part is crucial to your success.
Step three: COMMUNICATE.
Communication: do it early, do it often.
If you fear working with others because you’ve heard horror stories from other authors who tried to co-author something or were part of a horror story yourself, chances are that things fell apart because of a lack of communication. There are so many ways co-authoring can go wrong. From the minute (my name should go before your name debate) to the grandiose (why am I stuck writing every draft?), clear and consistent communication is the only thing that will keep your project headed in the right direction.
Now, if you are anything like me, the moment you discover you have to co-author something, you immediately search out literature on the topic of co-authoring (rather than get started on the project). I was surprised by the lack of material out there. Granted, I didn’t search for very long, but I will share with you some of the information I found.
First, I wanted a little information on the human brain. If you ever feel like you are the only person in the world with a weird brain, you are not alone. I feel that way every day! In my searches I ran across an article about the man who discovered that the brain is split. I think we take for granted that there are left-brained and right-brained people, but we didn’t always know that. People used to think the brain was a homogenous entity. Thanks to Michael S. Gazzaniga, we now know differently.
Why am I talking to you about brains? Your partner’s will inevitably work differently than yours. Try to be mindful of who they are, how they operate, how they think. In short, practice empathy. Empathy is always my first step in communicating with others.
Second, I wanted information specifically about working on an academic paper with another person. I located Richard P. Enfield and Faye C. H. Lee’s article Co-Authoring Papers in Research Teams: Avoiding the Pitfalls. In it, the authors discussed pretty much what I expected to find. Co-authors need to have frank discussions and come to agreements about intellectual property and authorship before starting on projects. It seems obvious, but there are horror stories for a reason. People often skip over these important conversations before starting work, and then many toes are metaphorically stepped on. For another brief overview of collaborating and co-authoring I recommend checking out Philip N. Howard’s article. He is Associate Professor of Communication at the University of Washington, and his article is short and straight forward.
Third, I wanted a perspective on co-authoring from a more general perspective. I found that perspective in Co-authoring: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly by Frank Viola. Mr. Viola is not a loner-scholar. He enjoys working with others so this was a very different take on the topic from my own, but I enjoyed reading about co-authoring from his perspective. Again, the ugly is miscommunication. He lays out three steps to avoid the pitfall.
To conclude, here is a picture of a girl taking flight. This is the visual embodiment of breathing and letting go. As a control freak I know it is foreign to let go of anything, but I do hope you’ll try. I know I’m going to. For only when we let go, can we truly fly.
Best of luck to all you type-A, control loving, members of society, and remember: sharing is caring.