Excuses, Excuses

Why the light blogging here of late? Could it be the looming article deadline, quickly approaching? Or perhaps the conference paper on the horizon?

Could very well be. Could be both.

Between these two projects, I find that I’m running low on words. You know those days of writing where you’re just rearranging your five favorite terms over and over again? Epistemology + digital video + pedagogy + YouTube = conclusion to section. Add a verb or two. Move on.

When I can get out of my head a little, I’m noting some curious observations about writing process. Here’s the deal: I am co-writing this article. Which is due in a week. Not “about a week”, mind you, an actual week. The two of us have been diligent for sure, meeting weekly since January, reading, writing, discussion, drafting, revising, etc. Despite our plans to finish this thing by the first week in March, however, we find ourselves looking at the upcoming deadline like deer in headlights. Part of this could be that neither of us is a person who tends to get things done far in advance. But I prefer to think that it also tells us something about the process of collaborative writing: it takes longer. You would think that I’d have known that going in, but it didn’t really occur to me. What I’ve discovered is that when you’re writing with someone, you’re negotiating and discussing all the time. Which secondary sources to use and why; how much space a particular piece of the argument should occupy; the particular ways that data should be interpreted; style; etc. And that’s all the stuff that we actually articulate. I’d venture that there is also always a secondary level of negotiation going on non-verbally: should I just take the lead on this part?; am I slowing us down?; is my expertise relevant here?. Essentially, there are all of the interpersonal elements to negotiate as well. Is it any wonder that it takes longer than writing an article alone?

Meanwhile, note to self: next time I assign a group project to students (I’m looking at you, film class!), I need to give them ample time to work through not just content, but interpersonal stuff as well. It would probably also help if I could get them to move across the street from one another, and assign one person per group to be the baker who provides snacks for each meeting. And then someone to do the group’s laundry and grocery shopping while they get their article written—I mean project done.

So what’s the collaborative writing payoff, if it creates deadline problems? Well, there’s the obvious: two sets of expertise, two readers, two thinkers. If you can truly work collaboratively, you can pool your ideas, which ideally become greater than the sum of your two parts. [I’m not necessarily making this claim for our work, you understand, I’m simply saying that it’s possible.] It is certainly the case that I know more now than I ever would have about the history of composition and rhetoric as a field than I would have if I had not worked with my present co-author. Less obvious: knowledge about your own process, by way of watching someone else’s. I’ve always known that I’m a balky writer; it takes any number of rewards and punishments to get me off the starting blocks. [Embarrassing confession: once, as an undergrad, I wrote a 20 page paper on Gerard Genette’s Narrative Discourse in a single day by tying my leg to my desk chair. Sad, but true. There was much cursing involved, and gnashing of teeth. And if we see our own sins at the time of our death, that paper is coming back to haunt me.] My co-writer seemingly has none of these problems—she’s happy to produce reams of text as a way of figuring out her ideas. Why has this never occurred to me as an option? Writing as process of thinking rather than as record of perfectly formed idea?! Preposterous!

I suppose the response to the article will be our litmus test for the success of our collaborative process. Regardless of the editor’s view, however, I’ve got a whole new bag of tricks to experiment with when writing my conference paper. Carnivalesque discourse + interpellation + new media = …

3 thoughts on “Excuses, Excuses

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