Monday, February 22, 2010


As a writer, you may someday be in the position to write with a collaborator. Collaboration can be refreshing in many ways…it takes off some of the burden of creativity and allows you to gain fresh insight into your work-in-progress. It’s always nice to bounce ideas off a second brain and find new ways to make your project—book, article or paper—grow and live. At the same time, you need to be aware of the pitfalls of working with a second (or third or fourth) person.

Disagreements regarding project directions are always a danger. A few ground rules put in place from the start can help sideline this problem, but even the most agreeable of partnerships may encounter a common dilemma that’s much more difficult to resolve. What is it?

The Slow Poke.

If you find yourself finishing sections ahead of schedule, only to watch deadlines fly past with no word from your partner, you’re working with a Slow Poke.

When saddled with this kind of partner, it’s easy to assume the person is slacking and purposefully blowing off deadlines. This thought tendency only grows as frustration increases. Be aware, though, that there can be more than one reason a collaborator doesn’t pull through for you.

  1. They’re not used to working with deadlines. It’s true. Some people, especially those who don’t work as freelancers, may not be used to hard-and-fast deadlines. Journalists are taught respect for deadlines, with phrases like, “Cross this line, and you’re dead.” The same isn’t true for everyone. If your partners aren’t used to setting and keeping deadlines unless they have someone standing over them, you may have to be the whip master…at least until you can convince them of the real-world consequences of missing a deadline.
  2. Their hearts aren’t in it. Sometimes it’s a simple case of ennui. This project may rev your engine, but what about your partners? They may have caught the fever in the beginning, but lost interest once the first flush of excitement passed. If you can, find ways to draw them back into the process. You may need to revamp and include aspects that recapture their interest. Maybe they have too little responsibility, and need more. If this fails, it may simply be time to let the partnership dissolve (if that’s up to you).
  3. They’re overloaded. Due to human nature, this is the last pssibility many of us consider. If you’re working with serious professionals, though, it’s the first place you should look when your partners fall short. Don’t start out by blaming them for not “giving their all” and for failing to work 25/7. Sit back and consider. Is 25/7 what’s required if your collaborators want to juggle their responsibilities and this project? If so, is that a fair expectation? No. It may be that they misjudged and took on too much, or it may be that you saddled them with extra responsibility without asking. Either way, you may have partners who are about to crumple under the strain. Find a way to relieve your colleagues of some of the burden; cut their part in the project or work around their schedules. If that’s impossible, it may be time to cut them loose and hold off collaboration until a calmer time. If handled correctly, it will be a cause for relief rather than hard feelings.

When talking about the failing of others, of course, it’s also good to hold up the mirror once in a while. If you’re in a collaboration and sense frustration from your colleague, check yourself. Are you the Slow Poke? Have you lost interest, overloaded yourself, failed a deadline? If so, put yourself back on track and save your partner the trouble!

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