Collaborative Writing Tools

I did a lot of collaborative writing this past year with my husband, Fahim, including freelance writing work and editing for a magazine, and here are two of the tools we found exceptionally helpful.

Groove

We’ve used it since before Microsoft bought it out, but didn’t use it as extensively until this year. We created a shared workspace and, as a document needed reviewing or editing by the other person, we dumped it in there and the other person received it in their Groove space nearly instantaneously. Groove makes sharing files very very easy.

We also use it for editing the magazine – that shared space also includes magazine owners and layout / graphics guy. And again, it makes sharing files with multiple people very easy.

The only downside is that the computer that holds a file has to be on for the other computers to be able to retrieve it. Not a problem when it’s a small file, but can be problematic if it’s a 20 MB file or a group of files adding up to, say, 160 MB, as was the case of images I dumped in to the space to go along with a gaming article. Synchronizing files that large with the slow internet speeds we have here can take a day or three. But, it’s still better than emailing and clogging up the email servers and all the inherent problems associated with that, and it works with nary a hitch or glitch.

Microsoft Word with Track Changes

Honestly, we’re not Microsoft fanboys / fangirls, but we do recognize good tools that fit their purpose. Microsoft Word with Track Changes works very well for our purposes.

Whether Fahim writes the first draft of a document, and I then do the first editing round, and pass it back to him, and so on, or I start with the first draft and he edits first, track changes is a remarkably useful feature. With it enabled, I can edit his text – whether deleting whole swaths of redundant text, adding necessary commas, or using more clear language – and, when the draft is passed back to him, he can see exactly what I deleted, what I added, and, for that matter, what formatting I changed. I can leave notes asking for clarification or indicate that I didn’t understand something.

Then, he can accept or reject each change I made individually. He can make further revisions, still tracking what changes he made, and he can also leave notes. And so on and so forth.

With more than one person working on a document, this is a fantastic tool to track changes. While we’ve used it mostly for our freelance writing, it’s equally useful for editing rounds in short stories or novels.

Fahim has checked other writing software, and none, thus far, include tools to compare to track changes. With the way we work, this is one tool that we consider absolutely essential.

Planning Time

I’ve been re-thinking my plan of attack and have come up with something that I think will work. Of course, this starts with a conversation Fahim and I had a month or so back.

The short version – at least, as far as how I remember it – is that we could work more closely as a writing team and pool our resources and our strengths as writers, especially since we complement each other as writers so much.

Doing freelance writing, our multiple editing rounds have worked well – we notice different things. He’s better at the overall picture, for example, but I’m better at the detail. It tends to work out well for us to do things this way. Plus, with Groove, it becomes a lot easier – dump the document into the shared workspace, and he can grab it when he feels like it. When he makes revisions, it shows up at my end. It’s a rather handy tool for collaboration work like this.

To that end, we’ve discussed a complete change to the beginning of my Basement of the Universe novel (yes, I got my title back. :D) to bring it more in line with other novels / stories we’ve got in mind / are in planning / have been at least partially written set in this particular universe.

To that end, I deleted 10,000 or so words in the novel. Painful? Well, yes, but no. They were weak. They needed improvement. The new beginning is stronger, more interesting, more fun. And the old beginning isn’t entirely deleted – I’ve got it languishing in a zipped backups archive, ready to pull out at a moment’s notice for Bloopers, Bleepers, and Outtakes.

Now it’s on to rewriting the beginning, adding in missing detail in more than a few places, then passing it on to Fahim for editing, who, I think, will give it much more than just a “you could improve this here” and more of a “oh, I think we should change this scene entirely” as he chops and adds whatever seems appropriate to him. Frankly, I hope he does take more of a writing-partner approach to it rather than straight editor. I think it will be stronger.

Of course, we’ll likely end up passing it back and forth for editing several to many times. We’re getting good at that – we’ve developed a system that seems to work for us. Granted, we’ve used it for freelance writing, not fiction, but the theory should hold. 🙂

That’s novel one.

Novel two, in my mind, is to finish writing Children of the Dome. I’m about a quarter of the way through, and got bogged down by stupid details like distances. Well, in this book, I have to be fairly precise over travel time, distances, and the like for anal retentiveness sake and to make sure I keep the details clean. This particular book demands it. The reader will likely not notice, but it’s better to make sure the details are in place. It just makes for a better read, in my opinion.

Then pass that on to Fahim as well.

Novel three, in my mind, would be Shards. I’m pretty sure. Which I would like to do for NaNoWriMo. It’s fantasy, not science fiction, so a bit of a departure for me, but that’s also the point. Do something a little different. See what happens. Does it work? Does it stink? Is it fun?

I hope it’ll be fun.

Problem is, I don’t have it entirely planned yet – need to flesh out the plot points, so of course, I need Fahim’s help on that. 😀 Oh, he’s ever so handy. 😀

And that’s what I’ve got in the immediate future.