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  • Writer's pictureRowan Fortune

On Collaboration

A brief look at some of my recent collaborative projects.

For the last few years, I have worked on various collaborative projects, co-authoring and conceiving a range of theoretical and fictional works. These have all been done with various friends, and all have been immensely rewarding. Lately, I find my way into these very readily. They are diverse, but each one has benefitted from involving more than just myself, working in isolation.

To innumerate, such projects include:

1. a TV script adaptation of a sci-fi novel, which we hope to resume on the other side of Covid-19

2. a set of absurdist short stories, currently on hiatus

2. Good Sense, a recently released Marxist political educational reading podcast

3. an article on ethnography and radical ecology with my oldest friend

4. System Crash, a book (soon out in paperback) introducing revolutionary socialism co-written with A*CR comrades

5. another upcoming book, in early development, examining socialist organising and class with an American comrade

Collaborating comes naturally, in part, because editing—my day job—is always also collaborative. The strict separation of spheres of activity into creative and non-creative does not make a lot of sense to me; any act that brings something new into the world is ‘creative’, and editing is necessarily so too. When I work on a text, even at the level of minimal copyediting, I am making an assortment of problem-solving decisions that shape the book in significant ways.

How I perceive editing is not as a technician, but equally there is a separation between that form of collaboration and those I have listed. The collaboration with an editor is not an equal one: my task is to bring out, to its fullest, another’s unique voice and narrative or theoretical vision. It’s to make a book more itself, more what it is in potentia. With the other type of collaborative works, however, I am adding my voice to another’s (or several others’) to produce something unique.

That is all to say, while both are fully creative, there is an essential difference of the kind of involvement. An editor is not, nor should aspire to be, an author. I do not write the books I edit, even when I add new words and phrasings, I help see another’s writing communicate itself closer to their conception insofar as I can tease this out. Whether that is at the level of excising typos or restructuring a sentence.

So, editing certainly puts me in the right frame for a collaboration of equals; it gives a taste of what it is like for multiple people to work on a single artefact. However, what is so wonderful about this form different, co-authoring form of collaboration is that it gives expression to a perspective to something that cannot come into being from an atomised mind. It is in the cross fertilization of perspectives that such a work finds itself.

There are certainly challenges involved, too. At the most basic level, there’s the difficulty of scheduling and dividing labour. System Crash had the benefit of being guided by two veterans of collaborative theoretical works, Neil Faulkner and Phil Hearse. Moreover, I live with one of the co-authors, the splendid Nina Fortune. With the script my friend and former colleague manages meetings and sorting out assignments really well. While online communication has been a help for the newest book and Good Sense, with Vivak Soni.

Anyone can gain a lot by trying out something like this. Depending on your sensibilities you might find it easier than going it alone with a creative project, and if you are sure to keep up the pressure, hit the mutually decided goals and properly understand the different contributions being made, the very process can help you develop—whether you are working on fiction or non-fiction—your own distinct style and ideas.

As writers, a medium that is not inherently collaborative like video games or film or much of music, it is easy to miss out on these benefits. And to never even try the creative processes that resulted in Arkady and Boris Strugatsky’s magisterial Roadside Picnic or the various fruits of Marx and Engel’s lifetime of work together, is a shame.

Stories and theory are always inherently social. They draw their substance from the social past, project out into a social future; it makes sense that the present of their creation can benefit from a meeting of minds, from an exchange and a give and take of concepts. The final collaboration is always with the reader, the listener, the audience. And by recognizing the social aspect involved at every stage, we can better understand the act of communication in which we writers are engaged.


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