It all started in a pub, as the best Irish projects do. I was sitting in the back of the Franciscan Well, smoking my pipe, having a pint of their microbrew stout and tweeting, as one does, when I saw and retweeted a call for papers for articles on evaluation for the Journal of Digital Humanities. I didn’t actually plan for anything to come of it, but a bunch of our MA students grabbed the idea, and the next thing I knew, we agreed to write and submit a paper. As a result, over 10 days, we drafted, edited using Skype and Google Docs, and submitted, a good paper.
We started by writing a set of individual ‘stream of consciousness’ responses to the call – mine is online here. Apparently, some of the DAH MA class type perfect MLA references in their stream of consciousness writing, which is more than I can do even with Turabian open beside me!. Then we read each others pieces, agreed to give them a quick edit, and merged all 5 into one Google doc. In my case, I cut a lot of the waffle. By the time we had done this, it was the Thursday before the Monday deadline, so now we were really up against it. By happy accident, we all used different fonts, so as we moved paragraphs round, we could still see who wrote what.
That weekend was Skype time – a quick session Friday, some longer editing by three of the team Saturday while I manned the Green Apron stall at the Milk Market in Limerick, about 3 hours on Sunday and a 2 hour rush Monday evening. Over those sessions, we used the one piece with headings as a base, and moved paragraphs from the others into it. Broadly, it ran like this: Saturday Lynn, Anna and Roisin merged their sections, and on Sunday we did the same with Olivia’s. Then we deleted the unused text from the end of the document. At that point they decided not to try and merge mine into theirs, but to keep the academic and student perspectives separate. I would have liked to have got it all into one, but the consensus was against me, so I went with the flow.
Then we cut and edited paragraphs together. As we moved on in the process, we got to shuffling sentences within paragraphs and then cutting and editing words and phrases so that it all flowed together. I have done pair writing, sentence on sentence in chat, before (must finish that novel someday!) but the sight of 5 cursors chasing one another round a paragraph like a pacman game was new for me. We all brought different things to it – we had MLA fiends and grammar queens, and I dived in a brutally simplified sentences where I though folks had what I call an “attack of the Jane Austens”. For me, editing in Google docs, like editing a wiki page, is a much better form of collaborative writing than using “track changes” in a wordprocessor – I think the frequent autosaves mean that each version encompasses fewer changes, which is easier to track and restore than the morass that often emerges from a Word document.
Finally, Monday evening it was done, and I hopped it over to WordPress, quickly fixed some formatting (at the time of writing this, I still need to fix a bad line break) and submitted it into the Zotero folder for the journal submissions. I don’t know if it will make the cut for the journal – there are a lot of good submissions in there – but I don’t care. Ok, I lied, I do care, I’d really love it if it made the journal, but if it doesn’t we will submit it to other places.
We did agree that we would all post our initial drafts on our own blogs, and we will blog about the experience, and we can turn that into a conference poster, if not a paper. We are documenting what one of the team called “This crazy writing idea” when she named the shared Dropbox folder, and sharing the experience with the community. I did also say that we need to break out our Extreme Writing Team, and drag the other students in the MA in Digital Arts & Humanities into similar writing projects, but that can wait for January.
Highlights, apart from the “flow” of team writing and editing, was having the “4 Horsewomen of the Editpocalyse ” all agree that I should use Shikari in the subhead of my section – Nicolas Montserrat fans will recognise the destroyer which appeared in The Cruel Sea but didn’t make the film version.
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