Writing with two hands

When you have to finalize and deliver papers only to see them fall into a black whole for months, if not years, once they are in the hands of the editors, you should be thinking of those moments when the harvesting suddenly drops on you for no apparent reason. This is happening to me quite unexpectedly. The Solger volume edited with Mildred Galland-Szymkowiak is in print, the wikipedia paper written with Christof Schöch has emerged from a long editorial hibernation, and last but not least the paper with Mareike König as well as the one with Franziska Heimburger were published today, both to be found online in the volume “Geschichte machen in Frankreich“.

Writing with someone else is unusual in the humanities. Still, I claim that I did not do it out of laziness. And if not out of laziness, then why? There is a certain type of texts that I prefer writing with someone else. In all of the cases mentioned above (and more specifically concerning the papers), the paper dealt with a topic that I liked and wanted to write about, but did not feel that I was absolutely competent on regarding all the aspects that belonged in such a paper. In all three cases, I experienced the collaboration as an enrichment, not only for the paper, but for myself as well. Carving the text to its final shape was made even more enjoyable because I was not the only one slicing, cutting out and refining periods and arguments.

Actually, you might think that it takes some work off your shoulders to split the writing of a paper into two parts, but most of the time, the effort required to homogenize two parts that were conceived and written separately is so tedious that you might regret not having written all by yourself at some point. This kind of stylistic hiatus is noticeable for instance in the paper I wrote with Anna Busch (published here). I don’t think it is such a big issue in that case though since there are clearly two parts in the paper and the style is sober throughout. But writing with two hands is and should be about something else.

What works best is to have one of the authors write some kind of text nucleus and then both authors enrich it via googledoc or etherpad or the like. This means that both authors have to have not too narcissistic a relationship to their own production (and also possibly a similar work hygiene). The paper then somehow keeps the trace of a dominant style, which supposes that one of the authors identifies enough with the other’s style.

But the other author will also cherish parts of your text that you don’t find that great, and you will be surprised how easy it is to give up text bits which you thought at first you put all you heart into. In that sense, it is an excellent exercise when it comes to being more efficient at writing papers on your own. You just have to imagine what your co-author would do with the text: then, re-writing it from scratch (yes, I did that a month ago) turns out to be a viable option after all.

Next on: “Von Editionen als interoperablen Projekten” together with Markus Schnöpf, with long train hours to write, erase, rewrite and argue. Looking forward!

Anne Baillot

I am a Professor of German Studies at Le Mans Université. My areas of research include German literature, Digital Humanities, textual scholarship and intellectual history.

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