Collaborating with the best

You’d think that after all this time, the things you can do on the internet would cease to fascinate or greatly amuse me. Highly untrue.

I remember when a friend first introduced the collaboration feature of Google Docs to me. While the technology behind this is probably light-years less complicated than most of what’s out there, the idea that two or more people can write together, edit each other and share ideas on the same word document or spreadsheet at the same time brings a feeling of side-by-side mentorship that is lost in the world of solitary existence in front of computers.

Of course, it can also be used for fun and silliness—I can’t tell you how many ridiculous, probably unreadable stories I’ve “co-authored” with friends using this tool. A bit like Exquisite Corpse, but over the world wide web instead of with pen and paper.

Writing silly stories with your friends is all well and good, of course, but I’ve recently discovered a more…literary…collaboration you can try out. Google has done a demo where you can practice writing stories with the likes of Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Emily Dickinson and Edgar Allen Poe. They’ll edit your words to their tastes and chide you if you slack off. I think my favorite is Charles Dickins’ accusation after too long a pause, “Procrastination is the thief of time, collar him.”

While this is really just a fun game you can play with yourself, I wonder if it also couldn’t be an exercise in trying out various writing styles and formats. Not that writing with Shakespeare’s prose or Nietzsche’s vindications is really anyone’s aim (or maybe it is!), but seeing how a simple word change or structure alteration in your own words can give an entirely different effect to the narrative is certainly eye-opening.

I suggest trying it out, whether for fun or for discipline (okay, it’s going to be fun regardless) and posting your favorite “edits” in the comments!

2 Responses to Collaborating with the best

  1. Kevin A. Lewis says:

    The downside of this fun activity is that before the bean counters decided that short stories got in the way of the Maybelline ads, it was possible to actually sell short stories for money to any number of magazines. I collect short fiction of various kinds from back in this long-lost period, but I haven’t bothered to write one since I sold my last one sometime in the 90’s. There are “literary” mags that still print them if you like wasting your time writing for copies, but when even Boys Life and Seventeen stop doing fiction, you know somebody’s working overtime to kill this venerable art form. And since I think it’s highly toxic for a writer to become accustomed to expressing himself in badly spelled 140-character sound bites, I guess I’ll have to stick to books…Keep playing, though-you might accidentally revive the genre!

  2. D.C. DaCosta says:

    While writing in the style of a famous author is a good exercise (as every English student should know)…who wants to read an imitation?

    It would be like watching Rowan Atkinson’s Mr. Bean character…when you might be watching Charlie Chaplin.

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