Idea Management: When It’s A Team Effort

Okay we already talked about how to organize your writing ideas and we’ve gone over the many ways in which you can keep track of them when you are away from your office. Now we are going to talk about different ways in which you can keep track of ideas while working on a collaborative writing project.

I’ve never worked on a collaborative writing project. I’m more of a solo artist myself. However, in speaking with other writers, I get the feeling that participating in a collaborative writing project is both fun and frustrating. Fun because bringing people together from different walks of life often offers fresh and humorous perspective on the writing idea as a whole. At the same time the frustration comes in because attempting to keep a bunch of creative people on track is a little like trying to herd cats. All but impossible.

While I can’t really help you with the cat herding thing, I can offer some ways of getting your group together for jam sessions as well as suggestions for keeping track of things when all is said and done.

Appoint someone as “The Note Keeper”

Most of my ideas work off the premise that teams should have a central place in which to store, update and keep track of ideas. With all of these ideas, there should be someone whose task it is to make sure everything remains up to date. This is especially important if a few or all of your team members do not have access to the internet or internet related services such as email and instant messaging.

All ideas and revisions should be forwarded to “The Note Keeper” who then could use one of the offline systems to keep updated records of the group’s work with the addition of a revision sheet upon which he/she can log all of the changes that happened between group meetings.

Microsoft Word

Microsoft Word has a nice feature that is perfect for group writing projects that’s called Track Changes. Track Changes will track all of the revisions done in a document and the nice thing about that is that people can choose to either accept or reject the changes.

To turn this feature on, open your version of Word. On the toolbar at the very bottom in about the middle there is a box marked “TRK”. If you have never used this function before then most likely this option will be greyed out. Just double click the box to turn it on.

Users can then set their own MSWord program to show the changes the document went through by enabling the Review Toolbar and selecting the “Final Showing Markup” or “Original Showing Markup” option.

Click here for more information on how to use the Track Changes tools.

This is perfect for a group E-Notebook System because you can send the notebook around to each member of the group in an email who can then add their thoughts and forward it to “The Note Keeper” who can then compile them all into a master document and resend to all members for further review.


Blogs aren’t just for posting your deepest secrets. Blogs are a great way for your group to get together and post story ideas, tidbits or even the whole book for review. Instead of directly editing the content in the blog post, members can leave their feedback in the comment section. Not only that, the blog pages can be printed out for easy addition to an offline file.

The two most popular blogging systems on the market are Google’s Blogger and Automattic’s WordPress. Both services allow you to have multiple authors and to set the blog to private which is important if you want to keep your writing top secret.

Out of the two, however, I would recommend WordPress because not only do I consider it to be superior blogging system offering many more options than blogger, if you want to also use your blog as an update site for your fans, you can password protect the entries meant only for your group. However, I recommend just getting two separate blogs altogether to prevent any confusion.

Wiki Software

Wiki software is software that allows a mass of users to edit the content held within. Think Wikipedia. Anyone can sign up for an account, however, you do have the capability of deleting this option so that only your group members are able to edit the content.

In addition to editing the main content, Wikis provide a discussion page so members can discuss why an item was changed as well as providing user pages to help track who changed what.

There are two types of Wikis; one that you host with a web hosting service on your own domain and one that you can get for free. I recommend the hosted solution because it gives you more control over access and usage. Free wikis often limit you to a certain amount of users or do not give you the option of controlling who sees your work.

Google Documents

Google Docs and Spreadsheets (formally Writely and Google Spreadsheets respectively) is an online document and spreadsheet creator. With this program, you can upload documents from your Word or OpenOffice program or any RTF, HTML or plain text file and edit it online. With a little Google juice, you can share the document with the whole webernet or just a group of friends. Google Docs even lets you post a document directly to your blog.

Message Boards

A message board is software that facilitates group discussion. If you’ve been on the internet for any length of time, chances are you’ve come across or even used a forum already. Created in the image of Bulletin Boards, message boards allow users to create accounts and then post threads on any topic of their choosing.

Some forums are focused on a specific niche such as web development or writing. Others are more general in their scope. Just like blogs, forums can be closed to outside eyes and members allowed in by invitation only. The nice thing about forum boards is that, in my opinion, discussion of writing ideas and inspiration is easier then, say, in a blog or wiki format. Plus with forums you can separate them into multiple sections such as one for generating and discussion of ideas and the other for just hanging out and talking about writing successes and frustrations.

Some forum software allow you to rate threads, subscribe to threads to track responses, print out topics, email topics to friends which is perfect for keeping your idea file up to speed.

The best forum software is not free and requires webhosting on your own domain. There are many free options out there. Be sure to shop around for the best fit for your groups needs.

Email and Instant Messaging

Now I’m going to be upfront and honest. I’m not an instant messenger kind of girl. I prefer email mainly because it gives me the opportunity to think about what I want to say.

If all of your team members do have access to the internet, instant messaging offers a great way to have brainstorming sessions in real time whether your members live just down the street or halfway around the world.

Choose an instant messaging service that allows multiparty conversations such as Yahoo Messenger. This means more than two people can chat on the same line at the same time. Most instant messaging clients also allow you to print out your conversation or just save it to your hard drive for future reference.

As far as email goes the only one I use is Gmail. If you email someone and they reply, Gmail will group the original email with any subsequent replies so that all you do is click on your original email to see the whole conversation.

These are just a few ways in which you can network your group together and work on your collaborative project. Now as far as herding cats go, apparently it’s not as impossible as it first seems. Let me know how that works out for you. You may end up as a protagonist in a future novel.

Happy cat herding 🙂

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