Writing alone and by hand… not the way to go.

Writers: start collaborating using GitHub now

Or how to help and be helped by your fellow writers (and maybe a random person that just passes by) by using this excellent text-based collaboration platform.

JJ Merelo
JJ Merelo
Jun 8, 2013 · 4 min read

Most writers will be just happy writing by themselves, even if they do it in the open and using GitHub, which they just and happily learned. However, and unsurprisingly, what collaborative tools like GitHub excel at is at keeping chaos at bay when one or two persons are laying their hands on the same stuff. You might think, as somebody said (and I don’t remember who) that collaborative writing is like getting married, you only do it if you have to. However, it so happens you might have to, since it might the way to achieve at the same time quality and productivity. Even if you don’t have other people writing lines, they might be editing or doing other things, so you might want to have them collaborating on your novel.

GitHub allows spontaneous collaboration (and, in fact, that might be the single reason it has become so popular) but that explaining how that works might be going a little too far (for now) on the writing-software development similarity scale, so let’s leave that for later. Let’s just say you trust somebody enough to have her work on the same lines you do.

First, you’ll have to go to the main page of your repository, your projects, one like this one, you can not do it from the client. Click on Settings, and the second option you see is Collaborators. To prevent you from doing something you might later be sorry for, you’ll have to introduce your password again but them there’s just a text box to introduce names. That could be JJ, for instance.

It could be anybody else, obviously. Not everybody will want to add me as a collaborator. Or maybe just the first million. You’ll have to choose one from the pull down menu, making sure it is who you want or some unknown hacker from Poughkeepsie will get the gift of collaborating with you; click on Add once you’ve got the person.

Be that as it may, that second person can start right now working with you, he’ll get an email with the perk obtained and it will show up in its list of repositories. If that’s you, you will see something like this inviting you to clone the repository in Windows.

After cloning, it will be one of your own projects, which you can change at will. And you will. You can, for instance, give this collaborator some homework using issues, which basically mean you have either issued some task to somebody or that you have issues with whatever is being written. Click on New Issue to add one, like the one I’m showing here.

That will show up in the mailbox of your collaborator (as soon as you Submit it, of course), who will be immediately moved to action for the greater good of literature. It will also show up on Notifications as a blue spot by the side of the Octocat, at the top left corner of the website:

So, just do it: write another line. Who could say no to that? Do it on the web itself or on your computer, wherever you find yourself more comfortable. If you check the file and click on Edit you’ll be done in no time. You even have the “zen mode” that will leave you free of distractions so that you concentrate on closing the issue. The good thing is that you can close it directly using the commit message, that is, the message you issue (no pun intended) when you update your changes and make them permanent.

That closes #1 refers to the issue you were trying to address. Once the line has been added and the commit done you can close the issue, and you do it directly by using that key word. Besides, you’ll see that the commit message is hyperlinked to the issue and that, once you get there, the issue has been closed.

Issue closed! Great job!

And you job is done, and well done!

Good thing is, anybody can write an issue. Which can be great for readers, since they can use it to talk about characters, ask questions and, of course, to draw your attention to typos and any kind of errors there are. You can then address those issues, answer to them or close them by making changes to your code, sorry, novel. And remember, don’t go to bed until you’ve closed all your issues and you’be a happy writer with a happy readership.

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