Inside the Kingston MA: collaborative working in practice


Creative challenges, intellectual stimulation and working under pressure are all features of our MA Publishing course. In our latest guest post, student Kyra Mathews shares her own experiences, with a candid story of collaborative working.

We were nine MA Publishing and Creative Writing students, lumped together to create and present a working publishing concept for a real up-and-coming company. Each talented and qualified in our own way, we also had nine opinions – all different and all perfectly valid.  While this provided the most intellectual stimulation I’d had in months, if not years, after four weeks of caffeine and conversation we found ourselves drowning in a kaleidoscope of concepts and ideas that would have taken a decade to implement. Impossible, implausible and positively terrifying.

The weeding out process began. A long task of discarding treasured post-it’s, slashing scribbled notes, deleting valuable links and documents, and ignoring emails that added to a plethora of jumbled information. Weeks later, we gathered, triumphant that clarity had been restored. We left disappointed, and shocked to discover that after all the effort and mental anguish, we still had too many results of nine mind-spaces to work with.

Resentment and frustration seeped in without us even realizing. We grew weary of giving up our ideas and our mental and emotional selves for the sake of an assignment, and for people we barely knew. We understood little about each other’s personal lives; our relationships were strictly professional. After all, weren’t we constantly being told, “Publishing’s not ‘nice’: it’s a business”?

We were getting in too deep. Our egos and individual selves became entangled with the project, and we were bruised by our group and team selves. We went home, or sat in library cubicles, working and conceptualizing. We’d meet and lay our ideas out, and seethe and simmer if they weren’t well-received. Our ideas weren’t the problem. We were. That was the first thing we all unanimously agreed on. And then we fixed it, together: as a business, but not business-like.

After thrashing out the underlying concept and the specifics of our goals, we brainstormed the glue of the entire project: target market and genre. We began with paranormal romance and a readership of teens and ‘Twi-Moms’. We played with the idea of graphic novels or children’s literature. Finally we agreed on crime, with James Patterson’s Alex Cross as the muse of our mental mood board, from which we constantly drew ideas and inspiration.

As the only group member who is a loyal follower of Cross, I coaxed the other eight to read a book, or at least watch the film. They instantly backed me up on the character’s appeal, and brought to our attention the appeal not just of Cross, but of the secondary characters: his family, his loyal sidekick Samson, and the girlfriends that he (or Patterson, more likely) seem to grow weary of for no apparent reason.

The channels and technology aspects were something we dealt with relatively quickly, using clear heads and common sense. But the details of content and marketing drained our energy, sparking clashes of opinion. We came up with too many ideas to work with, only some of which we presented.

Surprisingly, some of our best ideas and decisions were those we developed only a few days before our presentation. We put that down to two reasons: 1) Perhaps working under pressure really does reap benefits, and 2) We were finally getting along. The project that was initially a chore was now a child we’d all contributed to bringing up.

It was panic that finally delivered a surreal enjoyment. It tugged at our heart-and-mind strings a few days before the assignment was due, and meant we could honestly and proudly say the presentation we laid out was the result of teamwork. We spent mornings and afternoons in each other’s company, leaning over laptops to make suggestions (not corrections), and laughing at spelling mistakes. The only breaks we took were to devour Christmas turkey – a tad weary but glad we had eight other people to be weary with.

We tell people now that it was a piece of cake.  Bumpy sometimes, but nothing we couldn’t handle. We tell them how we’d sit for hours arguing and discussing, and of the time we spent trying to get into the mindset of the book business. We tell them how it might have taken a lot out of us, but that it has given us relationships with like-minded people; relationships that helped maintain our sanity.

Kyra Mathews is a student on the MA in Creative Writing and Publishing at Kingston University and a lecturer of Creative Writing at Wilson College, Mumbai.

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2 responses to “Inside the Kingston MA: collaborative working in practice

  1. Kyra, you are what I will be. Not a lecturer in Mumbai, but a student bent over her last grains of sanity, fearing the wobbly slopes and rocky mountains of the upcoming course. Chapeau for pulling it off. I hope I shall be that clever, lucky, inspired and, well, driven.

    • Susanne – we will do our best to keep you inspired, driven and – most importantly – supported on those wobbly slopes. Don´t be scared; you will soon be doing black runs!

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