115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

When the Voice Metaphor Doesn’t Fit: Collaborative Writing and Collaborative Voice

Andrea Stark Bishop, University of Memphis

When we discuss the products of collaborative writers, we stumble over this troublesome voice metaphor, a metaphor resting upon the solitary writer projecting a single voice. This project explores the voice within collaborative writing and proposes fusion voicing as terminology worthy of discussing the texture and complexity of collaborative voice.


When writers are able to merge their fragmented ideas and singular voices into seamless, wholes, the product of that negotiation should be celebrated as something inherently valuable. If collaborators don’t feel the need to claim ownership/authorship of specific parts of a text, then we need terminology to better discuss the voice we hear in those collaborative moments. I suggest fusion voicing as our term. I aim to complicate this idea of the single writerly voice. I hope to prompt a better conversation about the voice(s) found in collaborative writing because—when we begin to discuss the products of collaborative writers—we stumble over the troublesome nature of this voice metaphor, a metaphor that insists upon a single writer with a single voice.

Admittedly, no one-size-fits-all label exists for voice, so it is tagged in adjectives and in metaphors, categorized by what it is not and by what it seems to be. Voice must be approached through a prismatic lens—where one view spins off into another and another—because accepting only one view offers a partial understanding of what the term signifies. Voice is that part or aspect of our consciousness we wish our readers to hear, but it is also the magical and the mystical. Peter Elbow calls it the “magic potion.” I call it pizzazz. Voice is the way writers imbue a sort of juju—a magical spell of presence—into their words.

Interestingly enough, while scholarship exists about the nature of a single writer possessing multiple voices within herself and how she is able to construct and express those voices (see Bakhtin and Gilyard and Smitherman), scholarship is less often devoted to writers working collaboratively, which means little scholarship exists on the concept of voice in collaborative writing projects. Instead, voice scholarship remains focused on the individual writer. Andrea Lunsford labels this ideal the “lonely scribbler,” one who is “singular, originary, autonomous, and uniquely creative.” Yes, that writer may have multiple voices. Yes, she may be negotiating multiple social and cultural contexts, but in the scholarship, she is a singular writer.

How then do we negotiate voice as a presence in the work of collaborative writers?

Ultimately, this paper argues that the singularly described entity called voice, such that is traditionally ascribed to writing, should be reconsidered and renamed when collaborative writers are at work. Borrowing from fusion theory in musicology, I suggest the term fusion voicing as a better way to discuss collaborative voice. In the field of nuclear physics, fusion refers to the combining of two or more lighter nucleuses to create a heavier one. In popular music, fusion refers to the combination of multiple genres. The general, all-purpose, explanation of fusion is the blending or melting of multiple things in effort to form one whole. Fusion offers complexity and weight; it also offers a better way to discuss voice in collaborative writing.

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