Collaborative Relationships: Multiple Sessions and Extended Projects

Brit Mandelo, Consultant

While the majority of our sessions are one-offs—a single meeting with a client, or multiple sessions each on a different piece of work—there are also, occasionally, larger projects extended over many meetings: thesis work, research projects and the like. Though I appreciate and enjoy all the sorts of work I do in the writing center, I’ve found that these can be the most rewarding and intriguing sorts of partnerships. The process of collaboration is distinctly different when it’s extended over several sessions with the same goal in mind; a space opens up for an authentic and often personal relationship to develop.

When a client comes in for several appointments each week, slowly working through an entire long project with me, I not only get a sense of their personal interests, academic interests, and writing style, but also of their deeper-seated needs and expectations. The dialogue that we can then develop—balancing theoretical and structural concerns over one week with usage and style concerns the next, for example—allows room for flexibility and intense collaboration that a single fifty-minute encounter can’t have. In some sense, this is just really obvious: of course working with someone for six hours is more intense and allows for more connection than working with someone for one hour. In another, I think there’s something more intriguing going on when it comes to issues of identity and communication.

The first session with a client often consists of a “feeling out,” be that first session the only one or not. The client and I aren’t yet familiar—I can’t be sure where their strengths lie, or their weaknesses, or what their concerns are (the ones they’re willing to acknowledge out loud, and the ones they aren’t). So, we end up working out a lot of that communicative background while discussing the writing in question. There’s work being done below (or above?) the level of the client-as-writer; we’re often also learning how to communicate as two individual people with distinct skills and needs. As we all come from unique identity positions, with significant differences between each of our roles within the university, engaging in that process of “how to talk to one another” is essential before productive work can begin. Sometimes it takes five minutes, but sometimes it takes the whole session as we come together over a piece of writing.

However, given even one more session on the same piece of work—when we’re both already familiar with each other and the project in question—much of the proverbial throat-clearing and the sounding-out process that opens a first session have already been taken care of. Often, we’ve had a chance to work through structural and theoretical concerns with the piece, too, if it’s shorter. That second session on the same piece allows us to dig deeper, answer further questions that might have developed in the interim, and slip into a more comfortable space with each other. Multiply that by a few more meetings, and the collaborative opportunity consistently develops into a real relationship based on the writing, but also on each of us as individuals with specific needs and skills—which we’ve had several chances to fit together, like puzzle pieces, for the most productive possible arrangement. After having this happen reliably several times, I now wish that more clients would make several appointments for their projects, so that this same comfortable space could develop between more of us.

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