How To Collaborate with Other Writers

Many writers never attempt to collaborate with other writers for fear of pitfalls and creative turmoil.  If you believe the stories of some people you meet, collaboration is a no-win scenario for writers.  But don't believe those stories! Collaboration requires effort, as does any creative endeavor.  When successful, collaboration is a valuable, rewarding exercise and ultimately a learning experience for every writer.  The trick is to choose your collaborators wisely and then be flexible. 

  1. Choose a good partner for collaboration.  Your partner doesn't have to have any more collaborative experience than you, but the fundamental qualities of a good collaborator should be evident.  Choose a person who demonstrates flexibility more than stubbornness, and is open-minded before being judgmental.  In a collaboration, the brilliance of a writer doesn't matter if the writer is unwilling to entertain other ideas.  A raving egomaniac doesn't make a good partner in collaboration.
  2. Creative compatibility.  Sometimes you just know, by talking to a writer, that you share creative impulses.  When you can tell that you naturally think along the same creative lines, then you know that collaboration will be smooth at least from a purely creative perspective. And when you can tell that your creative impulses are wildly divergent?  Read on...
  3. Creative flexibility.  As long as you both are unselfish and flexible, be open to the strange brew that can occur when collaborating with someone whose creative direction differs from yours.  The convergence of different creative impulses can generate the most amazing energy and truly inspire both writers to broaden their horizons.  There's no room for an uncooperative mentality when you collaborate.  Think of it as a marriage of sorts - when one partner makes all the decisions and has no consideration for the wishes of the other person, the result is failure or at least dysfunction.
  4. Meeting of minds.  Inevitably, you will each do work separately (ideas and thoughts don't obey any time schedule).  For healthy collaboration, brainstorm together on a regular basis.  You can each make suggestions or bring up various topics that you've been exploring separately.
  5. Don't prejudicially shoot down any idea.  Listen to the idea and let it stew in your mind before voicing an opinion.  Think about it this way: if you chose your collaborator wisely, the person has at least as much passion for the project as you do, and as much drive to see it succeed.  Would you ever suggest an idea unless you saw merit in it?  Then why would your partner?

    Always remember that your partner saw value in an idea.  Your goal, if you don't find yourself instantly liking an idea, is to try your best to find the value that your partner saw.  If you try and still think the idea is unwise, then express your opinion and describe your thoughts.

  6. Send work frequently.  When you can't meet face-to-face, share as much of your thoughts and work as possible.  Don't ever let long periods of time pass working in solitude without the other's input.  The same is true for your collaborator.  When it is done separately, work should be shared as frequently as possible, and in tiny chunks.  Never write a large chunk without hearing anything from a collaborator; the result can often be crippling awkwardness as the person tries to think of an inoffensive way to tell you that your large chunk of writing is unacceptable.  Resentment blossoms in such a scenario; you resent that your monumental effort could be dismissed, while your partner resents that you chose to push forward by yourself in seeming disregard for the collaboration.  
  7. Flexibility of your writing methods.  Consider not just the personality of the writer, but also the quirks of their routine.
    • Do you or the other writer have certain atmospheric requirements when you work (such as background music)?  Undoubtedly you do!
    • Do you work best at specific times of the day?
    • Do you benefit from diagrams and charts, or do you find that such tools hamper your creativity?
    • Do you need to write by hand rather than keyboard?

    Observe the unique work requirements of your prospective collaborator.  Do they mesh?  Are you prepared to be flexible if the other person is unable to bend?  Can you envision the other writer being as flexible as you?

Realistically, some writers may be better suited for collaboration than others.  But it's certainly not impossible to collaborate with other writers, and a successful collaboration is one of the most rewarding experiences a writer can achieve.  If you're a writer whose creative process does not lend itself gracefully to collaboration, even you can benefit from the collaborative exercise.  At its root, collaboration teaches us something about our individual writing processes in all their thorny, gut-wrenching glory.  When you learn to collaborate with other writers, the reward is endless variety in your writing life and not only evolving challenge, but evolving skills as well.

 

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