I recently was involved co-creating the book All Ways A Woman. It came about through collaboration between a writer and an artist. From that experience, I thought more about the collaborative process and realized as writers we may work with another creative in a variety of situations.
First is collaborating on the writing of a book. In my situation, I was the writer and my associate the artist. We each had our own areas and brought them together. However, I have never done a collaborative effort with another writer, but know writers who, for example, have successfully alternated writing the chapters of a work of fiction.
Other collaborating a writer can do is with, say, a cover designer, an illustrator, or an editor. Collaborative skill is important for a writer to have.
Here is what I learned about collaborating from working on a book with a co-creator:
- Come prepared for meetings.
- Meet commitments.
- Respect each other’s work and ideas. Couch your words diplomatically. If you are in a critique group, you know what I mean.
- Don’t compete with each other. This isn’t a race to see who gets there first. I only compete with myself.
- Respect each other’s process. People have different ways of arriving at a mutually agreed upon result. Keep the goal in mental view and let each work toward it.
- Negotiate/discuss when visions differ.
- Listen. Be non-judgmental and brainstorm.
- Stay focused but be flexible. Discoveries may be made. Plans can change.
- Recognize that during the creative process, stress and tensions may develop. Review numbers three and five.
As I thought more about the process, I took another look at the above list and applied that collaborative effort to working with your biggest collaborator of all – yourself. The list still applies.
- Come prepared for meetings. In other words, show up at your writing place ready to write. Author Dennis Lehane says he gets up, grabs a cup of coffee, goes in his office and goes to work. I talked with an author who keeps a scarf on her chair and sometimes has to symbolically tie herself in. Whatever works.
- Meet commitments you make to yourself. If your goal is to write 500 words that session, meet your goal. If you plan to submit a story to five different literary magazines, do it.
- Respect your work and ideas. We’ve all heard of the nasty self-critic who sits on your shoulder who is an ornery type with a bad attitude. Well, with a small mental switch, a small adjustment of thinking, brush him off and bring on the collaborator who instead of berating your writing, helps you explore and experiment and persevere. Mine kind of lounges there on my shoulder, smoking, like Noel Coward.
- Don’t compete with another author. Play your own game.
- Respect and observe your own process. Do you write better at night or in the morning? Do you have to go through some rambly stuff before you begin to hit a stride? When getting clogged, do you need to step away to clear the brain? Are you a pantser? Are you a planner? Are you an outliner?
- Negotiate with yourself. Maybe life is getting in the way of your writing time and you need to negotiate with yourself to find that time. One day after shopping at Costco, I slipped into their fine dining section and, surrounded by white noise, wrote for about half an hour. Never would have happened at home that day.
- Compliment yourself. Tell yourself it was a good session. Tell yourself if you like that paragraph you’ve just completed.
- Listen to yourself as you write. I’m always telling myself to keep pushing the story forward.
- Be flexible. Your idea may change midstream. Your character may take you down an unexpected path.
- When you get stressed and tense, step away. A night’s sleep can clear the airwaves. A walk with the dog can make the world look good again. Respect yourself.
Collaborating is an important writer’s skill, whether with an associate or yourself. But a writer has one more collaboration to consider and that is with the reader. The reader arrives ready to have an adventure, meet a character, experience life, cry, or be afraid. We have to write to meet them halfway and make them care about our characters and story. I like these words from playwright Tom Stoppard:
I like trying to create a spark through a collaboration between me and the audience.
As writers, let’s create that collaborative spark with our readers!