Thursday, July 19, 2012

Collaboration Dos and Don'ts part 2

Last time, I covered some of the advantages of collaborating, along with a few guidelines for success. But as I indicated, things can go terribly wrong. The work can slow precipitously, turn in the wrong direction, or even stop.

Many of the problems that crop up are exactly those that writers working alone face.
  • Insufficient research
  • Scenes or stories that require a higher level of craft
  • Starting in the wrong place
  • Working from the wrong point of view
  • Having a secondary character take over
  • Unnecessary detours
  • Life gets in the way
  • A loss of enthusiasm (which seems to strike almost all writers halfway through the book)
  • Indecisiveness
  • And more.
 Some people argue that writer's block is a fiction, but writer's crawl is endemic. Unfortunately, any of these normal, expected problems look different when you are inside a writing partnership. Disagreement on the cause of a problem is likely. Blame (of yourself or your partner) is a mortal danger. If you want to collaborate, first look at yourself and be honest with your answers to these questions:
  • Do I think a criticism of my writing is a criticism of me?
  • Am I good at diagnosing story problems?
  • Do I have good interpersonal communications skills?
  • Do I avoid conflict until it becomes nuclear?
  • Do I always have to be "right"?
  • Do I blame others when things go wrong?
  • Do I have an ego the size of Mall of America?
  • Am I closed to compromise?
  • Do I consider challenges to my "vision" to be deranged?
If the answers to any of these are yes, you should consider not collaborating. If your prospective writing partner would answer yes to any of these, buckle up. You're in for a bumpy ride.

But beyond personalities, there are some projects that are not good candidates for collaboration. I would never collaborate on a personal project that involved exploring sensitive, questionable, or private aspects of myself. No partners need apply for work on a project designed to be the keystone of my career. If I am taking huge risks, I'd rather take them alone. And if the project looks like a blockbuster in the making, I'll get the novel done and put off collaborating until I get a call from Spielberg to work on the movie.

Collaboration can be a joyful and productive experience. But it can also be an ordeal and a time suck. So think hard about yourself, your partner, and your project before you jump in.

Have you had a dream collaboration? Or a nightmare partnership? What did you learn?

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