All Writers talk about and maybe even dream about collaboration (writing is so painfully solitary sometimes), but few actually take the plunge. Most cringe at the thought of pure collaboration, seeing it as the relinquishment of absolute control over their plots and characters to another, either because they believe that the other writer will subvert their story and make it worse, or, even scarier, the other writer will take over the story and make it better. In truth both will probably happen in equal measure in any given collaboration and in order to truly collaborate you must let go and open your world to you collaborator.
I, however, (being the extrovert that I am) see collaboration as supreme adventure or fantastic journey, perhaps because I have had some amazingly positive collaborations. In graduate school I teamed with another fiction writer, two poets, and a playwright to produce a series of audience participation performances that used found objects, ritual masks (that the audience sometimes made during the performance), movement, improvisation, and scripted writing. People filled the Café des Artistes in Lafayette, Louisiana on Thursday nights and more pressed their faces to the window to join us in these raucous creative experiences. The collaborators (or conspirators, as we preferred to call ourselves) met on Wednesdays with objects, ideas, and written word in an empty classroom. We let our imaginations fill the space. The energy was intoxicating, and we passed it to our audiences. The coolest part was that no matter what direction I imagined we might be taking when I walked in Wednesday; I never walked out with the same limited vision. And frequently Thursdays ended up in an even more divergent direction.
Years later I taught a writing class once a week after school with a group of 4th graders for the whole year. We created quirky character put them in sensational settings and provided them with a comedic conflicts. I never planned on writing a play with these kids, let alone performing it, but somehow that’s just what happened, and it was phenomenally creative and funny. I gave the kids complete creative control, and we worked through conflicts in vision more or less democratically. I never could have written a play half as amusing as the one this group of eight kids came up with.
In both cases the collaboration worked because no one got married to his or her own ideas. Instead we were all married to the experience. I’m sure there isn't a collaborator out there who has not heard collaboration compared to marriage, and I wonder if I had approached my marriage with the same spirit as I did my collaborations if it would have ended differently. But the metaphor is lacking and limiting taken the other way around. Writers grow through collaboration, even bad collaboration, and it opens our minds to points of view that we couldn't see through our own limited experience. Collaborators don’t share a bathroom; they share ideas, words, a world that only that combination of people could create. I suppose that like a marriage collaboration takes work to work, but cooking up a character or story is so much more exciting than cooking dinner, and the sex . . . well, . . . imagine the best you've ever had; now imagine how much better it could have been. You get the point.
So with these thoughts, I put on my psychological backpack (leaving the toothbrush behind) and enter into the (possible) journey of collaboration again, this time on Book Three of Geodesy Series – Gravitational Forces (Ethan's story) with my friend Jeremy Leavell, who coincidentally (or maybe not so coincidentally) is also the face of Ethan on the Geodesy covers, website, and upcoming book trailers. I am excited to see where the Geodesy journey will go with Jeremy along, and I look forward to growing as a writer in the coming months. I will keep you posted.
In the meantime, I'd love to hear about your experiences with collaboration, good and bad. Comment below!