Thursday, March 5, 2009

Two Heads are Better (and Ickier) than One

The title? I have this phobia of two headed things. The whole idea of conjoinment has always squicked me out way more than it should: I twitch, I get chills running up my spine, I toss illustrated biology textbooks across the room in paroxysms of disgust.

Anyway, I'm not here to talk about unfortunate birth defects. I'm here to talk about collaboration. When a mommy writer and a daddy writer (or a mommy and a mommy, or a daddy and a daddy - we're not picky here at the Burning Zeppelin Experience) love an idea very much, they get together and make something magical happen. Working together, they bring that idea into reality.

I have always wanted to collaborate. I am a very social creature, even as a writer - compare this to my mother, for whom writing is a solitary and painful art - and I love to talk about my work, hear about others' work, compare notes, and swap ideas. Certainly, actually writing is always lonely, but there is more to writing than the act of putting words on paper or computer screen. Writers must practice the discipline of writing, creating a physical and mental place to write, learning how to think about ideas until they are ready to write, and, in my case, talking. For me, the idea of actually making the writing a social, collaborative act has always been exciting.

Unfortunately, I have never thought myself very good at it. I am very exuberant about my writing. I get excited, I throw ideas on the table at a rapid pace, and I work very quickly. Sometimes, I leave my partner behind. I'm just feeling excited, but he or she feels like I am defining too much of our shared story, cutting him or her out by sheer creative volume. This problem has poisoned several working relationships, and for a while I gave up on collaboration.

Or so I thought.

When I thought about it a little more, I realized that I had been collaborating all along without ever realizing it. Every time I made a character for a roleplaying game, I was collaborating. Every time I co-ran a roleplaying game, I was collaborating. The nail in the coffin was when I started working with Nathan on a super secret project (details forthcoming) and realized that without any extraordinary effort on my part, everything went just fine.

What I eventually realized was that my "problem" with collaborating was all in my head. I'd had a bad experience at some point and talked myself into believing that I was bad at something. It's funny how the mind works. Now I'm happily collaborating left and right. In addition to continuing my collaboration with Nathan I am working on both a novel and an rpg setting (unrelated to each other) with the Abigail.

I could go on and on about how it's possible to totally convince yourself that bad things are true when they totally aren't - perhaps that could be another post someday - but that's not what I'm here to talk about right now. What I want to talk about today is collaboration. Since I am now, apparently, a successful collaborator, I would like to share my hints and tips for collaboration:

  1. Communication, Communication, Communication: This really goes without saying. Like any working relationship, creative collaboration can only work when all parties involved keep lines of communication open; not just professional and creative, but personal as well. When you are ticked off at your partner, you need to let her know - clear the air - and hope that she does likewise. Otherwise, resentments fester and the whole thing goes to hell.
  2. Good Fences Make Good Neighbors: It's important to divide the work clearly and cleanly between the writers. The exact divisions doesn't matter - each writer might take one or more characters or plot threads, or alternate chapters, or whatever - but the division is necessary. Because the act of actually writing is solitary, a writer needs to know where his territory lies: where he can forge ahead, where he has to brainstorm with his partner, and where he can't go at all.
  3. It's Not True 'Till It's Written: This one has been important for me to impress upon my partners in collaboration. Ideas don't count until they've been agreed on. This means that the originator of an idea shouldn't get too attached to a thought before it's been cleared, and the receiver of an idea shouldn't get intimidated by a high volume of ideas coming out of his partner.

In retrospect, I should admit that Nathan and I break Rule 2 all the time, so while it seems like a good idea in the abstract, maybe it isn't so firm a rule after all. Be warned when following it or ignoring it that I'm unclear on this point; your mileage may vary.

So, go forth and collaborate! If you're anything like me, you'll find it fantastic fun. As long as you don't collaborate to write stories about things with two heads. I approve.

And hydras... ugh, don't get me started on hydras.

1 comment:

Scattercat said...

It's worth noting that I also routinely get way overexcited and throw out too many ideas and start stepping on toes. Maybe what's most important in collaboration is that people end up on the same wavelength?

(Hell, I've been worrying that I've been defining too much stuff...)