Collaboration: Five Ways to Make It Work

Many of you loyal Story Spot readers find yourselves working collaboratively as a matter of course. Whether with other writers or with directors, producers, or even literary agents, working together to create one story can be strange, wonderful, maddening, and challenging. One thing is for certain, when you’re writing collaboratively, there is rarely a dull moment.

What can we do to make it the best possible experience AND ensure that the project is the best that it can be? Here are five suggestions.

  1. Have a conversation as early as possible about how you envision the collaboration working. By talking openly about your vision of working together (even if you don’t know what that might be when you bring it up), you create an atmosphere that encourages conversation–even (especially) when you don’t have the answers–that will benefit everyone involved from that point, on.

  2. Agree to disagree. Okay, that’s cliché but it’s true. If each partner feels free to put any considered idea on the table without the pressure of having to win over support, creativity might just flow a bit more freely. On the same note, when your partner’s input doesn’t ring true for you, offer why that might be. Even if you can only muster a vague reason, at least you’re giving your collaborator something to work with.

  3. Learn about each other. By being observant and asking questions about your writing partner’s process, you’ll uncover ways to create more easily. Are they someone who likes to outline, planning out the full story ahead to some degree and only then working on the details or do they prefer to set up loose story points and dive in blind? Do you tangent with ease or do you need to follow a linear path through a scene or story point to find satisfaction? This one is about being aware then meeting in the middle.

  4. Share tasks equitably. If every time you work together, you pace the room firing off dialogue while your partner notes it all down in Final Draft, one of you may become powerfully resentful sooner rather than later. Unless this is truly how you both work best (see points #1 and #3, above), you may find yourself out of a partnership and out of a project pronto.

  5. Be flexible. Writing is creativity. Too much structure can put a choke hold on your game and on the story you both want to create. If you prefer to fire off texts when an idea strikes, do it! But be responsible to your partner by recapping your brilliance at your next collaborative session. She needs the buzz of the local java house but you crave coffin-like silence? Create a schedule and trade off. You never know what you’ll find when you step out of your comfort zone.

Naturally, this list is far from exhaustive. Like any good partnership, a writing collaboration takes patience, awareness, and a willingness to wander into the dark together. Sometimes we never meet the person who sends us notes via email. Other times, you’re working with your best friend. Hopefully, all your collaborations bring you joy and amazing stories. Give these a shot and come back to let us know how things worked out!

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