Continuing in the redefinition of what it means to be a writer, I’d like to take a step back from the preconceived notion that writers are lone wolves, solitary hermits secluded in their log cabins, incapable of holding a conversation without skittering away to scribble notes in an illegible hand on someone’s napkin. Although much of my writing does happen by myself, there is also room and sometimes need for collaboration. At its best it ends up looking like Good Omens co-written by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. At its worst it ends up looking like Batman Odyssey written only by all the voices in Neal Adams’ head.
You are essentially asking another human to raise a creative child with you.
Collaboration can be a source of new ideas and new irritations. In my days as a writer, I have created some of my favorite work due to the thoughts and insights of other writers or artists. I have also had some of my greatest headaches from the same. So what makes for a brilliant synergy and what makes for migraines? I will do my best to elucidate.
1. Find the right person (or people).
Just as I have had to figure out who I am compatible with romantically, so too I have had to discover who I am compatible with creatively. This person is not always my best friend, but neither are they my worst enemy. It must be someone who has a shared vision, someone who I trust to be honest with me, but who won’t trounce all over my ideas without considering them. Someone who can stick to deadlines. Someone who listens, speaks, and thinks. A good person, in other words.
It can be a long process, this discovery of a likeminded artist. It can be a difficult journey, full of frustrations, but it is entirely worth it. You are essentially asking another human to raise a creative child with you, and it’s worth it to have a good co-parent.
2. Find the right project.
So, I’ve done it. Found “the one.” We’re in the honeymoon stages, still giggling a lot, coming up with secret handshakes and inside jokes. But suddenly we realize…we have no idea what we’ve just signed up for.
This is where finding the right project comes into play. It must have the right scope: not so big that it cancels out all my other projects and energies, but not so small that I can simply put it off indefinitely. It must have the right flexibility to incorporate the ideas of two or more artists. It must be fun for everyone involved. If it isn’t fun, then coming back to it will feel like a chore and eventually I’ll lose focus and the project will stagnate.
And above all, the project must be agreed upon. In addition to trying to communicate a specific vision to the world, I have to be communicating with my partner in crime. About everything.
Which brings me to:
3. Find the right time.
It’s happened before. I’ve got the right person, we’ve got the right project, but we just don’t have enough time. There are realities to being an artist. Realities like paying for groceries and rent. Realities like having relationships (so I’ve heard), or moving, or health issues, or unforeseen acts of god.
For this type of collaboration to take place, one that requires commitment to each other and the dream, energy at all times, and absolute communication, the timing just has to be right. It won’t help to ignore the fundamental truths of life, any more than to try creating something that neither of you are interested in.
So, here I am at the end of the day. Exhausted from hunting for a person, a project, and a time. How is this even worthwhile?
It’s worthwhile when you get that call or text at 3am from your collaborator, your co-conspirator, your helpmate. The text that reads “Hey, I’ve just been thinking something over…” and you end up in a two-hour conversation about what truth looks like, actually looks like, and how it is you can represent reality in art, and whether that is indeed what you’re trying to do and by the time you look at the clock you figure it’s too late to go back to sleep so you might as well start working right then and there and for some reason you don’t feel tired at all, but alive and full of joy and in on some sort of secret.
And of course you crash later. And of course you’re still frustrated. And of course the rent still has to be paid. But working together with someone on a project can lend you motivation, encouragement, support, direction, new thoughts, and new meaning. If you manage to finagle all the pieces into place, you can fly, move, and redefine what it really means to be a writer and a human.