Lessons in Collaboration
I’ve never really done much collaboration. My ex used to chide me that I don’t play well with others. I think that criticism is a little off target—I think it’s more accurate to say that having been shy all my life, I’ve just never had much experience working with others.
Not long ago I was approached by a couple of authors I met through my time here on Write Anything about working on a short story anthology. While most anthologies are simply a collection of stories with a common author or common theme, this particular project involves a series of interconnected stories, each by a different author.
I am merely one of ten authors who will, based on a set of rules, create a story that relates to the others in the collection. And even though this project involves much less collaboration than something like co-authoring a story, I’m learning a good bit about the process of collaboration.
First, there are others relying on you. It’s easy to make excuses about why you can’t write when you’re the only one relying on yourself. The kids are too noisy, I have a headache, it’s late, I’m hungry—I’ll write later. It’s much more difficult to make excuses when you have someone to answer to. Whether it be the authors who have already met heir deadlines, or the ones who are waiting for you to finish so that they can get started. Or maybe you don’t want to disappoint the editors who chose to extend you the invitation in the first place.
Second, it is more difficult to write when you can’t control your starting point. Without giving away too mush about the project, while I have wiggle room, I don’t have free reign in choosing my main character or all the events in my story. But I also can’t go back and tell the previous authors to rewrite their stories to suit me. Nor would I want to, because the goal of collaboration is to make something with a variety of influences.
And third is the corollary, that it is more freeing to write when you can’t control your starting point. If you’re like me you can obsess for weeks over the minutia of inspiration, carefully picking characters names, and layering meaning and context for the idea to be just right before getting down to the rough draft. But with a shortened timetable and having part of my story laid out for me, I have less setup to worry about.
Of course, each of these points also has cons that go along with it, but it’s difficult for me to focus on the negatives right now, because I’m writing. And that’s not something I’ve been able to say very often lately.