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To Connect And Collaborate Is To Live And Grow

June 4, 2011

Someone said to me recently that my time spent on Twitter was time wasted, since instead I could be spending that time actually getting things accomplished.

Ouch.

Hearing things like that is painful, but not simply because it hits the usual angsty sore spots about my writing: that I’m not working hard enough, not working well enough, not working fast enough, etc. It’s painful because there are basic flaws in the philosophical underpinnings of that statement, some more pernicious than others. The person who said that just doesn’t get it.

Yes, connection with other writers on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, etc. can be little more than friends hanging out shooting the breeze. It’s fun and life-affirming, but is that “valuable”? Is it “productive”? Well, those relationships are important. That time spent with people can help simple acquaintances grow into friendship. Friends not only help you to be, y’know, happy, but they also make your world a better place in more concrete ways. Because I’m friends with other writers, I’ve been able to have meaningful conversations about technical matters such as how to write from one gender vs. the other, plotting, character development, pacing, language styles, etc. I’ve been introduced to new books that I never would have come across on my own. I’ve tried genres that I wouldn’t otherwise have considered.

In a more personal sense, these connections have allowed me to lean on my friends and get emotional support when I need it. Maybe I’m just a needy, neurotic guy, but there are times when I feel like I’m kidding myself by thinking I can be a writer. I look at my work and see nothing but crap. Thanks to the connections I’ve made, there are people out there who not only want to help me come to my senses, but who know me well enough to feel comfortable in delivering either a pat on the back or a kick in the pants. You just don’t get that kind of thing from slight acquaintances.

Can connections lead to good collaborations? Seriously, do you have to ask?

True, writing is typically, even canonically a solitary activity–it’s just you and your keyboard. However, there are plenty of times when the project is built on collaboration. My story in the Yang Book was fitted like a jigsaw piece to match up with the stories around it. At one point, Dan Powell and I were e-mailing various drafts back and forth trying to match up the locations and chronology so that our two main characters could meet within the fictional world they both inhabited. He’d tell it from his POV, I from mine. It was an entirely different kind of creativity.

In another instance, I had the chance to be one of the editors of a Choose Your Online Adventure story, working with three authors and three other editors, each of whom had their own group of writers. It was a glorious, tangled, snarled plot, looping back and forth and over and under. At times, I despaired that we would be able to make it work, but through close collaboration, it all set into place perfectly.

My collaborations in these projects, as well as my editorial roles in the “100 Stories for Queensland” and the upcoming “Best of Friday Flash, Vol. 2”, are collaborations that I became a part of because of those connections I made on Twitter and elsewhere. Sometimes I’m asked to take part, sometimes I put myself forward. Sometimes collaborations are mapped out ahead of time, sometimes they arise spontaneously.

All of them, though, happen because writer A thinks that working with writer B (and maybe writers C, D and E) would be A Good Thing. This process leads to partnerships in critiquing stories and manuscripts, sharing tips and tricks, passing along word of opportunities, making introductions to help people grow their networks, etc.

If you want friends, you have to be friendly. Invest the time in making connections, not in a cold-eyed ROI sense, but just for the sake of the connections themselves. I can’t promise it will make you a better writer, but it will give you the chance to take your writing to new places.

6 Comments
  1. June 4, 2011 11:52 pm

    perfectly put Tony. Collaboration takes you places you never dreamed thats for sure.

  2. June 6, 2011 5:52 am

    As Annie said, perfectly put.

  3. June 6, 2011 7:40 am

    The key for me is that if YOU are getting something out of it, then it is absolutely worthwhile. I’m not very good at Twitter… I post once in a while but I haven’t really figured out the platform. I wish I could figure it out because I think it would really help me to connect with other writers more directly.

    I have to agree that the collaboration with Chinese Whisperings and other anthologies has been fantastic. I have learned a lot through working with so many different authors from so many different places in the world.

  4. June 6, 2011 8:18 am

    “Can” seems to be the key word here. It can be profitable and it can be a waste of time. Just as so many other activities associated with writing can be profitable or a waste of time. It’s up to us to get out of them what we can, or to put them aside when they are more of a hindrance.

  5. June 6, 2011 1:18 pm

    Annie & Cathy – Perfection is the standard, right?😎

    Rob & Paul – I think you are both touching on the same point. Sometimes a collaboration ends up being less valuable than expected, either because it wasn’t good chemistry or it was bad timing with respect to other demands of life. With more experience at working with other writers, it becomes easier to get a sense ahead of time which collaborations to initiate or try to get in on and which to decline.

  6. June 6, 2011 2:21 pm

    Couldn’t agree more! Talking to other writers also makes you feel less insane – they understand the things you’re going through, they understand when you say you can’t come out and play because you have work to do. That kind of companionship has no monetary value but it’s worth its weight in gold.

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