In Collaboration, The Nature of Art

Last week Simon Cantan posted an overview of the collaborative writing method we developed since starting Greenstar about a year ago. While we are still using the passing-back-and-forth method I mentioned in mentioned in my first post about our collaboration, as Simon’s post shows we have made it more efficient since we began. However, no amount of structure can produce the other necessary quality for an efficient collaboration: no one walking away. So here are some of my thoughts on keeping a collaboration going.

When Simon and I discussed possibly collaborating on Greenstar, one of the first things we agreed was that if either of us didn’t like the direction we were going in then we could end the collaboration and each of us would be free to continue Greenstar forward however we wished from that point. Short of not partnering in the first place, I don’t think we could have made it easier to walk away if we weren’t happy.

We have just finished the first drafts of Season Two and have ideas for Season Three and Four. So – while we sometimes had different ideas for what to do – they haven’t affected our desire to keep going.

Simon’s article suggests this is due to him getting lucky. I have a slightly different idea about why it might be: we each trust the other is trying to do their best work.

Which is all very pleasant and fluffy; but could seem like suggesting the elephants the world rest on don’t fall down because they are standing on a turtle. How do you trust someone else if they don’t agree with you on something important?

  • Remember how often you do agree: Simon thinks I am immensely talented, and I think I am too (arrogance displayed in this post is for rhetorical purposes and might not represent true levels of arrogance; the complexity of metaphysical constructs may go up as well as down.). From the moment you decided the other would add something to the collaboration on, the number of times you will agree on something is larger than the times you disagree. So don’t lost sight of all the ideas and words they thought were great when looking at semi-colon they took out in paragraph eighty.

  • Focus on product not method: Simon talks about talent, whereas I usually talk about my ability coming from practising relevant skills for many years. While the question of which term is more accurate would be very important if we were teaching, in the context of producing good prose it doesn’t matter how I can do it. Obviously this example is slightly trivial, but the same thought applies to drafting and polishing: as long as Simon produces as first draft by the date we scheduled, it doesn’t matter if he expands the outline into a draft using increasingly detailed outlines, writes all the dialogue and then fills in the description, or starts with the last scene and works backwards.

  • Welcome disagreement: if there is an objectively better answer then it isn’t likely you will have a sustained disagreement about it. So the things you disagree about are important not because they risk making things worse, but because they are an opportunity to replace imperfections in both standpoints with a stronger composite of both.

Of course all of these rest on you not abandoning one of the core guidelines of not only collaboration but most situations: don’t be the problem. You can’t control anyone else, but you can control your own behaviour; so if you make sure you aren’t the reason it isn’t working, and they make sure they aren’t the reason it isn’t working…

What are your guidelines for collaboration? Do you think a defined structure can work better than trust?

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