Monday, August 3, 2009

The Art of Collaboration

I'm a big fan of jazz. So much so that I'm planning a novel where it plays a central role, just so I have an excuse to hear and participate in it more (OK, there's more to the novel than that, but the jazz helps).

Jazz is an improvisational art - you make it up as you go along. You play off your knowledge of the rules of music and how well you can bend and break them. You do your best to tell a story, to convey a mood, a meaning. Sound familiar? If I wanted to, I could stop there. Jazz is a lot like writing, you have to break rules, take chances, practice to be great, blah blah blah... Heh. You know me better than that by now (and if you don't, you will).

The thing about jazz that appeals to me? Jazz is a highly collaborative art. The best jazz happens when a bunch of folks get together and take advantage of each other's brains. One plays a theme, another suggests a variation and the song takes flight, bigger that it would have been on it's own.

Writing, generally, is not collaborative. Most writers labor away by themselves, pushing pens and computer keys, banging their heads against the wall alone when things aren't going their way. At least, that's what I used to think.

Turns out that a lot of the successful writers I know? They practically refuse to work alone. Now, I'm not talking about multi-authored books here. Everyone's working on their own projects, their own babies, but they're doing it together. They're in writer's groups. They workshop. They bounce ideas off one another, talk through plots. They send bits of work back and forth for feedback (or just a "No, honey, of course you don't suck"). They hang out in coffee shops together, hunched over laptops and lattes, sharing energy and insight.

The moral of the story is this: if you are a struggling writer, look around. Who are you talking to? Who are you hanging out with? When was the last time you shared your work? Talked about your struggles? Whined about how every time you sit down to write your cat sits on your computer? Called a fellow writer just to read the really freaking cool sentence you just finished?

Try it. See where it takes you. I dare you...


Sarah Matanah said...
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Laura Bradley Rede said...

You make a good point. It's easy to forget that you can bounce things off of other writers. It almost always helps to have a sounding board.

Kelly McCullough said...


Shawn Enderlin said...

Couldn't have said it better myself!

PS Hi from one of the writers in that other Twin Cities SF/F writer's group! No, not the Wyrdsmiths - the other one. :-)

Anonymous said...

Hi Shawn - just spotted your comment! Thanks for dropping in - it's lovely to see you!