Writing is often a solitary activity, and I know many writers who like to keep it that way. They have a place, whether it’s a physical location or a certain head space, that they need or like to be in when they write, and any person entering or disrupting that space is a distraction.
I often feel that way too. I’ve written about how I listen to music while I write, partly to block out other noises and partly to keep me immersed in a certain mood that may fit with what I’m writing. I like being able to shut everything out when I write. It’s nice to have a mental and physical retreat, a place where I can let my imagination go wild without worrying about interruption.
But sometimes that space becomes stale; sometimes it needs to be aired out, freshened up with outside inspiration or influence. And this is one of the reasons that I love creative collaboration.
I think there are few things more exciting for a creative type than being asked to collaborate. Whether it’s with the same type of artist (two or more writers, a handful of visual artists, etc.) or a collaboration across different mediums, having someone to bounce ideas around with and watching those ideas grow into something you never could have imagined on your own is exhilarating.
I fell into a common trap at the beginning of this year, which was that I kept looking at all the calls for submission being posted every day and tried to write stories tailored to certain calls. But for me, down that road lies madness. I work well to deadlines, but it has to be an idea that I already had that happens to fit a call or an idea that truly captures my imagination. And sometimes I need to shake off the pressure of consistent publication or ‘putting myself out there’ and just write the bizarre story I want to write that might never see the light of day.
But I can’t always work in that vacuum. Sometimes I need the pressure of a looming deadline or some other type of accountability to finish a story. Because let’s be honest: most writers are excellent procrastinators. Sometimes it’s not that I need a break or that I have writer’s block. Sometimes the words are there in my head and ready to be written or typed out and I will find any reason not to sit down and get the story done. And if I don’t have a deadline to meet or even a friend waiting to read the story for one reason or another, I can put off writing for days if I’m in that kind of mood.
I often get stuck between those two places: always or never writing to deadlines. And I forget that there is a kind of middle ground, a place where there is accountability without the pressure of hard submission deadlines. This is the land of collaboration.
I’m lucky to be friends with a number of talented artists and writers, and there is nothing I love more than sending or receiving an e-mail proposing a collaborative project. Sometimes those projects don’t get off the ground, but when they do they have beautiful results. Sometimes the end products are for public consumption, and sometimes they are for personal appreciation. But they are always rewarding and enlightening.
Because of my hiccup at the beginning of the year, and that brief period where I had trouble writing, I’ve decided to use 2014 to invigorate my creativity by working on some collaborations with my aforementioned talented friends. I was talking with one of these friends today, which inspired this blog post (collaboration at work already!), and during that conversation we talked about the importance of collaboration.
In the end, I think all areas of life benefit from a balance between solitary and collaborative work. Any relationship is a collaboration between two or more people, and to maintain a relationship you have to improve yourself AND work cooperatively to improve the relationship. In school, some sports and most jobs, being able to work on a team is essential and requires a great deal of self-control and self-improvement as well. Almost everyone navigates these types of common collaborations every day.
But the nice thing about taking on a creative collaboration is that you get to pick your team and your project. You know your input will matter, and your personal responsibilities on the collaboration are clearly defined. This tends to eliminate the drama and conflict that can come with forced collaborations; without that drag, creative collaborations allow the imagination to soar. And there’s still solitary work involved as each person has to hold up their end of the project. Some of that work is done in each person’s private imagination space, but when needed they can tap into the imagination space of their collaborators—in effect, a collaboration gives you access to whole new creative worlds, and you can incorporate elements from those worlds back into your own if you find them appealing. Collaboration is how we alter and improve our own creative landscape.
Of all artistic pursuits, I think writing is considered the most solitary—in fact it’s a cliche at this point. After forced teamwork in school and jobs, many people crave the isolation of writing, the chance to let their imagination show its colors with no outside influence. I understand that appeal and treasure it at times. But not all teamwork has to be about clashing personalities and fighting for dominance. Collaboration can be as much a boon to creativity as isolation. So find your balance between the two, friends. Take a walk in someone else’s creative space from time to time, and invite them into yours.