Collaboration is King

Writing is a kind of torture akin to solitary confinement. Left with your own thoughts, your own company for too long, you will surely go mad. Hell may be other people, but it’s also yourself after awhile.

As I’ve confessed before on this blog, I struggle when I write. I get antsy, I look outside, I look at the piles of junk on my desk, I look at the Internet. I look at anything and everything that isn’t the blank page in front of me. I am too easily distracted, too easily tempted. Writing is occasionally a great relief for me, a way of exorcising my demons and a point of pride when I’ve composed something that I feel represents my personality and my point of view, but it’s also all too often a struggle without a payoff or a result. I can waste an entire day telling myself that I’m going to write and reach the end of that day with nothing to show for it.

The trick is finding a purpose, a call-to-arms, an uncontrollable passion to write. And sometimes it’s just feeling the pressure to avoid that feeling of embarrassment if you don’t produce, if you don’t create. I need people in my life that are counting on me to write. I need people who are telling me that if I don’t write something right now, heavy machinery is going to fall from the sky and crush them to death.

Ever since starting OCONNOBLOG, my goal has been to find those people. I write here because there’s a deadline every week, and the more people that I see who are reading these posts, the more responsible I feel towards not disappointing them, towards continually producing something worth their time. But ultimately, an audience of faceless numbers isn’t too exciting to write for. I need feedback and comments, I need a conversation and a discussion. Every week that I write a monologue rather than a conversation-starter feels like a week I would have been better off just talking to myself on a long walk in the neighborhood.

So I’ve supplemented my writing here with some projects outside the website. I’ve reached out to a few friends and creative types to get my focus back on track, to help me feel like what I’m doing matters, even if it only matters to one other person.

The first of these projects is an anthology of short stories that I am extremely eager to share with people. The stories are written, but my goal is to find a way to present them that does something different, that brings people in with great imagery and art, with a visual flair to compliment the verbal one. For this, I’ve begun working with a graphic designer and an artist. What’s fascinating about the opportunity to work with these two creative people is that it allows me to see my work through their eyes. It grants me the chance to talk about the stories and what they mean, and to hear from these creative folk how they interpret those ideas and themes in a different medium. It’s been wildly rewarding and yet also contradictorily frustrating.

It’s wildly rewarding when I see results like a great illustration of a character that I created. It’s insanely frustrating when I wait months to hear back from a correspondence or see progress and I feel like the anthology is doomed to sit on a shelf until the end of time. Some might wonder why I don’t just switch collaborators, but it’s tough to start all over with a new partner; it’s risky when you don’t know if the potential in that partnership would be as strong. Of course, I’m forced to ask myself at a certain point whether that potential is worth anything if it can’t materialize into something tangible and real.

By contrast, I’m working with another friend of mine on two separate projects: a novel that we are co-writing together and will later publish on our respective blogs, and a radio show podcast that has just been announced called BURNSIDE. My creative partner in both ventures, Erik Grove, is someone I seriously hesitated about joining forces with on a creative venture. We have a lot in common, but in those all-too-common instances where we differ in opinion, we will both fight tooth-and-nail for our side of things. It’s gotten ugly at times, and I think that as a result of that ugliness, it felt practically suicidal to try and create something together.

But I got an idea for a novel and, knowing it was the kind of thing I couldn’t do alone–that I needed that pressure, that threat of embarrassment if I was to let this one die on the shelf–I forged ahead and asked Erik to join me. I knew that the effort could potentially result in more fighting, more name-calling, more ugliness, but I also saw it as a test. If we could do this together, then we would have both successfully hurdled our friendship’s greatest obstacle. It’s too early to tell for certain, but I feel pretty good about where we are in the process, and I’m looking forward to being able to share our joint efforts on this blog very soon.

As if that weren’t enough to tackle, Erik came to me with an idea of his own: a radio show podcast called BURNSIDE, that will put both of us in situations where we’ll have to challenge ourselves, and force us out of our comfort zones. It’s an exciting but also terrifying opportunity, but yesterday we recorded our first test-show, and while there is plenty to fine tune and perfect, I think we might have something here. I can see the potential and the promise in it, and it’s actually a tangible thing; it exists.

All of this is to say that collaborations can result in a creative person’s best work, but can also place the individuals within those collaborations under the kind of stress and pressure that can be disastrous to friendships, relationships, and sometimes the work itself. As in all things, there should be a balance, but I would encourage anyone out there who is similarly artistically-inclined to practice doing their art both with and without another person.

If you’re working entirely solo, you might find that working with another creative mind helps to build upon what you bring to the table. And if you’re only working as part of a team, standing back and acknowledging your own voice through a personal project can help you better identify your strengths and weaknesses.

Just as in life in general, shifting between the social life and the private one tends to be the antidote to its opposite. Ultimately, it’s really about not losing the momentum, the passion, the drive; keep creating, keep striving and yes, keep struggling, too.

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2 thoughts on “Collaboration is King

  1. I believe you must get distraught, with so much on your mind to put out there. I felt your hurdle. What’s your primary focus as a writer, at the present? You do advance two points of view, so it is hard to 100% trust your argument, whether you’re better solitary as you have been, or in a creative relationship, in which you are entered. It should be of interest what happens. When I was younger, I knew a few others who liked to write, and it is too bad they came and went. Here it sounds more like you have another person who is a co-writer to you. I’ve never had that kind of thing, or been as ambitious as you. Good luck!

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