In terms of writing, collaboration is important and sometimes critical in expanding ideas and concept. Even fiction writing can be collaborative and exciting (as our Story Jumpers proves). But what is the power of creative collaboration?
A few years ago, I wrote a story with someone else and the idea was similar to our Story Jumpers, I would write five pages, and the other person would write five pages and we would see where it might go. The hardest part was never really being sure where the story was going. It feels odd to write something that you are ready to connect and relate with, and then pass it off to someone who has their own ideas and connections. That was difficult because even if I planned something with implications to the future, it might be shifted or dismissed in the next few section. And that was unsettling. The writing that the other writer presented was excellent and often connective, but without the ability to move through a story arc, plot, or character development - it felt like every submission was a let's wait and see what happens.
What happens when we lose control? And why is it important for us to see the whole things? Some writers feel like they should know the end before they even start a story or a creative endeavor. For that type of writer -- this idea of collaborative writing might be maddening. No closure, no completion.
What good outcomes come from creative collaboration? One of the most interesting ideas that came from this creative attempt was to be creatively flexible. Nothing was promised and nothing guaranteed, so you have to write each element like it will be the most important idea or something passing by and forgotten. It also turned me into a chess master writer -- if they write this, I will write that, if they write that, I will write this and then maybe that. I became strategic and nimble in the way I approached ideas. And lastly, for better or worse, it pushed me to not get too attached to any character or idea for fear that it would be dropped or lost along the way. It might seem like this was an adversarial experience (like a chess match), in fact it was exciting to share this with someone else. Writing is isolating and sometimes solitary -- and this didn't feel like that in this space.
Mentor vs. Collaborators
In a previous post, I discussed how I communicated and shared a digital relationship with an old writing mentor through very basic writing documents and the conversational form that became an excellent vehicle for ideas and writing. That was a relationship based on mentoring. Teacher to student. And what was happening was collaborative, but it was instructive and insightful.
Is there a difference between those who will contribute their writing and those who will edit it and direct it? Mentors are contributors to your final product, but they aren't writing words they are shaping ideas and pushing you in different directions. In some cases, they are editing and giving your some editing feedback. Collaborators are not directors, they are side-by-side with the writer adding content and shaping the words on the page. What do we need more - help writing, or help thinking about the writing? Maybe both? Maybe none of the above?
One of the most important role I seek out is a sounding board for my ideas and concepts. Not because I don't trust myself, but because I want to see how the writing is challenging someone intellectually and what their response might be to it. Incidently, I acted as an unofficial mentor for a poet during a thesis semester (known as a shadow-mentor), and I found the conversations, the work, and the challenge one of the most inspiring and complex conversations about the world that I've had. Intellectually, that is what I need. I need people to not just like or dislike, but people to connect, shift, and bring new ideas to the table. I learned how to respond - and how not to respond to things. I learned that nothing is wasted. And even while I was uncertain of my ability to comment and be effective with poetry, I wasn't really being asked to define the poetry, but share that experience and explain what it meant. It was complex and very excited to engage literature and writing in that way.
Isolation of Writers
Mentoring is about sharing and connecting things to show others what you know, think, and feel when you read the work. For collaboration, it is about valuing the skills and writing that they can add to the project. Writers are not good collaborators because creativity is thought to be mystified into a magical process. Let's face it, we all have to put our butts in the chair and write (I had to sit for an hour to write this post), but the nature of collaborative writing and creating is something that is not fostered in writing, publishing, and thinking (while more likely in academia). But it should be. I would love to stand among great writers like those in this DigiWriMo group, but there is a part of me that doesn't trust collaboration (my own hang up from group work when I did all the work while people slacked off), and the fear that when I revealed myself among collaborators, they would see that I am just a weak writer, a fraud, and tell everyone.
I really admire the fact that this group of writers in DigiWriMo are creative, smart, and realize the potential of technology. But more amazing is realizing the shadowy ways that writers protect themselves, hide, fear new modes of thinking and sharing. For me, this month is about who I've become as a writer who needs to shift and connect - but have been told to isolate and do it alone. Sometimes, my responses to the ideas in this group are limited because of my outdated view of writing in isolation. Sometimes, I just need to listen. I am learning.