Collaboration at its best

There is a lot to be said for collaboration, and it should be seen as just another way to do things — James Patterson

In my limited experience, the act of writing (in the physical sense) is a solitary endeavour. But I know writers can and do collaborate, especially in writing screenplays.

I’m more or less a lone wolf in that regard. Collaborating with anyone seems like being in a temporary serious relationship. But then, all relationships are ultimately temporary. Yes? No?

When the writing group (that I belong to) has its monthly meeting, I hesitate to share or talk about what I’ve been working on. And it’s not because I think someone would steal my story idea. I’m not worried about that. The only person who can tell a story the way I tell a story is me. Nobody else. I don’t care how good someone can mimic my writing, that person doesn’t think like me and it is something that can’t be replicated.

My hesitation stems from the fact I’m not all that interested in having anyone help me problem-solve anything I might be encountering as I write the first draft.

I like to problem-solve my way out of a situation without anyone’s help. I call it challenging my ingenuity. That may or may not be a good thing but I haven’t derailed myself yet.

If you haven’t figured it out by now, this work-in-progress is my baby. I have this indescribable love and affection for these characters and I don’t easily share them with anyone. Only one person, my writing mentor, has read the work-in-progress as I work my way through the first draft. Three other friends have read snippets of it just because I simply needed feedback.

But my mentor and my friends haven’t been part of the actual writing process where the finer details of the characters are being hashed out over cups of coffee. I have one person for that. I like to think of him as my technical advisor. And as strange as it may seem, I do think of him as a collaborator. I’m not willing to say what kind of technical advice I am getting from him but he is key in fleshing out certain scenes for the first draft.

Last week, we had a fantastic three-hour coffee meeting. Seriously, my meetings with him are the best. Time flew by like nobody’s business. We covered a lot of ground and discovered how much we really had in common, with regards to how we look at life. Yep, a friendship in the making. While there are contenders for best coffee conversations, no one comes close to him. I can’t imagine anybody knocking him out of that position.

One of the great things about my technical advisor, aside from his knowledge and expertise, is his understanding of storytelling. In his line of work, he has read a lot of movie screenplays to ensure particular aspects of what the screenwriter has put together are plausible, realistic and accurate.

As well, he has been using his technical knowledge to write for a specialty magazine for the last 20 years. He was regaling me about a recent article he wrote for that magazine and musing about how much shit he could possibly get into for writing it. His editor is backing him up so hopefully, there won’t be much trouble.

Plus, he’s had a little experience with writing a screenplay for a short film, turning that screenplay into a short film and being its director. This was something I was unaware of and I’m glad he shared that tidbit with me. The film played at a few small film festivals and earned the lead actress an award at a festival somewhere in southern California. Some of the stories he told me about that time were fun to hear.

So yeah, he knows a little about writing and getting into a little bit of trouble.

I wasn’t expecting him to be so engaged with my writing process and my characters. But I really shouldn’t have been surprised. He needed to get a sense of my characters, the setting and the story, in order to give me his best opinion about ‘the devil’s in the details’ stuff.

I think I piqued his interest when I first approached him about picking his brain for the novel a year ago.

Before we met, I think most of his interactions were with writers who were screenwriters, not fiction writers/novelists. I think I had him hook, line and sinker when I mentioned a specific scene while he was helping me with some field research.

After the coffee meeting last week, he is pretty invested in my process after listening to some of the new scenarios I cooked up which were in need of his opinion. The reason three hours flew by so quickly was because we were so deep in conversation regarding my characters and their scenes.

There was a lot of ‘what if…’, ‘well, if…’, ‘I’m thinking it would be pretty cool if we had something interesting and cool like…’, ‘what does this character do/what kind of person is this character…’ and so on. Lots of questions were bandied about and answers were in good supply.

It was surprisingly easy to talk to him about the minutiae that belonged to my characters, even though there were times I didn’t think I was precise or succinct enough to explain what was bouncing around in my head. There was a lot of great back-and-forth, thoughtful brainstorming. And lots of anecdotal stories and laughs were had, too.

I can’t say enough about the experience of this kind of collaboration. This suits me to a tee. It is very much about having chemistry with your collaborator. I will always hesitate at the idea of collaborating because I don’t want to work with someone who rubs me the wrong way. I’d be spending most of my time wanting to strangle that person than work with that person.

Either I got lucky or this collaboration was always in the cards for me.

The relationship I have with my technical advisor just developed organically. It really does sneak up on you. Organic is a word he also uses when he talks about the creative process. He believes in allowing the process to grow and shape itself naturally. It’s beyond awesome finding someone who is like-minded. Warms my heart, I tell ya.

It’s great collaborating with someone who gets you, who is intrigued by you and doesn’t mind the fact that you might be a little more than off-the-wall.

Yes, I’m gushing. I tend to do that when I meet a super cool person with whom I have great chemistry.

He’s my kind of guy. He’s my kind of collaborator. Couldn’t ask for anything better.

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