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.

Road trip

Stories exist to make you feel, to make you think. To challenge the status quo. Any good writer looks at their available choices and tries to surprise, if not delight, the reader. And sometimes, the writer is playing a longer game and will hurt you before they provide relief — Delilah S. Dawson

I’m not sure if any of my writing delights anybody. But I do believe stories — whether they come in the form of books, movies or theatre plays — should make you feel and make you think.

All I really want to do, is tell the best story I can, given the skillset I’m developing. Ambition will take you pretty far, but a solid skillset will take you farther. I’ve just passed the halfway mark in writing my first draft. I gotta say it feels weird. It’s going to feel weirder when I finish it. I’ll expand on that later after the novel is finished.

I am comfortable and happy with the choices I’ve made for my boys and with the choices my boys have made for me. I’ve lost track the number of times the boys and the rest of the characters have made decisions about their story arcs or their roles for me. They may not be real flesh and blood beings but they come from my flesh and blood, therefore they are real to me.

Granted, the last half of the novel hasn’t been written yet but I have the road map. I have all the interest points marked on the map. I even have a pretty good idea on how I would like to get from point N to point Z. But, how I move from one interest point to the next will always be up for negotiation between me and my boys. As long as we hit the interest points, I don’t care how straight or winding the roads are. The road taken will always be scenic.

I’ve already had an interesting trip with the first half of the road map. The rest is going to be a blast with my boys.

There is nothing better than a road trip.

Worth doing right

I believe in living life the way that you want to live it every day, and if you do that, you don’t really need to have New Year’s resolutions — Tom Ford

Happy New Year, folks!

Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, I suppose I could do a little reflecting on 2017. I’m not talking about reflecting on the questionable state of humanity in its current manifestation. I’m talking about reflecting on the year I’ve had. As per usual, there are probably some things I won’t get into specifics about, but I think you’re used to me being evasive when necessary, anyway.

I set out at the end of 2016 and beginning of 2017 with a list of goals or little things I wanted to achieve. Let’s be honest, it’s the little things can add up to something amazing down the road. I made a list of 12 things that I wanted to get the opportunity to experience and grow from, as a result, for 2017.

I managed to achieve all these small goals, except for two. Actually, it’s one because the other one is a work-in-progress. By the way, I think about half of these goals kind of fell into my lap. The power of positivity and being a bit laser-focused, I guess. And to be honest, the one that didn’t come to fruition was one I figured wouldn’t happen anyway, given my track record in that particular area. I guess one could call it a throwaway. If it happened, great. If it didn’t, it wouldn’t have taken away from all the other things that were achieved. What has been achieved, has been diminished.

Aside from my trip to Mexico back in October, one of the highlights, if not the highlight of 2017, was the field research I did back in February. I conducted the research locally. I didn’t have to go anywhere outside of the country which is kind of a shame but I made up for that with Mexico.

Out of the field research I did in February, I found myself a wonderful technical advisor and a really cool individual. Well, I think he’s cool. I will only refer to him as an acquaintance right now because we haven’t seen each other since February, but that’s about to change. I need his experience and knowledge again because of what my writing project needs at this stage of the first draft. I’m looking forward to seeing him again in the next few weeks. He’s always willing to answer my questions and amuse himself when I share my mildly hair-brained ideas with him. And we will meet up again later this year to review certain aspects of my project. Only then, will I refer to him as a friend afterwards.

Sometimes, it can be a bit presumptuous to refer to someone as a friend with whom you’ve only spent a short amount of time. I asked for his help in the context of my writing. I wasn’t approaching him with the idea of becoming friends somewhere down the road. First and foremost, I was doing research. Without a doubt, finding him was one of the best things I have done for the story I want to tell. What he brings to the storytelling table are small details and those are immeasurable. It’s a bonus that we get along very well and we have similar sensibilities. So, yeah, this is a friendship in the making.

My trip to Mazatlán back in October yielded a lot interesting information and memorable experiences, especially when I went outside of the city to visit the rural areas, Durango state and the Sierra Madre Occidental. It is beautiful country in that part of Mexico. Yes, the more tropical locations, such as Mazatlán and other coastal towns/cities, certainly have their visual charms but I have an affinity, a preference for places like the city of Durango, Mexico City, Guadalajara and the Sierra Madre.

Other tidbits from 2017? Well, I made some new friends. Pretty interesting friends. We’ll let that percolate.

Honestly, my top 2017 highlights are things that relate to or inspire my creative process. Everything else is just the mundane but necessary snippets of life.

Creatively, 2017 has been pretty cool. I might be understating that. Some people might consider it awesome with regards to some of the things I’ve done or am reaching for. But I reserve the right to say it’s been pretty cool. And I have every intention of having it continue in 2018.

I have no need for New Year’s resolutions. I will just have another list of small goals that will add up to something amazing in the long run. I don’t do sprints. I do marathons. I’m in it for the long haul because anything worth creating, anything worth having and anything worth experiencing is worth doing and worth doing right.