Ways Writers Can Collaborate – and Kick-Start the Creative Process!

Earlier this week, I shared some of the joys of collaborating with other creative types…but I think I missed something. It’s all well and good to talk about why collaboration is great for the creative process, but if you’re a writer–probably working solo from your home office–what does collaboration actually look like?

HansSplinter_Flickr-framed

Hans Splinter, Flickr

The Many Faces of Collaboration

I’m not expert on the collaboration front. I haven’t co-authored a book with anyone, for instance–the stereotypical form of writerly collaboration. However, I’ve found that kicking around ideas with other readers, writers, and daydreamers is a great way to improve my fiction writing.

It got me thinking: Where have I benefited from working with others on a project? What opportunities for collaboration have I stumbled upon, and what collaborative possibilities have other writers harnessed that I haven’t yet tried?

Here’s what I came up with, listed from least (“Level 1”) to most interactive (“Level 4”). Feel free to suggest more possibilities and examples in the comments!

Level 1: Soliciting Feedback

This is a great starting point for the novice collaborator: sign up for a conference critique, find a writing mentor, or join a critique group to solicit others’ views on your plot, story world, characters, etc. This is a great way to experiment with what it feels like to work with others on a creative project.

Some things to keep in mind:

  • When giving or receiving feedback, be sure to bring an open, non-judgmental mindset to the process
  • But also remember–you’re the owner of your project, so don’t let others squash your vision

These days, though, critiques from other writers aren’t the only form of feedback you can seek. You can also connect with “regular” readers. Share your writing on platforms such as WattpadFictionPress.net, or even your own blog or website–not for a critique, but to get a sense of what is and isn’t working in your stories.

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Play With Words…and Reignite Your Creative Fire

I debated several different ways of writing today’s post. Usually, I create a "Tuesday Ten" list of categories or techniques, but such a list would be academic. Academic doesn’t seem quite right for a post about play, you know? A post about play should be fun! It should encourage you to dilly-dally and fool around. It should invite you to stay awhile and enjoy.

So today’s post isn’t a list of how-to’s or a list of ways-to-play-with-words categories. Today’s post is more like a toy box.  A writer’s toy box, full of writer’s toys, so all of us writers can come out and play :).

B RosenPhoto courtesy of B Rosen on Flickr Creative Commons 

How It Works
  1. Pick something that speaks to you from each “toy box,” an image, a symbol, and an interesting turn of phrase.
  2. Pick a “playtime prompt”.
  3. Set a timer for 15 minutes and write—just for the fun of it.
imageErase Expectations!

It’s important that you write just for PLAY, not to produce or brainstorm or do anything else useful. The goal here is to invite the subconscious to make unexpected connections and leaps of insight. You might find that your freewrite inspires your work-in-progress, or sparks a story idea, but it might just be the opportunity for your muse to stretch her (or his) creative muscles and remember why this writing thing is fun.

Some of these Or dig around until you spot something that speaks to you, then give yourself 15 minutes—or more—to play around. As my friend Laura says, “The rules are set in play dough.” There’s only one rule that can’t be broken: No inner critics allowed!

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Faith in the Writing Process

GollyGforceOne of the reasons (the fun one!) that I didn’t make my NaNoWriMo goal this year is—I had the unexpected opportunity to work on another project, this one a nonfiction book for young readers. In the past two weeks, I’ve gone through a series of writing ups and downs that are starting to feel strangely familiar:

  1. Exhilaration. This is the best book idea ever! It will work this way, and this way, and this way, and is such an amazing idea, I’m going to explode! And it will be so EASY! I’ll have this thing knocked out in a week, two weeks tops.
  2. Optimism. This might be harder than I thought, but I can do it. This is when I start diving into the research: I order a hundred reference books through interlibrary loan, make a trip up to my local university library to access journal articles, buy a half dozen more books from Amazon, and check out every picture book I can find from my publisher of choice. And then…
  3. Despair. Once I’ve done the research, I start trying to find the form of the book. I piece together one story outline after another and realize, without a shadow of doubt, that my Great Idea will simply not work. Ever.
  4. Obsession. This is the point when I know the book won’t work. There isn’t enough research available, I can’t find the right photos, and the story form that sounded so great in theory is stupid once I actually try to implement it—but I can’t stop worrying at the idea. It keeps me up at night and wakes me early in the morning. I muse over angles while running or cooking. Conversations with my exceptionally patient spouse turn invariably to analysis of other nonfiction books and discussion of different ways to tackle my topic.
  5. Depression. Why am I still working on this? I don’t even know any more, but every day I do a little more. I take more notes, look at more photos, and write new outlines, none of which quite work. I know they won’t work, I know there’s no hope, but I don’t have anything else I’m working on right now so I keep plugging along. Just in case.
  6. Eureka! In the middle of writing yet another outline, something clicks! I find a different lens through which to tell the story , a different twist that might…just might…actually work. And I start writing a new outline. It rolls off my pen, and for the first time I see the hint of the book I want to write.
  7. Confidence. why was I worried? This is what my writing process always looks like–the darkest. moment comes just before the dawn, and even when I think I know enough to know that a project is irretrievably flawed, I’m often wrong. I buckle down with renewed confidence and vision and get to work. Because after all, I’ve got a book to write.

It astonishes me that every time, for virtually every project, I go through a phase where I’m absolutely convinced that I’ve found the best story idea ever—and through a phase in which I’m equally convinced that the book won’t actually work. And I’m not even bipolar :).

It’s hard to keep going when I hit that low point, but it helps to know that I *always* go through it, if you know what I mean. It helps me to keep plugging along, waiting for that Eureka! moment. Because somehow, it always arrives.

What about you? Do you go through, or struggle with, different emotions during your writing process? How do you get past the low points? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!