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Friday, July 31, 2009

Social or personal?

Depending on how you pursue it, creativity can be a social or a private experience. It can be an activity you engage in with a huge group of friends, or one which you would only attempt in the privacy of your own home. It all depends on what your interests are, and what your personality is like.
My two biggest passions encompass both ends of the spectrum. Acting for the theater is, obviously, an extremely social activity. Even if you're in a one-man show, you are working closely with the crew and staff of the theater. And one-man shows aren't common--more often you're in a cast with at least a few other actors. Writing, on the other hand, tends to be a very personal engagement. You sit at your computer or notebook and put your thoughts on paper (or word document), usually in solitude.
However, being the social creature that I am, my writing is much less solitary than it could be. When I'm cultivating a new story idea, one of my favorite steps is sharing the idea with my family members and seeing how they respond to it. Sometimes I'll hand out copies of the first chapter of my latest work-in-progress and let my parents and brother "beta test" the story for me. And when I finish a story, I often read it aloud to my little brother, to see for myself which parts make him laugh or catch his interest.
There's other ways to make social a very personal activity like writing--for instance, I know of writing groups or clubs where authors will get together and share their latest masterpieces with each other, looking for feedback and constructive criticism. I knew a writer who wanted everyone who read her novels to fill out long, involved questionnaires about what they thought of them. There's online communities where you can post poetry and stories and get feedback from around the world.
In this last half a year or so, I've had the opportunity to experience social writing in another form. A fellow writer who is a very dear friend of mine and I decided to do a collaboration and write a novel together. It's been an amazing journey--my co-author is much more experienced than me, both in writing and in marketing finished stories, but the method with which she tackles her writing is similar to my own. We work well together.
When we started out, neither of us had any preconceptions about what the story would be about. My co-author proposed that we write a sci-fi novel, and I agreed--I tend towards the fantasy genre, but I'd been wanting to try out sci-fi for awhile anyway. She suggested that we both agree on a setting and a few major plot points, then go off and separately create a few characters. Then, without much set-up, we'd jump right into the writing section.
This is by no means the only way to do a collaboration. I'm sure there are as many methods for working with another author as their are authors. But this method worked for us, as we both tend to focus on our characters when we write (as opposed to focusing on either the plot or the setting) and we wanted our story to be mostly a character study.
We sat down and discussed the basic fabric of the story, and within a few hours we'd come up with our conflict and setting. We decided how many characters were needed, and what kind. Then we disbanded and spent some time working on our separate characters--she created one, and I created two. We exchanged the basic information about our characters (name, job, appearance, etc.)--the kind of stuff the characters would already need to know about each other--and without further ado, began to write.
We took turns writing sections for the story. She would do a few scenes, then email me her piece; I would write a few scenes, and send it back; and so on. Sometimes we would write 20,000 words within a week; sometimes the story would remain untouched for a month. We both wanted to remain unpressured, so we made sure not to rush each other--this was a fun side project, not our jobs, and we both had lots of stuff going on outside the story. We took our time and let the characters develop at their own pace.
The key element I want to stress here is communication. That was what made this work so well, in my opinion. It sounds obvious, but there you go. :P We constantly were sitting down together and having conversations like: Me: "I know we need to have such-and-such happen soon...do you want to write that scene, or should I?" Co-author: "I've got to finish up my scene with so-and-so, then you can write it, if it'll fit into your section." Me: "Sure--I just have to make sure I work in this other such-and-such, so my section might run a little long." And so on. We weren't territorial about our characters--even though I created and oversaw the main parts involving Characters A and B, my co-author wrote them into her scenes frequently, and vice versa. And we were careful to check with each other to make sure we were writing each others' characters the way they wanted.
Anyway, the point is, we're coming up to the final stretch of writing here. The climax has been and gone, and we're working on the big finish now. Once the actual writing is completed, my co-author will edit it thoroughly (she loves editing), we'll make our re-writes, and then beta-test it on our family members and friends. After that, it'll fall to me to do most of the marketing. It's been a ton of fun writing with someone else, and we're planning to do more collaborations in the future.
Oh...and I forgot to mention that my co-author doubles as my mom. :P Hey, my passion for writing had to come from somewhere, right?