‘Make Those Around You Better’ : Collaborating Effectively

As creators become ever more connected to the people responsible to bringing that work to light – from producers to fans – we must deal head on with the process of collaboration. Every software interface seems designed to put us in communication with our peers and our idols. Even celebrities are jumping on the crowdfunding bandwagon to fund passion projects. There has never been a better time to get a team of people working on your ideas.

Many of us writer-folk tend to shudder away from the idea of collaboration because we want to protect our ideas until the “right person” comes along to lift us from obscurity and place us on the Oscar podium where we belong. And yet there is little evidence to support the notion that great work is made a vacuum. Reading the autobiographies of those who have succeeded in the biz, it’s impossible not to notice the formula:

Meet Someone + Work Together = Meet More People + Work Together + (repeat until sickeningly wealthy and famous).

Great! You say. I’m ready to meet people. Let’s go to Starbucks!

Hold your horses. Collaboration is an art form in itself, and the entertainment industry is home to the best and worst kinds of it. Some mad skills are required to do some excellent networking here.

Fortunately, the Internet has got you covered.

The first place to turn for collaborative advice is to the masters of collaboration: scientists. This article about scientific collaboration in graduate programs has some of the best advice for artistic collaboration I’ve read, and outlines comprehensively who to reach out to in collaborating, and the qualities of good collaboration.

Our next stop is PBS, to a recent and incredibly thorough article that deals specifically with collaborative journalism.

This chart created by Kelly Hall from East Carolina University offers a good evaluation of collaboration in groups.

Gregg Komer’s terrific blog Collaborative Acumen offers a wealth of information and insight on being a good collaborator.

If you’re sitting at your computer thinking “But I want to protect my precious ideas!” – you’re not wrong. You don’t just want to start riffing ideas with your neighborhood bum on your Brooklyn stoop – but you might also shouldn’t be spouting ideas to every industry-affiliated suit that comes around.

In our profession, ideas are money and success and the fulfillment of what we want. It’s important to be communicative and upfront, especially if writing with others, and take Rights for Writers’ advice on creating collaborative agreements. Be wise about sharing your ideas.  There are a lot of awesome, talented people out there who might be the key to bringing your work to life – and ultimately, that’s the result you want.

Collaboration, to me, is best described by the Jack Clark quote contained in the NPR article: “make those around you better.”