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Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Rainbow of Collaborative Writing

Lots of things can be collaborative: cooking, dancing, acting. But I've never thought of writing as a joint effort. Instead, I considered it to be more like driving: other people may have their own opinions, but ultimately you're the one in charge.

While I was at the Art Farm in Nebraska, I got to meet lots of other writers and artists. For the first half of my residency, I was living with two poets who were collaborating on a chapbook collection. During the second half, I was living in a Victorian house full of wacky visual and performance artists who were having a blast melding their artistic visions into incredible, haunting, and beautiful creations. I began to long for some collaboration of my own. But what would that look like?

Collaborative writing can take many different forms. There is the old school writer-editor relationship, which is more like the driving analogy. Or, there are ghost writers who help bring someone else's story to light. For example, my work with the Family Roots Project is definitely a collaboration between myself and the person whose story I am telling, but the writing itself is mainly done all by my lonesome.

Writing partnerships can transcend editorial drudgery and come to a place of true collaboration, as it does for my professor, Heather Sellers, and her writing wife, Dylan Landis (read more here). They each work on their own separate projects - together. I like the idea of having someone to share my writing with on a regular basis, but this relationship is not so easy to find. The main reason why theirs works, I think, is the equal amount of energy they apply towards the other's work.

In the midst of considering all of the many shapes that collaborative writing can take, I had the pleasure of reading Come Closer, a "collaborative essay" in the latest issue of Sweet: A Literary Confection. I was burning with curiosity about how these two writers, Brenda Miller and Lee Gulyas, came together to produce this piece. Thankfully, they were kind enough to grant me an email interview! I learned that the piece began as a way to keep writing while Gulyas was traveling abroad one summer; they decided to use photographs as prompts and see where that led them. You can read the entire interview here.

Just like with all forms of collaboration, collaborative writing requires openness and trust. Sharing the writing process with another person makes an already vulnerable act even more vulnerable. But the rewards are many. Collaboration allows for more magical seismic activity to happen, if you let it. Still, the trick is to keep the sacredness of writing while opening it up to the whimsy of artistic collision.

For those of you considering writing in collaboration, check out this awesome article about Tools for Collaborative Writing.

Happy summer from the land of storms and springs!

Monday, July 13, 2015

Getting over Guilt

It’s been a week since I’ve been back from Nebraska. Of course, I had to balance out my land-locked month with a few hardcore days in the water. The day after I returned from the Great Plains, I left on a camping trip in the springs (to reconnect with my mermaid self). Then, I hosted my mom for a few days here in Tampa, taking her to all the fun places that I never have time (or money) to visit when school’s in session.

Now, my bags are unpacked and the house is quiet. My writing calls to me, but so does my closet that needs organizing, my garden that needs weeding, my bills that need paying, my friends that need visiting. I have the time but not the motivation. Saturday, I planned on spending the whole day writing. Instead, I putzed around my house, intermittently listening to podcasts and napping. I didn’t even go out into the garden or walk down the street to check the mail. I took lethargy to a new level. (Also, this heat. Seriously.)

And all along, I was giving myself an internal verbal beat down. You should be writing. Those pieces need editing. Why aren’t you sending work out? You’re never going to be a writer at this rate.

I don’t want guilt to be a constant part of my psyche. Being a writer can often feel like a formless dream with intangible goals. Of course, there are the concrete goals of getting published and having people read your writing. But before that happens, there is so much else that needs to happen: reading everything that you can get your hands on, writing and rewriting and rewriting some more. All of this is crucial to the overall goal of getting published and having people read your writing, but it’s not like gardening where the beds look cleaner after you’ve spent an hour weeding. There is often very little to show for your efforts in writing, and there is always more you could be doing. More writing, more editing, more sending of work out into the world.

So how do we as writers combat this constant feeling of inadequacy and guilt? The only solution that I have come up with so far is setting a writing schedule for myself. If I meet my goal of writing for an hour every day (or a set number of pages), then I can let go of the constant internal accusations. Writers should remember that we’re in this for the long run. The book isn’t going to be written by next month, or maybe not even by next year. Writing will be your life’s work, and your career will come together in due time – as long as the commitment is there.

I heard this quote today and I think it applies to the struggles of my writing life perfectly:
You can suffer the pain of discipline or the pain of regret. It’s your choice.

Discipline will set you free. 

Photos taken at Chassahowitzka Springs