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!