4 Tips for Collaboration

Whether you’re co-writing a book with someone, playing in a band with other musicians, making a film or play, or working on a painting with another artist, collaboration is a great thing to do. Collaborating with other artists is a great way to produce interesting work that is a combination of multiple people’s imagination, creativity, and skills. But as a whole, us artists and creatives can sometimes be difficult to work with. This is really just because most of us tend to be so passionate about our ideas, and sometimes, we can clash with each other. Here are a few tips to help you to avoid having “creative differences” with your collaborators:

1. Know Your Role

In the screenwriting classes I teach at Southern New Hampshire University, I always see new screenwriters describing the way the camera should move, the way things should be shot, and the way actors should deliver lines in their screenplays. This is the mark of a controlling screenwriter. The role of the screenwriter is really just to tell the story as clearly as possible. It’s up to the directors, actors, cinematographers, and other crew members to make decisions about how that story gets told on the screen. A good screenplay leaves room for actors and directors to add their own interpretations and ideas just as a good director won’t change all of a screenwriter’s lines.

Before you collaborate with others, know what your role is. Are you arranging all of the instruments or are you a bass player who’s expected to come up with a bass part on your own? Are you writing a play or directing a play? Be clear about what exactly your role is in the project, and then stick to it.

2. Agree On a System Before Collaborating

How are you going to collaborate? I know a number of people who approach co-writing in different ways. Some of them write in dual points of view, and one writer will write the story from one character’s point of view while the other writer will choose the other character. Some writers will alternate chapters in Google Docs. In some cases, the first writer will write a good chunk of the story, and then the second writer will revise. Whatever system you use, it’s important to decide on a system beforehand.

It’s also a good idea to make decisions about how you’re going to split credit, any money the project makes, and how you’re going to make choices about what happens to the project before you even begin creating. You may even want to draw up a contract. This will lay everything out in a very straightforward way.

3. Keep Art Above Ego

There may be a situation in which you have one idea, and your collaborator has another idea. You may find that your collaborator’s idea is better for the work as a whole, but you might get attached to having your idea in the finished project. Take a step back, and remember that the most important thing is the work of art itself. You should all be focused on creating the best painting, play, film, piece of music, book, etc. possible, and the best idea should always win. It can be hard to stay objective sometimes so if you are arguing about certain ideas, you may want to take a break and come back to the project after you’ve all had a chance to clear your heads.

4. Listen to Other Ideas with an Open Mind

Don’t get so attached to your vision that you can’t hear any other ideas. If you want to create something that you are entirely in charge of, go write a story alone in your room. If you want to collaborate with other artists, you need to listen to their ideas, even if some of them are different from the ideas that you have. The reason you are collaborating is to create something that is a combination of two or more different artists’ imaginations, visions, creativity, and techniques.

Collaborating is an amazing thing to do when you’re able to work well with someone. You may have to try working with different people before you find a combination that works well for you.

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