Confessions of a Lone Writer: A Journey Into Collaborative Creativity

Aurelia
Aurelia: Edge of Darkness

If there’s one quality that seems to characterize writers, it’s our need for time alone. Time to think. Time to daydream, to play with our words.

History elevates the solitary writer as a kind of legend: that elusive genius, scribbling furiously in a forgotten attic, until at long last (usually upon completion of their magnum opus) they expire, penniless and unsung.

Public gratification, it seems, always comes too late.

Today, though it’s much harder to hide in any attic long enough to write a magnum opus, we still strive for that ideal. The penniless and unsung part, too, we also to accept as a matter of course.

But what if the two are related?

What if we turned our gaze to a different writer: one just as talented, but not solitary? This writer has cultivated an audience and is making an impact now. And his/her attic is full of other writers.

Already I hear bodies shifting uneasily in seats. Collaborate with another writer? Compromise on creative ideas for a mutual product?

Maybe that penniless and unsung part isn’t so bad after all.

My Story

Five years ago, talk of collaboration always made me nervous. Sociability has never come easily. While I’ve learned to “turn on” the social butterfly at events, I still find the simplest lunch appointment exhausting. Communal working environments are even more complicated, especially when it comes to my fantasy tales.

For years I wrote Great American Fantasy Novels in the solitude of my home or a coffee shop. If I worked with a mentor or writing group, I’d bring my pages on the appointed day, take copious notes, then go back to my cave to revise my work . . . alone.

More experienced scribes began urging me to find a writing partner. “You’ll improve so much more quickly,” they assured me. “Many professional writers get their start this way.”

So I tried a few. But even if I liked the other person and his or her style, something about the personal interaction just didn’t click. On that excuse, I retired to my cave once again to pen Great American Fantasy Novels . . .

Until the day I couldn’t.

Last October, sick of my own fears about sharing my work, I started serializing one of my novels on the web. I knew enough about internet viewing trends to recognize that nobody would read a big book, no matter how compelling, without some pretty visuals to draw them in.

So I reached out (hesitantly) to a few local artists “Would you do a quick sketch for a chapter?” I asked. “Just one?”

The Big Change

Suddenly my far-flung creative planet was joined by others in its lonely orbit. These artists, some of whom also turned out to be writers, brought a fresh perspective to my story that I never could.

Before I knew it, I was co-writing other projects with them: short films, comic books, interesting genre hybrids. But these collaborations were different from my writing group or previous attempts at team writing. I noticed significant changes in my work:

  1. My perfectionism and fear of criticism subsided.
    These two qualities had run rampant inside my solitary attic, wreaking havoc on my ability to produce work in a professionally viable way. Now, thanks to my co-writers and artists, I received regular feedback by people who cared about the story, and also cared enough about me to call me out on my fears.
  2. My creative output increased.
    Two brains work faster than one. With collaboration, I doubled my available experiences and expertise. My weaknesses as a writer were balanced out by another’s strengths. Suddenly I was finishing projects and getting them out the door to an audience rather than dithering around with no sure direction.
  3. The quality of my work skyrocketed.
    By the time a collaborative project was finished, it had undergone a preliminary “vetting process” by other minds. I could feel more confident sharing these stories with others. And the general audience response to them more than proved my point.

Of course there were some legal considerations. My co-writers and I had to agree on joint ownership and set clear expectations. And there were some projects that I continued alone in the solitude of my attic.

But overall, collaboration transformed my approach to my writing work, even my fantasy tales. If my journey had ended there, I would have been more than satisfied.

It’s Not Over Yet . . .

But this past April, the weekend I finished the serial, I got an email from Theatrics. This innovative company is best known for launching the world’s first interactive TV show, Beckinfield, about a small California town with big paranormal secrets. Anyone who wanted to, from professional actors to brand-newbies, could create a character and tell the story through video posts.

Theatrics had seen my serial and wanted to know if I would design a show like Beckinfield, based on my fantasy world.

To do it, I’d have to collaborate with a brand-new co-writer: my audience.

“Wait, let me get this straight,” I said. “You want me to build a story, hand the keys to an undetermined number of people I’ve never met, and let them drive my creation right off the lot?”

Right then and there, my Inner Loner reared her head. Big time.

But at some point, I realized this type of story did have some boundaries to keep actors on track. And beyond that, my journey into collaboration thus far was just a reflection of changes across all entertainment. Audiences want to get out of the armchair and into the action. There will always be a big audience for traditional media like books and films. But why not also give this new method a try?

If I was committed to collaboration, this was the logical next step.

As you’re reading this, the resulting show, called Aurelia: Edge of Darkness, just launched its beta. I can’t give you a “rousing success story” (yet) about how my audience and I made the next internet sensation. And hey, in twelve weeks, I might have to admit it totally flopped. Who knows?

But if I’ve learned anything thus far, I’ve learned that the process of collaboration is its own art. Even if the final product isn’t quite what I hoped, perspective will rub against perspective along the way, showering sparks that fuel many creative fires to come.

I’ll take that over my solitary attic any day.

* * *
What about you? How do you leverage collaboration to enhance your writing work? Share your tips and ideas below!

Aurelia

And while you’re at it, if you’d like to check out Aurelia, or even dive in as an actor, email me at [email protected]. The beta show is private; once enough “citizens” enter the world, we’ll go public (sometime in July). In the mean time, I’ll be happy to send you the invite link to take a peek. When you arrive, just look for the crazy girl in the purple shawl. That’s me!

Lisa Walker England

Lisa Walker England is a serial fiction writer, film writer and graphic novelist from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She loves mixing high fantasy with elements of clock- or steampunk, as well as designing transmedia experiences that allow an audience to enter her worlds as characters of their own. Connect with her at http://lisawalkerengland.com.
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livin4mydream
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livin4mydream

You do have a talent for great writing style! I have to admit I am also a loner, and a perfectionist. Being too worried about whether our work is perfect or the ‘best’, is not usually the most important point. Having other people like and enjoy our work should be our key goal. I tend to make sure I like it myself, but then get scared about letting my stuff out in public to be freely ‘praised or criticized’. Great job on the collaborative effort, glad to hear it’s going well!

KuokMinghui
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KuokMinghui

livin4mydream George R.R Martin once said a piece of truth which stuck onto me ever since. In short, art isn’t democracy and it should never be. And what is art? Art is the humane way of expression, a sense of flawed beauty where self-perfection is the key rather than whatever demands placed upon others. So long as you see your work as a form of art rather than just a money making tool, then you’ve got yourself the correct attitude. As we the Chinese like to say, it takes a hero to know another hero. 🙂

Donald
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Donald

To be personally getting an email from Theatrics and even be offered to have a show designed from your novel, you shouldn’t be worrying how it will pan out. It clearly shows you have great potential, and it is undoubtedly a stepping milestone on your part!

Joanne Evans
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Joanne Evans

It can be hard to accept people injecting their stuff into your content; it happens to everyone in the creativity industry. But collaborating with people actually allows more perspectives, that may even be better suited than yours. The professionals are professional for a reason. 🙂

eds_garage
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eds_garage

In theory, it seems like a good idea but I am sure it had to have been very difficult to find just the right person, one whom you can work well with and throw ideas back and forth. I will have to keep searching for someone for me.

Tony Dragani
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Tony Dragani

I’m currently collaborating with a friend on a project, and it’s going extremely well. Together we are coming up with ideas that we would have never have thought of on our own. I’m excited to see how the book turns out.

KuokMinghui
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KuokMinghui

To me, collaboration will only work if you know what that person is capable of. Collaboration must be done firstly and foremost with the professionals who view writing as an art. Only after that can one progress further to collaborate with the audience. One of the biggest dangers in current writing world is this: people tend to assume 90% of the global populace are intelligent enough to know what is 2+2 and that includes themselves. As a writer (?), I firmly believe that if you want your works to be judged, make sure you let the professional critics do it for you. People who understand literature, people who understand the cynical truth called Executive Meddling.

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