Writers, by nature, are solitary beings, loitering in libraries, browsing bookshelves and hunkering over a laptop or paper alternately cursing and praising the words in front of them.
You do find them congregating at literary festivals and the adjacent pubs and bars where they will hold court and pontificate about process, craft, literary technique, genre, publishing, moleskins and every other ennui about writing.
But there’s one thing I’ve noticed writers tend not to talk about: story ideas. In particular, the current WIP. Writers become like professional poker players when it comes to discussing their WIP. The dark shades go on and the cards are held close to the chest. Is there a fear someone will steal our precious and brilliant idea?
A writer works in isolation, writing, drafting, editing, polishing.
A writer knows the benefit of a beta reader in helping to shape a novel/flash fiction from what it is into something better. The beta reader helps identify when the plot is flagging or the characters are not fully realised. But this is normally done only after the piece is written.
A new way?
If we were to collaborate with another writer, a critical friend or trusted beta reader, in the initial planning and drafting stages, would our WIP benefit from it? Would we avoid a flagging middle section, have more developed and real characters because we’ve talked it over with a trusted writer?
Do we not talk with someone because we are afraid of our brilliant story idea being stolen. We always think our ideas are brilliant, don’t we?
But why are writers so different from other creative types? Musicians collaborate all the time. Dramatists workshop a play before performance. A fresh set of eyes and ears could open possibilities you as a writer may not have thought of. Develop a critical friendship with a peer who writes in the same genre or a different genre.
I’m working on a multimedia project with a colleague where I am doing the writing (novella length) and she is the artistic director for the short film/website/graphic novel/art installation. It’s a partnership where the dialogue about possibilities and options will make for a better product. It will still require a beta reader in the later stages, but the collaborative approach is engaging, inspiring and fun.
During a rehearsal for a carols performance this week (where I was playing percussion), I was chatting to one of our singers, another creative type. We were talking about the need for developing creative texts like short films and dramas for events like Easter and Christmas. It sparked a brief, but enthusiastic discussion. While no real plans were made, it opened an avenue for new directions to explore in the new year.
Whilst driving to the carols performance on the weekend, I had an idea for a short film for Christmas next year. And no, I’m going to keep it a secret. Hey, it’s Christmas, so there’s a limited repertoire and focus, know what I mean.
But as iron sharpens iron, so a discussion with someone creative opened new possibilities. My idea requires refinement and development, but the collaborative approach can surely produce a better product.
Would you consider a critical partnership to make your work better, even before you start?