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Talk is cheap, and worth more than paper

I received an email from a former student the other week about a project that she’d been working on with a friend and how to get it back on track. It’s prompted me to put up a quick post to try and help other people avoid the experience that she’s having, and that I’ve had a few times in the past.

When people collaborate on a project and share in the endeavour of creating something with meaning wonderful things can happen. Some of my favourite works of art, books, graphic novels or music have been the result of two or more people with a bag of talent knocking their heads together and magic falling out. If you think about it you could probably come up with a dozen examples from your own sphere of reference where collaboration lifted the prospective output of an individual and made it something very special.

I’ve been working with the wonderful American artist Sam Thuman for the last couple of years on a graphic novel, and things are moving along well. Creative dynamics between multiple contributors can be tricky things and when they begin there’s no guarantee that they are going to be successful. When Sam and I started this particular project we spent some time talking about how we would work together, not just what the graphic novel would be. My advice to anyone wishing to collaborate on any kind of project with another creative party is to do exactly what Sam and I did.

With the best of intentions I have launched into various creative projects with other collaborators in the past, and despite enjoying their company socially and admiring their work enormously a number of such projects have ground to a halt. Please don’t get me wrong, others have worked out brilliantly despite an immediate commencement of the content of the project, but the successful conclusion was by no means assured.

Early on in my writing career I was advised by a mentor to never discuss or overtly preview works yet to be released, and I’ve always tried to observe that rule. This being the case I can’t go much further than nods when it comes to the work I’m doing with Sam, but I can say that the experience has been wholly rewarding. For various creative reasons and other commitments the project has been able to move at its own pace and I believe that the extra opportunities to plan and reflect have ultimately improved the graphic novel.

If you’re thinking about starting a collaborative project, or are early on in the development of one please, please, please take a minute to talk through how you’re going to work together. Think about time demands and availability, including deadlines. Consider financial implications of the sort of project that you are doing, what sort of resources are needed? Talk about roles and responsibilities and nail it down to the letter so that you can ensure that everything will get done and that all parties know who is going to do it. After you’ve locked all those matters in then get into the specifics of the variety of project that you’re doing to ensure that you’re still on the same page. If everything is still looking good then go out and make some magic of your own.

If you want to avoid having such a practical conversation or find the prospect a little icky and direct then just be careful. It’s all too easy to smile and nod your accommodating way into a project which costs a fortune that nobody has the money to finance, where most of the work is being done by one person, where participants have conflicting time availability and so it runs on and on until someone or everyone just gives up. The flip side of this is if you are entering into a collaborative project do not agree to do things day one that you have no intention of doing day five hundred. If all parties are honest and can align their creative efforts then there’s every chance that the project will be a success.

I could write more, but for now I won’t. Good luck to all the collaborators of the world, you will only need it if you don’t talk.

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Posted: April 12, 2017

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