When Paul and I started writing the novel Sexual Mercy together, we adopted a practice I’d first learned from Improv theater people and then applied it to the collaborative practice of filmmaking. It’s this simple: Always affirm another person’s contribution by saying “Yes” and then make your own contribution, “and…”
Instead of shutting down the other person, you’re opening up the process and keeping it going. Even if yours and your writing partner’s ideas are mutually exclusive – your character can’t travel to both Bangkok and Paris in the next chapter – you don’t have to nix either idea. You can just put both ideas out there as options. If either of you feel uncomfortable with an option, then go for a third option. After all, you won’t do your best writing if you don’t like what you’re working on.
As I got used to this practice with my writing partner I found that of course I didn’t have to dis his idea in order to contribute mine. I have chosen to write with him because he’s a brilliant writer, and because we do have very different styles we complement each other’s styles and make someone more wonderful than either of us could make on our own. That’s why we chose to work together in the first place.
And once I got used to this practice with my writing partner I found it worked with my editor, with my kids, and with my lover. I like these people, so why should I dismiss their ideas? I’ll affirm them, throw in my ideas and we can keep the energy level high and positive.
If this all sounds a little too California, well yes, I am currently living in California but I come from Canada as does my writing partner who lives in Toronto Canada and comes from Manitoba. We know biting cold, so anything that can heat things up is welcomed. And yes… feel free to contribute your collaborative writing practices to this conversation. I’d like to hear from you.