I became a serious musician (in 1989) a few years before I became a novice writer (in 1993) and a serious writer (in 1997) – at age 15, 19 and 23, respectively. When you’re in a band you learn quickly the power of collaboration with other creative souls. Music is one of the most communal of all the arts, and thus, the musician often has an innate desire and ability to collaborate. I’ve seen this on a regular basis with my current band. Over the past 25 years I’ve been in several bands and the vast majority of them have been creatively democratic. It’s more rewarding for all involved when contributions are welcome, appreciated and accepted – collaboration.
However, when it comes to the art and act of creative writing, it’s traditionally been a starkly different situation. It doesn’t help that creative writing is, by and large, a predominantly solitary activity. So my writer’s ego – particularly with prose – has almost always been that of the lone wolf; at most times confident, but usually at the very least I’ve been fairly self-assured of vision and self-possessed to the point of complete stubborn independence, at least when it comes to my role as a writer. In other words there’s typically been no room for another’s vision when yours truly is writing the prose.
Well, times are a-changin’. I’m feeling very collaborative in a literary sense of late. It also helps one come around to the idea of creative collaboration when one realizes that about a third of his entertainment – television – is written collaboratively in a Writers Room, led by a Showrunner. I would like to do something similar to that in prose as well as comics. I currently have one collaborative partner on a new comic book/graphic novel concept with my best bud Joshua S. Hooten. Since this graphic fiction project is a co-creation, I will be collaborating story ideas with him to ensure our visions mesh well and I am providing him with the kind of stories he wants to illustrate. A true partnership rather than writer dictates to the artist, artist just follows direction dutifully. The thought is that in comics the artist does all the heavy lifting, so why not ingratiate yourself with him and accommodate him the best you can as the writer?
A quick aside: five years ago I made a confession here about my, um, envy of other writers who are privileged to collaborate with an artist in graphic fiction.
So, anyway, there’s that.
However, that is not prose. Prose collaboration, which I’ve done in the distant past and really enjoyed, is a trickier affair for all the reasons I mentioned above – on both/all writer’s side of the equation. Particularly on long-form works like novels, I’ve begun to truly embrace the idea of teaming up with some writer friends who I know would be good collaborating partners on a few different projects.
I also want to try something like a TV Writers Room where groups of 3 to 5 writers come together to create a small universe in which the characters we co-create can co-exist and then we hash out plot details and split up chapter or ‘episode’ duties among each other. With the recent resurrection of the Zoetrope Virtual Studio, I think I might be able to attempt this experiment, which is fitting that’s where I’ve done prose collaborations before.
~ written sometime in 1998 ~
The abrupt sound of knocking on the door echoed throughout the studio and startled him. Aside from his parole officer, he had no other company to expect.
“Mister Johns, you in there?” That was the annoying voice of the landlord, Albert McFarland coming from behind the door. The man went by Al. His voice reminded Maynard of Jackie Gleason on that old sitcom The Honeymooners. McFarland knocked again.
Hold your damn horses, he wanted to say. He opened the door to see the short rotund man as he stood there with a cheap cigar in his mouth. McFarland gave him a once-over, a look of suspicion in his sharp gray eyes.
“Yeah, what can I do for you?” Maynard said, his morning voice untested and rough.
“Just came to have a look at those blinds,” McFarland said. “And I forgot to mention your air unit ain’t exactly up to snuff either.”
Was that all? Maynard didn’t buy it.
“Mind if I come in for a sec?”
“Well, I was just on my way out.” Maynard said. “I’m all out of squares, figured I’d go down to the Village Pantry for some.”
“Mister Johns, I can inspect them without you being here.”
For some reason he didn’t want the man to set foot in his home sniffing around for whatever things his obvious suspicions inspired him to. It reminded him of a prison warden.
“This won’t take but a second, Mister Johns.”
McFarland stepped inside with a notepad, observed the blinds and made his notes. “Prison, huh? What’s that like, if ya don’t mind my asking?”
“I see word gets around.”
“No way Jennifer at the office wouldn’t tell me something like that, Mister Johns.”
“Well, let’s just say I’m a changed man, Mister McFarland. Completely rehabilitated and reformed. I’m not one to dwell on the past.”
McFarland said, “Well, I’m sure you understand some folks might not be comfortable with the idea of a known felon in the building—”
“That’s former felon—”
“Well,” McFarland said having worn out his welcome already, “Don’t take it too personal if folks act a little skittish around ya.”
McFarland took a quick glance around the studio and then made his way to the door.
“So about those blinds and the air conditioning,” Maynard said.
“I’ll get my maintenance guy on it. Might be a week or so.”
Maynard shook his head at the ridiculous wait time and let McFarland out. The portly landlord entered the hallway and wobbled toward the stairwell that led to the upper levels.
“Now you have yourself a good day, Mister Johns.”
“Every day of freedom is a good day, Mister McFarland.”
Taken from my story “All Things Considered”, a previously published work now being expanded into a novella. © 2010 Brandon L. Rucker.
If you’re a musician in a band then it means you have likely achieved Olympic-level patience because so much of being a musician in a band is simply waiting. And waiting. And hurrying up and waiting.
— Brandon L. Rucker, 6/4/2016
This week’s writer-ly quote is another analogy, and like last week’s Stephen King quote, this one compares physical activities . . .
Writing a novel is a lot like making love, but it’s also like having a tooth pulled. Pleasure and pain. Sometimes it’s like making love while having a tooth pulled.