Friday, August 31, 2007

Da Count - Collaborations

Writing is mostly a solitary pursuit. Usually, the writer gets an idea, the writer sits down to compose the idea with a pen on the printed page or onto a typewriter or dictates the concepts into an audio recorder or types it onto a computer screen via a keyboard (I'm fortunate to have experience all four of these ways of composing and still use all three). Then, when the writer is done the writing, they read it with an editor's eye, looking for what doesn't work, what needs to be changed, etc. Then more often than not, they'll write a second draft. Then another read, another edit. A third draft. A fourth draft. Repeat until it tastes right -- or in recipe terms: "salt and pepper to taste."

So when I write, I mostly do it on my own. Sure, I have folks that I bounce ideas off of, and some first readers who offer their opinions, etc. But for the most part, the writing is a solitary thing.

But I have had the pleasure of collaborating on writing projects with various folks over the years -- and it is a wonderful experience.

One of the first serious collaborations I did was with my friend John Strickland. We actually would spend an entire afternoon working on a story together in round robin style. One of us would sit in his office, write a few paragraphs and then tag the other person who was usually in the other room, reading, listening to music. When we got to a certain point, we'd discuss the story, the characters and then finish the story off. After that, we'd take turns doing a full edit and rewrite until we ended up with a story we were pleased with.

The other person I have regularly collaborated with over the years is my friend Carol Weekes. All of our collaboration efforts have been online. We met through local Ottawa area writer circles online in the mid 90's and most of our collaborations have been via email exchanges. One of us would start a story then pass it back to the other person who would add something -- then the back and forth would continue until the story was done, and the edits and rewrites were done the same way.

I dedicated my short story collection One Hand Screaming (which includes a couple of our collaborated tales) to John and Carol because I felt that they had helped teach me more about the craft and discipline of writing, and working with them elevated my own skill and ability because I had to force myself to keep up to the high bar that they both set in their writing.

I have had various other collaborations over the years, but one of the most fun was when I joined with a group of friends and theatre folks in Ottawa to come up with a show for the Manotick Fringe Festival back in the early 90's (which seems to have been replaced with the Ottawa fringe). We signed up to be in the Fringe Festival, but didn't know what we were going to do. We thought about doing a spoof of various fairy tales and just started doing some ad lib workshops around various scenes. Out of one of the first sessions came my character Walter Wolf -- a timid pushover of a wolf. Then came his quest: to seek courage and strength. The play we workshopped into existence became Very Hairy Fairy Tales and we had a blast with it, bringing it to the Fringe Festival that summer, but also doing a small tour of area public schools where we performed it. Lots of great fun.

The most recent collaboration I did was writing a short story with Carol Weekes and Michael Kelly for our appearance at BakkaPhoenix Books in Toronto last weekend. As usual, the collaboration was a unique experience. I started this story about the manager of an independent Toronto bookstore (not unlike Bakka) who discovers this strange little aged book on the shelves. Then I passed the story along to Carol, who added to it; then it went to Mike, who finished it off. One simple round and it was done. Very cool. We each took a turn at editing and re-writing the tale and voila "Relic: How to Get Ahead in Retail" was born.

The story (signed by Carol, Michael and myself) is now available at BakkaPhoenix in chapbook form for a mere $1.50. We did a limited print run of 100 copies and had a good time doing it. Over beers after the book signing last Saturday we talked about how fun it might be to work on more stories as a trio and perhaps collaborate on a larger work. I'm certainly looking forward to it.

I often also see blogging as a collaborated effort. First, someone determines what they're going to blog about. Then they post it. Then people come and read it. And some of the people who read it make a comment on the blog, most often adding something to it, enriching the original post, and carrying forward a discussion of ideas and feedback. I'm fortunate to have had that experience as well, both as a blogger and as someone who tries to make the rounds and check out what other bloggers are up to. Through blogging I have met countless creative individuals and occasionally worked on various collaborative efforts with them (tip of the hat right now to Bsoholic, Susie and RainyPete whom I have done some fun cross-posting with) -- all of which have been fun and interesting. And because I know so many creative folks through blogging I'm sure there will be more fun collaborations over the years.

So this week, I'm counting the many and various forms of creative collaboration that have and continue to enrich my life.



lime said...

ah what a terrific count. it's so wonderful to sharpen everyone's creativity and feed that side of each other in a joint effort.

lecram said...

Both a wonderful and informative count. As a playwright (the laziest form of writer... lol) yes, I agree that for the most part writing is a solitary act. Though I do have the advantage to continue the process with collaboration from actors within workshopping and rehearsals... which (for a new work) I count as part and parcel o my writing process.


Lou Sytsma said...

Enjoyed the story! Congrats to all three of you!

Carol Weekes said...

Hey Mark,

You can collab on a piece of writing with me any time - I love your sense of detail and your passion for the written word. Once the academic 'rush' settles down for both of us (okay, for me, it'll settle down at Christmas...) but that's besides the point...I have some pieces here that you can collab on, if you're up to it. Just say the word - one is a novella I'm about 15k into, if you'd like to jump onboard.