What Co-Authors Can Teach Us About Collaboration

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Beyond exquisite corpse games, I’ve never collaborated writing with anyone else. I’ve seen many spoken word performances that are collaborated pieces – sometimes new compositions, sometimes a mash-up of two or more writers’ finished pieces. The effect is almost always greater than the sum of their parts: two or more poets, each forces of art in her own right, creating a momentary shared voice. Although I’ve scripted some of my own pieces for multiple performers, I’m clueless how to share creation. So I was intrigued when I learned my colleague Joyce Yarrow was collaborating on a novel with Arindam Roy.

Ms. Yarrow is a talented poet, and her Jo Epstein Mystery Series is a delightful addition to the murder mystery genre (how could I not love a slam poet slash private investigator?). In today’s LA Review of Books, Ms. Yarrow brings us behind the curtain to see first-hand how the collaboration took shape. Her essay One Click Away is an must-read, and not just for writers. As she outlines the development of their working relationship, her insights are lessons in collaboration in any professional setting when a team of talented people will not always agree.

“As in any collaboration, there was a lot of give and take (read full-on tug of war) with two strong personalities digging in their heels. Every now and then voices were raised, in the form of capital letters typed in the IM window, as we learned how to compromise.”

What seems to have worked for Ms. Yarrow and Mr. Roy are three key traits applicable to all collaborations:

  • shared vision and goal
  • mutual respect
  • knew their own strengths and weaknesses

These can be hard for less-experienced collaborators. Passion and ego can cloud our best intentions, adding time to projects, sometimes even tanking them entirely. Ms. Yarrow’s essay is an inspiring reminder to serve the vision and not oneself.

“Once we learned how to stay out of each other’s way, the book took shape.”

The fruit of their labor is scheduled for release this year from Indian press Vitasta Publishing.

Treat yourself to a fascinating read of the complete essay over at LA Review of Books.

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