The great wide world of professional writing is a rocky landscape scattered with jobs of all kinds. But if there’s one thing that is more important to remember than anything, it is that there is strength in numbers. And I’m not just talking about 11, 42, and 373. Those are all very strong numbers. I’m talking about writing with other people.
Whether it’s a massive posse all bouncing themes and stories off of each other in a chaotic writer’s room, or just you and someone else quietly tossing the idea ball back and forth, writing in a group can be a rewarding experience. And here are a couple tips on how to make it one.
Write with people who “get” you.
It seems pretty obvious, but it can’t be stressed enough. If you are writing with someone, or a bunch of someones, it is important that everyone in the room has a similar frame of reference. The stuff that the writer’s at The Tonight Show find funny is very different than the pop culture references that are being lampooned in the Jimmy Fallon writer’s room. That being said…
Write with someone whose strengths are different than yours.
While you want to pick other writers to write with that share reference points with you, it is equally important to pick people to write with that excel in areas that you do not, and vice versa. For instance, if you are working on a screenplay and you feel like your strength is in storytelling structure, but you don’t have a great feel for dialogue, pick someone to write with who both gets the world of the screenplay that you are writing, but also has a flair for penning the spoken word.
Good friends do not necessarily mean good writing partners.
This is a lesson almost always learned the hard way. You and that best bud/buddette of yours love to joke around and have a great time. You have a million inside jokes together, and it suddenly dawns on you that you could make a skrillion bucks writing something fabulous together. You sit down and start to pull out a story and you hit a wall. Now, you feel weird making demands because they’re your friend. Or if a joke isn’t landing, you don’t want to say anything because it might hurt their feelings. Or if you both write something that you think is hysterical, maybe it’s a joke that only the two of you will get. That’s not to say that good friends can’t ever write together. Sometimes it works, but it’s a tricky track to tread.
Choose a leader.
We’re not talking Sherriff Rick in The Walking Dead, here. It isn’t quite that deep. But anytime you get a bunch of opinionated people in a room together, there has to be someone in charge of the conch shell. It should usually be the one with the most experience. And just because they are the “leader” doesn’t even necessarily mean that they should have more say. They may just be better at organizing ideas from numerous sources at once, then reorganizing them into a coherent, linear form.
Trust, trust, trust.
Truly great ideas can blossom in a group writing environment, but only if there is a lot of trust in the room. Writing makes a person vulnerable, because those incredible ideas usually come from a deep and personal place. And if there are a bunch of people mining that stuff at the same time, there can be some remarkable ally-oops. But that can only happen if everyone in the room feels safe sharing ideas that may or may not work. You have to be comfortable falling on your face in front of these people. Repeatedly.
So go out there, round up some of the most creative people you know, and lock yourselves in a room for a weekend with a sack of hamburgers and a two liter of Mountain Dew. You might be pleasantly surprised with what you come out with on the other side!
Have you ever done group writing?