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The Concept of Collaboration

“Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.” ~ Helen Keller

Towards the end of a ten-week screenwriting class in New York City, a classmate told me she liked my work and that she wanted to collaborate on a screenplay with me. She was a student at one of the top acting programs in the nation and she had dreams of one day producing her own television show. Not only was she a warm person, her screenplay was awesome. Still… although I politely told her yes, my insides screamed, “NO!”

Helping hands collaboration on a project.There were a slew of reasons (aka excuses) that justified my reaction:

“No! I’m a creative fiction writer not a screenwriter.”
“No! Writing is a solitary act and not a collaborative act.”
“No! To be an artist, you must work solo.”

This woman went on to create many collaborative works with other artists and now works as an actress in prime-time television and is a director.

Even after that lesson, it took me a couple of years to understand “collaboration”. My view of collaboration was so skewed I did not realize that every single workshop class I ever took was a form of collaboration. I did not even recognize that my tenure with my improv troupe was, indeed, strongly dependent on collaboration. In fact, I was such a skeptic that I stopped being polite when asked to collaborate and simply said no.

Earlier this year, a writer-mentor-friend that had asked me to collaborate in the past (which I, of course, told him no) approached me again with an opportunity to collaborate. I had been in a creative rut for over a month and I finally accepted, figuring I needed something (anything) to jump-start my creative engine.

We took a story I had written about one object and completely remixed it into a poem about another object while still keeping the context of the original object. The thought process, the next-level thinking, and the excitement led that piece from being a mediocre story to one of my proudest pieces thus far.

A third person joined the collaboration and provided the perfect picture to represent our poem. Our piece was actually a part of a larger collaborative effort that ended up displaying the talent of eight different artists. That effort taught me that there is great reward in working with someone beside myself.

Ideas, changes, words, and worlds can expand, morph, or fly with the input of others.

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  1. You’ve captured that feeling of sacred authorship so well, Sakinah – it’s almost like not wanting your kids to play at someone else’s house for fear you won’t recognise them when they come back then being surprised they’re much better people for the experience! Or nothing like that! But that control need, I recognise that. I also recognise the benefits of collaborating – it goes beyond the work and makes us better people, I think. Great article.

  2. Brave and true. A piece that shows how Artist and Writer have all too often been associated with concepts such as “rugged individualist.” But like Ringo Starr says, I get by with a little existential self-reflection among friends. Thinking about the important things in public is one of the greatest gifts to have. Hofler has the gift.

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