Writing Collaborations: What’s the Goal?

This weekend, I’ve been collaborating on a short play writing project with one of my students. We have a finished draft on a fun and meaningful script which I plan on using in my new show coming up in April.

It’s been a while since I’ve collaborated with students on a creative writing piece. I used to do it all the time. In fact, these type of collaborations are what kick-started my writing career. I have many students to thank, because they helped me to just write and put my work out there.

This weekend, I’m writing with a student who has never written a play before. She came up with the idea for the play and I helped to formulate it into scenes. We each took different scenes to write and then there’s the process of combining them together, editing, adding new ideas, and the general non-stop revisions which are needed. I’m excited to see the final product of this script.

This endeavor got me thinking: what’s the goal of this type of writing collaboration? A new writer with an experienced writer.

Here’s how I approach it. I, first, want the idea to originate with the new writer. I wanted her to have ownership in the process because I know how I can be: I get an idea and I can’t stop until it’s done. This allows a new writer to catch-up to my overbearingness, so to speak.

The new writers are typically reluctant to edit my work. That’s understandable, but I want to make it clear that there is no hierarchy in this collaboration. There’s only one goal: write a quality piece. That’s it.

That means that I will edit the new writer’s scenes thoroughly. I’ll make additions. Suggestions. Give feedback. Get feedback. And, invariably, the new writer comes back with “yes, yes, yes, that’s so much better. yes.” I’m not a better writer than they are. I just have more experience. I’ve also produced 25 shows. I know visually how the dialogue will look on-stage.  I know what will work, what will sound authentic, and what won’t.

My goal is for the new writer to see my entire process and, hopefully, learn from it. Then they get their name as a co-writer in the playbill which is always fun. And, if they act, which they almost always do, I let them star in their own play if they so choose.

What’s important in the process, at least for me, is not to settle for less quality because a writer is new. I will push them, I will encourage them, I will ruthlessly edit their stuff in order to make the piece better. An okay piece will not be acceptable to me if it can be a great piece, because I’m putting my name on it as well.

I guess what I’m saying is: don’t dumb it down. Keep the standard high.

I had a past school principal who said that the lost practice of kids and parents eating supper together every night has hurt the kids’ development. They need to hear adult conversations. They need to be able to ask questions. Wonder what that word means. It’s one of the ways they grow and learn.

This is exactly how I view writing collaborations with students. I hope my intent is reached with this one.

This is going to be a good play. It’s entitled: “Why Leaves Change Color.”