We’re naturally drawn to gossip. Writing rivals? Intriguing. Feuds with publishers? Tell me more. Drama over book awards? Let me pull up my seat.
But working together with other writers to create truly unexpected pieces of creative work?
Yawn. No one wants any of that.
Yet in times where social media trolling is rife, tensions are high and creativity naturally feels stifled, there are times when we could all do with lifting each other up rather than looking for more reasons to tear each other down. Staring at the same four walls is hardly inspiring when alone, which is why I feel collaboration has been such a lifeline for me during lockdown.
When Mari Ellis Dunning and I started writing poems together, neither of us were sure where it would lead – if, of course, it would lead anywhere at all. We knew our styles were similar and that we both had great interest in the same subjects. It helped too that we were already friends and could have honest conversations with each other as well as offer unsolicited support. We both loved turning myth and fairytale on its head, and giving voices to marginalised or stereotyped female voices in literature.
So, we thought, what if we put our creativity together and allowed these female literary characters to start talking to each other? Where could two minds take one poem?
We first tried with the Rapunzel story, each taking a separate character and then swapping to change and edit sections. Then we swapped again to make further edits before reflecting together on the outcomes.
The results were surprising, and we were delighted once we’d both resolved each comment in the Google Doc and moved the work into the ‘Completed’ folder. We couldn’t wait to get started on the next two poems, and quickly created another two documents to work on together.
With that, our debut collaborative book, The Wrong Side of the Looking Glass, was born.
Working Together to Overcome Writer’s Block
You know how it is when you hit a dreaded period of writer’s block: you never know quite how long it’s going to last. It could be days. It could be months. Hell, it could be years.
We beg for our muse to appear in some enigmatic form, descending through the (imaginary) clouds on its proverbial steed and an air of grandeur. However, anyone who works creatively will know that this simply doesn’t happen. The muse is a stubborn beast and the more we cry for it, the more it smiles wryly and stays put in its castle in the clouds.
Yet, we’ve got fountains of creativity around us which we can call upon at any time – and I’m not talking about taking fifteen minutes to strut about the garden. There’s only so long you can squint at a patch of geraniums in disgruntled silence.
I’m talking here about reaching out to your fellow creatives. Whether they’re writers, artists, musicians or dancers, there are ways you can work with a range of creative talents to inspire you and get you seeing the world from a new perspective.
Because that’s what we see when we’re inspired. We see things in a new light. And bringing another creative mind into the picture is a sure-fire way to make that happen.
How to Start Collaborating Creatively
Are you part of a writing group? Do you have university or work friends who also write, paint or make music? Perhaps you have good rapport with people you interact with often on social media.
Reach out to them and suggest working together. Just don’t take yourselves too seriously; creativity relies on the playfulness of your inner child, not the self-consciousness of your adult self and its heavy expectations.
For example, you may have a friend who’s a great artist. Ask them to create a piece of art for you to respond to with a piece of writing and vice versa so that you’re both using your own unique skills to interpret each other’s work.
Voila! In that piece of art, you can instantly see your own work through someone else’s eyes and a new perspective. Bring them together as an illustrated poem and you have a piece of work that would never have been created had you not come together.
Beats staring at the patio any day.
Working Together for the Future
The opportunities with this are limitless. In the past few months I’ve collaborated with writers, artists and translators to create totally new works. I was recently part of The National Waterfront Museum’s Datgloi project with Aneirin Karadog, the result of which saw us interact with people in Swansea via Twitter to turn their lines into brand new poems in English and Welsh to be displayed at the museum. These poems captured people’s experiences of lockdown and brought together perspectives totally different from our own. The poem I wrote would never have been written had it not been for the input of others.
In future, I’m looking forward to working with more writers, artists and musicians. I’ll be facilitating drop-in poetry sessions at business events to encourage more people to get involved with poetry and to turn their creations into a full-length collaborative poem. I’ve even seen projects which pair poetry with dance.
The possibilities are endless.
It won’t always work. Sometimes forms and styles don’t work so well together and that’s okay. You still have your own unique work and you can still support each other on your journeys. Just because your styles don’t quite click so well together doesn’t mean you’re both hopeless. (Put it this way: pizza and ice cream are great in their own right, but you wouldn’t want to serve a pepperoni and jalapeños on a sundae.)
The creative and arts industries are tough as it is without tearing each other down or cutting ourselves off. There’s enough bitter comparison and toxicity in our society without depriving ourselves of something that could contribute to our artistic development.
Reach out to your fellow creatives. Inspiration is limitless.