We can all benefit greatly from studying and practicing the art of collaboration, but it's especially important for creative people to learn to play well with others. How long can you work alone, head down, tunnel-visioning your way through your days? Creativity can't expand in a vacuum, and neither can your creative process. More to the point, are you missing out on work opportunities because you prefer to "travel solo"? If you've never collaborated on a project before, it can be a daunting task. The good news is that getting out of your shell and mixing it up with others can bring fresh inspiration, new ideas and techniques, and help you form bonds that can lead to greater kinship and more work. Sound good? Open your mind and open your door, and let's do this.
- First, do your research. Who, exactly, is your collaborator? You might already be friends with a solid rapport, or you might be total strangers, thrown together by circumstances beyond your control. In any case, you'll want to do some research about your partner(s) before you work together, and understand a bit about their history. Can you pinpoint an element in their past work that you truly love? Articulate it at the beginning of the collaborative process, to put them at ease and let them know that you're psyched about working together. This element could also serve as a reference point if you lose perspective or get stuck along the way.
- Next, do your own pre-production. Gather together a few ideas and/or themes that are currently compelling you, and make a short list of them. Make another list of people whose work is currently compelling you in any genre, and all the idols who directly and indirectly influence your work. Bring a few tools and/ or techniques that you use regularly, and be prepared to share your experiences of them with your partner. Have you had a breakthrough using any of these things? You can describe the event and its subsequent effect on your work.
- Once you're in the same room with your collaborator, ready to work, play around and keep it loose! Remember the first time you made something you loved? How free you felt, and how fun it was, almost like a happy accident? This is the kind of energy you can bring to your collaborations. Get out your list of ideas and themes, look at your partner's list, and shake them up: turn them inside out and upside down. Throw them up in the air and see how they land. Frankenstein a bunch of concepts together, then step back to see what you've made. Does anything stand out as particularly compelling? Isolate that one thing and use it as a starting point for the next round of experiments. Ask open-ended questions about your partner's ideas, and remember to listen more than you speak. Be on the lookout for moments of synergy, when you both seem to arrive at the same discovery simultaneously. If you feel like things are going in the wrong direction, start with something positive to frame your criticism such as, "I really dig this middle section! How can we get the rest of it up to that same standard?". Remember to give sincere compliments and encouragement to your partner if you like what they're doing. Call out specifics that move you, and articulate exactly why.
- Lastly, be conscientious. Understand that everyone's creative process is highly personal and subjective. You might be dedicated to a playlist of 1960's surf-core that revs you up like sonic caffeine when you work, but your collaborator may prefer soothing Satie piano pieces. Be generous and let them choose the music, lighting, and room temperature for awhile. If you have certain snacks that you're devoted to, bring enough for both of you. Above all, stay positive, and be sensitive to your collaborator's energy level. If you sense that a break would be helpful, suggest it. Go for a short walk outdoors together, or step away and be with yourself for a bit. Breathe deeply and release any tension in your body and mind. Believe in your shared work and see it through!