Monday, August 6, 2007

Writing partnerships

My writing partner and I have been working for six months on a script we’re both absolutely passionate about. And it shows. Yesterday we spent three hours battling over one scene. It literally almost came to fisticuffs. It was a sight to be seen: Two grown men raising their voices and gesturing wildly at each other about the importance of a beat. Does the antagonist turn this way or that? Does he shout hysterically or whisper threateningly?

Because we both have so much invested in the script already, and because we’re both such pig-headed egomaniacs, the struggle felt a bit like the fight scene in Casino Royale on the high-rise crane. In the end we came to an agreement. Hanging by our fingernails above the abyss, we both realized what would be best for the story and that it no longer mattered who had thought of it first, if either of us even had.

The experience made me realize yet again what a fascinating and wonderful thing a writing partnership is. It’s a bit like the best and worst of friendship and family relations all compressed into one task-oriented blitzkrieg. But it’s a professional relationship, so you’re constantly aware of the stakes when conflicts arise. This forces you to make choices where you might otherwise avoid them.

When you write on your own, until you’ve completed something you feel comfortable asking people to read, you only have your own creative and critical faculties to rely on and contend with. But when you work together with another writer, you’re exposed much earlier in the creative process. It’s as if right from the get-go there’s an angry mob in the room, and they’re all shouting at you. By far the most demanding task under these circumstances is to remain true to the story rather than to try and prove you’re right. You have to leave your ego in the vestibule along with your coat.

Of course, you strive to do this even if you’re writing on your own, but in a writing partnership everything is much more explicit and unavoidable. Which is an unqualified advantage, even though it can initially appear threatening. Like most writers who haven’t had this experience, I never imagined I’d be able to function creatively in a situation where I would constantly have to share my “process.” But fate put the opportunity on my path and advised me to at least take stab, and I’m glad I did.

I wouldn’t be surprised if we eventually decide to scrap the scene we argued so heatedly about. But if we do, you can be sure it will be for the sake of the story.

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