Ask Dayton #90 on the G and T Show: “Playing Well With Others”

After a brief hiatus for the holidays, Nick Minecci, Terry Lynn Shull and Mike Medeiros are back with another scintillating episode of the Sunday G and T Show, where they talk about Star Trek storytelling in all its myriad forms, along with the occasional side trip into whatever squirrel crosses Nick’s path.

Until I get to hear the replay later today or tomorrow, I won’t know what all was discussed, though I hope at least some time was spent on the subject of this week’s “Ask Dayton” query. Why? Well, it’s a topic of some interest to me, as it turns out. Some of the most fun I’ve had writing has come in collaboration with my hetero life mate, Kevin Dilmore, as well as the opportunities I’ve had to work with other writers on larger projects, such as Star Trek: Vanguard or Corps of Engineers, or Mere Anarchy or the Typhon Pact books, or the recently concluded miniseries Star Trek: The Fall. Then there are the editors who oversee all of that chaos. It’s the people behind all of this stuff that make the work so rewarding.

It’s because I’ve experienced the highs and lows of working in tandem with others that I felt pretty sure of myself when I tackled this week’s “Ask Dayton” question. Also…two writing-related questions in a row? You go, G&T Show audience.

Dear Dayton,

Some of our listeners are beginning to get involved in wonderful projects — everything from audio dramas to prose fiction to video/film projects. For people who aren’t used to working in a creative environment with others I thought you would have a great perspective on the collaborative process, seeing as though you frequently work with Kevin Dilmore.

Besides the obvious challenges of writing with someone else, what are the challenges of collaborating with another person that you found surprising? What advice can you give those who are listening who might be looking to work with others with whom they might not be so familiar?

Thanks, Dayton.

Dayton’s 1st Rule of Collaboration – The work comes first.

Dayton’s 2nd Rule of Collaboration – Check your ego at the door.

Dayton’s 3rd Rule of Collaboration – The fucking work comes first, so check your fucking ego at the door.

Collaboration can be rewarding as all hell, provided everyone involved has the right mindset. Otherwise? It’s liable to be an utter train wreck.

Any sort of team effort usually means—to one degree or another—subordinating one’s personal needs to whatever’s required to reach the shared goal du jour. When it comes to writing, collaboration is definitely something of a different animal than going it alone. When working with a partner or a group, “flexibility” has to be your watch word.

Flexibility: Learn it. Know it. Live it.

For example: Perhaps you write at a pace different from that of your colleagues. That’ll take some get used to, but then again…they all write differently than you, so there’s room for give and take, right? Or, maybe there needs to be discussion over who will write what, if the work is distributed evenly among all participants, or if one or two people will shoulder most of the grunt writing work once the story’s laid out while others stand by to edit, revise, or critique. These are the sorts of things that have to be nailed down before work gets underway, and they have to be understood and agreed upon by everyone so that there’s no confusion, hurt feelings, accusations or other drama later on.

And while we’re at it, “collaboration” most certainly does not mean, “Hey, I have this great idea. You write the book, and we’ll split the money.” Fuck that noise. Do you know how many writers have been hit with some variation of that bullshit? Conservatively speaking? Every writer who’s ever lived. I don’t need someone else’s idea for a book. I’ve got plenty of my own; more than I’ll ever have time to write. Ideas are like assholes: Everybody has one, and most of them are shitty.

Personally, I enjoy the collaborative process, but that’s probably because I learned to appreciate the virtues of solid teamwork long before I ever started writing. To me, brainstorming ideas for stories and breaking things down for people to tackle as part of a larger effort is second nature; just an extension of the way I’ve approached tasks and assignments my entire life. I also understand that not everyone feels the same way I do, but I really don’t care.

When you decide that you’re going to be part of a collaboration, you agree that the team and its joint goal is what’s important. Such group efforts are not served by lone, rogue heroes or one-man bands. If someone can’t wrap their head around that idea, then in my mind they really have no business entering into any sort of collaboration. They’d be doing everybody else in the equation a favor by going off somewhere and playing in their own corner.

In short? As with so many other things, collaboration benefits from a focused application of Wheaton’s Law: “Don’t be a dick.”

Now, as far as any surprises I may have encountered, I suppose my biggest learning curve so far as collaborative writing came when I (or Kevin and I, if we’re teaming up) began working with one or more other writers on different books within a miniseries or ongoing series. This is partnering on a whole other level, beyond just the needs of a single story. However, the basic rules are the same. Not only will prima donna behavior not win you a lot of love from your fellow collaborators, but now you have editors and publishers being unimpressed with your antics, as well. It’s not high on their list of fun shit to deal with when you’re trying to submit your own original novel or short story or whatever.

Remember what I said about Wheaton’s Law? Exactly.

Let’s say, for an example, that we have a publisher who puts out several books a year under a common banner or—dare I say it—“franchise name,” which often calls for the writers to work together even though they’re writing separate books. You know, putting into motion plot or character threads which might not be picked up for a book or two, or making sure that everyone’s writing is consistent within the rules of the established “universe” as well as any parameters which may be in play for a particular project. All of this, too, is a form of collaboration, and it requires an attention to flexibility and commitment to the larger goal than what you might already be putting forth while working with others on a single story. Why do you think editors of such material tend to work with the same people over and over? It’s because they like people who can do all these sorts of things, turn in good work on time, and not be inflamed self-important assholes about any and all of the above.

Remember what I said about Wheaton’s Law? Whoomp. There it is. Again.

Besides, when you collaborate and are part of a successful team, you tend to get help paying for pizza, booze, and hookers.

Play on, boys and girls.

This question and its answer was read during G&T Show Episode #125 on January 5th, 2014. You can hear Nick read the answers each week by listening live, or check out the replay/download options when the episode is loaded to their website: The Sunday G&T Show. Listeners are also encouraged to send in their own questions, one of which will be sent to me each week for a future episode.

And as we enter yet another new year, I once again thank Nick, Terry and Mike as well as the audience for continuing to make me a part of their show.

One thought on “Ask Dayton #90 on the G and T Show: “Playing Well With Others”

  1. Exactly. Paula and I essentially ALWAYS write together. That doesn’t mean we start out by sitting together. We have a tried and true technique: One of us will write the column or the chapter, then give it to the other who tears it apart and writes it very different and gives it back to the first who “repairs the damage” and gives it back to be rewritten again, and so on for four to six passes through each set of hands until, suddenly, both say, “Jeez, that’s pretty good.” It’s simple and it works. Do we ever argue about the changes to one of our versions? Sure. Of course. That’s what leads to explaining to one another what the intention is so that we both know where we’re going. It’s a great system that has worked for us for over twenty years and millions of published words. Try it, you’ll like it.


Lay it on me.

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