Author’s autobiography: Collaboration

Writing is usually seen as a solitary occupation, and, in large part, it is. Hours spent in front of a screen or a piece of paper hoping that the world does not intrude for a few minutes more so that the end of Kubla Khan can finally be completed. There are times, however, where an author gets to work with others. In my case, the collaborations came in the form of writing lyrics for the bands I was in, an art project and a short animation. In each case, I wrote words that were only part of the finished product. I was constantly interrupted and interrupting my partners as we put together the piece. The words changed, not always willingly, to fit the mood or flow of what we were putting together.

For a writer, the experience of working with others can be trying. Not being used to collaborating, I found it hard to change the lyrics to my songs when the music demanded a different rhythm or meter. Numerous arguments occurred during rehearsals over whether the words or music should change. As often as not, it was the words that changed. We were, after all, writing songs not poems.

Despite enjoying being in band and the lifestyle that allowed me, I thought that I wanted to control my writing, so I went back to writing short stories and poems. During this time, a friend of my girlfriend was curating an art show and wanted her to do something for it. After some discussion, she decided to create a huge illustrated manuscript of one of my stories. We talked about which one to use and could not find one that we thought would work, so I wrote one, a science fiction story set in the post-apocalyptic future about a group kids who find a doorway to another dimension.

Writing the story for my girlfriend to illustrate led me to write in a different way, thinking about the visuals that could go along with the story. Because the text was the main thing in the book, the images were painted afterward and expanded on the words. The collaboration really came in the creation of the book itself. I hand lettered the story on the pages and my girlfriend painted the images.

The animation was a different form of collaboration from the others. It came out of some experiments that a friend started doing with a photo booth in San Francisco. She would bring props into the booth and set up scenes for the three photographs. What came out looked like a piece of film: three images joined together. At first, we were just playing around with the scenes and images without any thought as to what to do with them. Then the idea came to scan them and start to manipulate them using Photoshop and stitch the various images into an animation using an early version of Adobe Premier. As we played with the images, a mood emerged and I began writing a poem to go along with the images.

Despite not having any of the originals for these collaborations, they helped shape my writing in a number of ways. One is an increased attention to the sound of the words from writing lyrics and spoken words in the film. The other is an increased sensitivity to the visual aspect of the words. Not just the visions they evoke, but also how they look on the page. If it were not for Tracey, Jon, Suzanne and Den, I would have remained a solitary writer in my own world. So, where ever you all are, thanks.

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