Monday, June 04, 2007

Then Again, There's Always Archduke Ferdinand

This entry will be a two-fer, if I can get through it in a reasonable amount of time. I've already had four hours of sleep, so I've got a shot as a decent total if I don't go overboard now.

1. "That guy who shot Archduke Ferdinand"

I mentioned the Weekend Assignment to husband John over the weekend, about taking one person out of history for the greater good. He came up with the above response. Initially at least, it sounds like a better answer than the one that Kate, Ariel and I settled on. John's remark was prompted in part by this voiceover by the Doctor, toward the end of the Doctor Who episode "The Family of Blood":

In June, 1914, an Archduke of Austria was shot by a Serbian. And this then led, through nations having treaties with nations, like a line of dominoes falling, to some boys from England walking together in France on a terrible day.

(I can see I need to write much more extensively about "Human Nature" and "The Family of Blood", but I think I'll put it in my underused LiveJournal, where I can hide spoilers "below the cut." But not tonight.)

According to a Wikipedia article, though, the Causes of World War I were more complex than that. (Aren't they always?) The "guy" in question, one Gavrilo Princip, was part of a group of six assassins, with support from members of the Serbian military. Beyond that there were all sorts of built up tensions and diplomatic failures. Bottom line: the Great War would probably have happened anyway, even without Gavrilo Princip. Oh, well. It was worth looking into, anyway.

2. Some Other Room:

Behold the New Writer's Weekly Question #2:

Have you ever worked in a writer's room? If so, what was it like and what were some of the dynamics that made it work, or not work. Was it a conducive environment for true creativity?

If not, would you want to work in a writer's room for a tv show or other endeavor like this? If so, why do you find it engaging? If not, why? Do you believe that true creativity can be attained in such an environment (since you've never worked in one, your answer will be theoretical, of course).

In answer to the first part, no. I've never been part of a roomful of professional writers, brainstorming for some television series. That said, let's move on to the theoretical part of it. I see that as having two major components, which I will address separately:

1. Does your writing benefit from a collaborative process?

I've had collaborators on basically one type of project, and it was non-fiction. Teresa Murray and I used to interview actors, writers and producers as a team, both asking questions as Teresa (and occasionally her twin sister Tracy) recording the answers. Teresa usually did most of the transcribing, which I then edited. For our Starlog articles, we pulled a few all-nighters and took turns at the Mac, turning the raw interview into a proper profile.

I'm not sure I would do it again. Teresa was good, and we worked well together, but I think it was stressful for both of us.

I know for darn sure that I wouldn't do a collaboration on fiction, at least not on entire story. I wrote I think three Ficlets a couple of months back, which are designed to be collaborative. Each of these "short short stories" is meant to be the inspiration for one of more mini-sequels that anyone can write. But of the several sequels people did to my Ficlets, only one really worked for me, none were what I had in mine, and all of them were stressful for me. There was nothing inherently wrong with them; I just couldn't handle other people playing in my sandbox. So I stopped writing Ficlets, although I will probably give it another shot at some point. (Okay, I just wrote one. There.) I suspect that if there's ever Mâvarin fan fiction, I'm not going to enjoy reading it.

However, outside input can be helpful. I'm constantly bouncing ideas off Sara or (less frequently) Sarah, and pay attention to suggestions by Paul and Julie and Wil and Linda. Other people see things that I don't, know things that I don't, and get provide a perspective that's simply not available inside my own head. The problem, as I've found with that darn DAW cover letter is that the combination or too many viewpoints and my own insecurities can backfire, confusing me and halting my progress for a time. That's essentially what happened at Clarion ''77, not just to me but to the workshop as a whole. By Week 6, nearly everyone stopped writing, discouraged by contradictory, often negative feedback.

2. Can you work effectively in a group setting?

As an accountant, I work in a cubicle these days, rather than the "hermit cave" I had at my previous job. Generally speaking I prefer to work alone, but I like being able to consult with others as needed. There's something surprising pleasant and collegial about standing around discussing accounting principles - not that this happens very much, but I like it when it happens.

In the writing arena, I wouldn't care to do an actual story, sketch, script or what-have-you as part of a group effort, for reasons outlined above. Nevertheless, group brainstorming can be helpful and inspiring. After church today I sat at Coffee Hour at St. Michael's, making the acquaintance of the husband of the head of the Creative Writing department at the University of Arizona. No slouch himself, this guy has traveled with the White House Press Corps, and with candidate Bill Clinton (who apparently likes to play Hearts at 2 AM), and written for Smithsonian Magazine and other science publications. When other parishioners heard this, they wanted to put him to work, getting people to write for the church newsletter (and, as I pointed out, the church blog). He was left trying to gracefully decline the request, but the basic idea was sound. He and I also discussed my cover letter issue, and I found that helpful. For a few minutes there, the Parish Hall almost was a writers' room of sorts, fun and stimulating, albeit chaotic and easily sidetracked.

Even so, as with the accounting work, as with the Clarion Writer's Workshop, as with my friends and beta readers, as with the Ficlets, that group input is something that really only works for me on a limited basis, at certain stages of the process. For the actual writing I need to fly solo, ignoring most of what other people said and taking only what I can use. I suspect that's what happens with the writers who work in actual writers' rooms. They make brainstorm together, get and give notes, bounce ideas off each other and contribute the occasional gag, but at some point I suspect most of them leave the room, singly or in pairs, and just write the darn sketch on their own.


1 comment:

julie said...

I'm with you - collaboration is stressful indeed. I know some teams that do it well, and I admire them for that.