Collaborative Writing – how to avoid burnout and soar with creative excitement

Squeezed out.

That’s how you feel.

Like a lemon when pressure is applied from all sides.

The never-ending pace of everyday life, expectations, stress, to do lists piling up – life is all about giving. In this state, inspiration is a paradise island you’ll never be able to afford.

An effective antidote? Collaboration.

Working with creative people will provide the energy and inspiration to make you soar.

And while in other industries it’s common to sit down at a table with many creatives, a writer is joined at his desk only by me myself and I.

Directing film and stage shows, I thrive on the creativity and energy other people bring. Recently, writers have picked this drug up and even pronounced this year the year of collaboration. Movements like “Writers on a train” begin to emerge.

But beware, dear writer: your days in the creative wilderness might have made you an incompetent collaborator.

Let’s look at 5 important things to consider to make collaborative writing work for you.

1. Why collaborative writing sustains inspiration

For almost 80 years, Harvard studied the lives of 268 sophomores – one of the world’s longest studies on adult life. They found that of all things, relationships are what make a happy life.

“Loneliness kills. It’s as powerful as smoking or alcoholism.”

Robert Waldinger

So while you might enjoy your lonely hours at the writing desk, creative relationships are the ultimate antidote to writer’s block.

This is how it works when you’re a director:
The idea starts in your head.

But the result is the work of many creative people combined.

The room sparks with energy when you sit down with passionate creative individuals and discuss a story, throw ideas in the air only to be picked up by others and transformed into something amazing.

You feel like space engineers, embarking on a problem solving journey.

“It’s not only the things you learn along the way, but the amazing people you get to work with.“

Ron Howard

Creative loneliness is often the writer’s decease. This is why she lacks inspiration and is blocked.

Do you need a new wave of inspiration and creative energy? Embark on a problem solving journey with other writers, and this process of discovery will inspire you in ways you never thought possible.

2. How to give power to organic creativity

Collaboration can be painful.

If you’ve been stuck in the creative wastelands for long, it’s easy to get stuck. Possesiive. Consider your output the only acceptable truth.

But as soon as you try to enforce your own ideas in a creative collaboration, you’ll lose the spontaneity and organic creativity, says Ron Howard.

director In a collaboration

As the director of a huge crew of creatives, he knows his way around leading a creative team. On his set, he is always willing to say ‘yes’, be open to other ideas instead of editing them as long as they serve the purpose of the overall scene or story.

Only if you revel in the excitement of collaboration and have an open mind for all the different ideas will you sustain the priceless organic creativity that collaborative writing offers.

As Starbucks founder Howard Schulz puts it: People don’t want to be managed, they want to be part of something bigger than themselves. They want to see themselves valued and appreciated.

And if you consider not your own ideas – but the overall story – as the big purpose that holds it all together, you will be able to appreciate every suggestion and thrive in a collaboration.

3. The one common standard of collaborative writing

In Starbucks, there was only one standard for every single team member.

By creating the atmosphere that suggested: we are building something that’s langer than ourselves and valuing everyone’s participation and opinion, Schulz could establish a common goal.

And he would demonstrate that he worked harder towards that goal than everybody else.

collaborative writing in Starbucks

What was that standard?


If a collaborating team is to be driven by excellence, it’s important to establish a common goal – aka the story – and demonstrate that you are willing to work harder than everybody else.

Writing is work.

And a writing collaboration needs a strong work ethics to create an amazing story.

4. Kurosawa’s Power Triangle

The legendary director Akira Kurosawa swore by the power triangle: Working in teams of three produces the strongest results.

Which makes sense, because ideas can be voted quickly in or out. It doesn’t mean that you can’t collaborate with another author. But having a collaboration of three makes it work even smoother.

power triangle of collaborative writing

5. What to look for in a co-writer

James Patterson considers collaborative writing a combination of strengths.

When searching for a co-writer he advises to look for someone who is able to write convincing scenes. Because this is what you’ll be doing: writing scenes.

Also, this person has to be willing to do their research on everything. This will make their writing deeper.

When deciding on a co-writer, he also recommends working with someone who is either willing to adapt their style or has a similar style to yours in order to avoid unnecessary conflict.

Now that we’ve looked into the principles, let’s learn from Patterson’s practical collaboration process.

He writes an outline and send it to his cowriter(s). Patterson wants them to be involved into the outlining process for two reasons: because they might have good ideas and because he wants them to be invested in the story.

The hardest part of the initial process is finding the voice of the characters and of the story. Once you have that established, it’s much easier to adapt the scenes.

Patterson recommends to regularly send writing back and forth to avoid too much rewriting. His co-writers write ten chapters, send them over. The next day, Patterson instantly gives feedback so that the process does not stall. This way, they can stop things if something’s wrong or he can say: good, keep going.

Start with an experiment.

collaborative writing

Commit to collaborating this year at least once. Even if just for the sake of FOMO.

Maybe, you’ll end up with a relationship that will nourish your creativity for years to come. Or you’ll just receive new inspiration, energy, and practical ideas.

On some days, I just love sipping coffee with another creative and talk about ideas. Just ideas.

On others, I love inviting people into my process.

There is no downside. You’ll only learn. Make your world richer. Emerge from the experience like a freshly picked lemon an a sunny Sunday afternoon.

Full of creative juice.



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