Episode 2: Collaboration

Date published: 7/6/2019
Written by: Wil Williams, Katie Youmans, Anne Baird
Produced by: Wil Williams

We’re taught so often that art is a solitary practice. We’re taught artists are introverts, sole creators of their work, and that the influence of others always diminishes their vision. On this episode of Scoring Magic, we’ll tell you why that’s a whole mess of hogwash.

Scoring Magic is presented by Hug House Productions. You can support us for behind-the-scenes details and early previews of upcoming projects on Patreon.

Support Scoring Magic by donating to the tip jar: https://tips.pinecast.com/jar/scoring-magic

Transcript

WIL

Group work is the worst.

KATIE 

So–why would we willingly subject ourselves to this? Why collaborate on a creative project like an audio drama?

ANNE

On this episode of Scoring Magic, we talk about why we chose to collaborate and how that collaboration has helped us.

WIL

I’m Wil.

KATIE

I’m Katie.

ANNE

And I’m Anne.

KATIE

And this is Scoring Magic, a documentary following us step-by-step as we create an audio drama together. If you haven’t listened to episode 1, pause this and come back when you’re caught up.

[Intro music]

WIL

Before we get into the meat of this episode, let’s do some housekeeping. Here’s what we accomplished since episode 1 was recorded.

ANNE

We locked down some social media accounts for the audio drama, which we found a name for: VALENCE, and we made cover art for it. We claimed a Twitter URL, an Instagram, and a Tumblr. We also set up WordPress URLs and a Patreon account, which…by the time this episode releases will have already launched!

KATIE

We announced Scoring Magic–and in so doing, snuck in an announcement for VALENCE too. We made the websites public, and we posted announcements on social media. We set up a few fun preliminary posts on twitter using TweetDeck, a tool that lets you schedule tweets ahead of time for multiple accounts.

WIL

I wrote out the story beats of the first book’s plot so we could see what could be edited and what needed to be added. This resulted in us nixing one character and adding another.

ANNE

If that all sounds like a lot, that’s because it is!

WIL

With that out of the way, let’s talk about why I wanted to collaborate with Anne and Katie.

[Transition sting]

WIL

I’ve always been the one in the group project to do everything. I was also the only English Education major in my cohort who didn’t get excited for creative writing classes when I had to take them. It wasn’t that my creative writing classmates would give feedback that was hard to stomach–it was that their feedback sucked. There were never enough specifics–or, if there were specifics, it was always about their personal taste versus why something does or doesn’t work.

I had this idea in my head that I worked best alone, no matter what kind of project I was working on. The problem was that…I actually don’t. I am a huge extrovert and I have a tendency of being too self-defeating. I can be a really big perfectionist, but my perspective isn’t always educated enough to know how to take the next step on something. And I just have so little time.

When I decided I wanted to work with people, Anne and Katie, who I’ve known for only over a year now, were the first people who came to mind. The two are moderators on a Discord server I run, they’ve played a tabletop roleplaying game featuring the characters from the story, and I already knew that Anne and Katie fundamentally understood not just the book but, more importantly, the characters.

KATIE

Our initial exposure to the story was through the major characters showing up in our tabletop game as major NPCs. Anyone who’s played a great game with a skilled GM will tell you how easy it is to get attached to those NPCs. So, when Wil mentioned the books those characters came from…well, you can guess what happened next.

[recording]

ANNE

Yeah we both had the same initial interaction with it, which was your Monster of the Week roleplaying game.

WIL

Mhmm, yeah, um, the main characters from those novels became nonplayer characters in that campaign mostly because I was lazy and didn’t want to make new characters [laugh]

KATIE

That’s extremely valid though.

WIL

And then, I think a little bit into the-into the campaign I had mentioned that they were characters from a novel, and then given you all access to that novel, and the novel was never published or anything, but I think at that point, that’s when you read the story in its original version in full?

KATIE

Yes, yeah.

ANNE

Yup…’cause we’re gremlins. You gave us the first book and then we all made grabby hands at you and said, “please give us more, we want it.”

KATIE

Yeah, you told us there was more information, and…

ANNE

Yup.

[All laugh]

KATIE.

My favorite was that you were bewildered that we fell in love with your characters-

WIL

I still am

KATIE

-to the point of almost being like no, how dare you, please stop.

WIL

It’s very surreal to me! Like, on one hand, I love those characters because they’re very, very important to me. On the other hand, like, I wrote them very specifically as, like, awful!

[All laugh]

WIL

Some of them are, like, borderline irredeemable in my eyes? Um, so I’m flattered and baffled and worried about the two of you. [laugh]

ANNE

So, yeah, some of them are, uh, just real bad people, but they’re good characters, as in—you wrote them really well. Which is why we love them.

KATIE

Yes.

WIL

Thank you.

[Transition sting]

ANNE

But good collaborators need to be more than just people who share a love for the material. One look at the more passionate and caustic side of fandom interactions on Tumblr or Twitter can make that all too clear.

WIL

I started researching the importance of collaboration, but almost all of what I found on collaborating was in the business world. It took some real digging to find sources on the benefits of collaborating in creative works—maybe because art is considered so singular. Think about the auteur theory in film, how we think of works in cinema as completely conceived by one person versus the actual massive team it takes to make it.

Eventually, I did find a source, in an article on a polytechnical college’s website of all places. In it, author Julius Dobos writes, “These days when teenagers are capable of learning autonomously and producing outstanding results individually, one might wonder just how important collaboration and teamwork really are in the creative industry. Why would a sound designer, a composer, an audio engineer, a video editor, a graphic artist or an animator need to know how to collaborate with others when they can simply do the work alone? Would it not be simpler for them to do what they are trained to do without having to share their ideas, without having to agree to a compromise that satisfies someone else’s tastes, without feeling obligated to give up ideas in order to incorporate the thinking of others into the work?

The key to the answer is the mindset. Looking at it as an obligation, a forced collaboration isn’t going to reveal the many benefits that working in a team has. Rather, it can limit an individual’s ideas and skills to his or her predetermined ideas and skills. But, when collaboration happens organically, the benefits are enormous on many levels. Let’s take a look at the importance of collaboration and teamwork in the creative industry. [. . .] This is one of the biggest gifts a creative producer can receive: the ability to see into another intellect in which solutions work completely differently, yet they produce the desired results.”

We’ll have a link to that in the show notes.

KATIE

Just like in school, a group taking on a project needs to understand how all of the group members work, and their work styles need to complement each other for things to go smoothly, and for the whole to be more than the sum of its parts.

ANNE

No idea exists in a vacuum. Writers, artists, sound designers, actors–they all draw inspiration from media they’ve encountered and people they’ve met. Successful collaboration with a team can take an initial idea and help it fulfill its potential. They can tweak and revise, but they can also “Yes, and-” it…not unlike in tabletop campaigns!

WIL

So here’s the problem. I have a tendency of going down anxiety spirals. In the last couple of years I’ve gone to therapy, I’ve started an anxiety medication that helps a lot, but sometimes…that’s not enough to stop it in its tracks. So in our first episode, I referenced the timeline of how I wrote this story. I wrote the first novel for National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, November 2014. For the next NaNoWriMo, I edited the first book. And then, in 2016 National Novel Writing Month, I wrote the second book. The year after that, I…kind of wrote the third. I wrote about fifty percent of a novel that I hated. In 2018, I tried editing books two and three, and I just knew something was wrong. But I didn’t know how to fix it. And so I stopped, and I decided, that’s the end of that, because every time I would think about it, I would go down one of those anxiety spirals. Kind of like the anxiety spiral that happened when we couldn’t figure out a name for this audio drama and it got even worse as we started announcing things.

[Recording]

WIL

Ok. So…Zach and I are in the car—this is the 21st

ZACH

Of May.

WIL

Of May, thank you. 2019. Um, so, we’re driving back—we just got off of work. And today…we announced Scoring Magic.

ZACH

Woo!

WIL

Yeah, um. So. I’m not gonna lie—it was kind of an impromptu decision. Last night I was talking to Anne and Katie, and we were talking about, like, oh man, y’know, we hate keeping secrets, we just wanna tell everybody about everything…and I was like, well hey, we’re recording Tuned In, Dialed Up tonight. Maybe that’s just my exciting thing of the last two weeks, and they were like DO IT! So I did it, and I’m glad that I did it, and I think it’s really exciting, and…we posted on social media, and like, it’s-it’s out there. Um, and it felt really good, for like, the first…like, two to three hours? And then, after that, I just got really panicky and I had a ton of regret and I…felt very-like-embarrassed by the whole thing and very very very tired…

ZACH

Oh…

WIL

Yeah.

ZACH

Ok.

WIL

Yeah. I talked to Anne and Katie about it, and I was like “hey, we weren’t too hasty, right? Like, we really are making this thing and it’s gonna be great and people are going to like it and it’s going to be beneficial and we’re not just gonna, like, not do it?”

And they were like “yeah, no, it’s good for us to talk about it. It’s keeping us accountable.”

And, like…logically, I know all of that? But it’s like…

ZACH

It’s daunting?

WIL

It’s daunting and I just, I have this fear that like, we’re not actually going to make anything. I’ve had so many projects with people fall through at this point—like, so many, and…everything’s so far in the future and…what if it all sucks, y’know? And like, what if we get burnt out? Um…so…yeah.

ZACH

That’s a possibility. That’s also why you try to have a recording schedule in advance and…plan for…like, you-you do things several months in advance so you do have a few months you can always catch up…right?

WIL

Yeah. No, you’re right-you’re right.

ZACH

And also, like…this is normal, right? This is-it’s just like, anxiety rearing its head rather than like, it’s actually going to fail? It’s-you’re just experiencing normal doubt?

WIL

I mean, I don’t know. Like, I don’t-I don’t know what normal doubt feels like, I don’t think. Y’know? Like-

ZACH

This is-I mean-this is usually what I see whenever you’ve started with-after you’ve started a thing is, you always have this period where you feel like this. And you…usually get past it and do the thing.

WIL

Yeah.

ZACH

Usually you just don’t have other people to share it with?

WIL

Yeah, and that is really helping a lot.

ZACH

I have seen you do this…every single time you tried to-every single time you wrote the books, you did-you went through this exact same period…where you started out really strong, then you hated everything, and then you got some reassurance from people and you were a li’l bit better, and then you got a li’l bit burnt out about…three quarters of the way through, and then you got some-then you gave yourself some time, uh, but you had worked hard enough that you were still on schedule, and then…you had a little bit of a resting period and then you got it done on time…and usually had people, like, go back and-usually you didn’t have-like, for the books, you had Aki help, um, edit, but–um our friend Aki writes a good book series, a very wonderful book series…

WIL

Yes.

ZACH

Um, but, um, it wasn’t, like, the same kind of thing as I think this is?

WIL

Yeah.

ZACH

So like, either way, you have two more people, like, full – not full time, but that are as committed as you are to making this work

WIL

…yeah, you’re right.

ZACH

They can help shoulder the burden instead of it just being on you. ‘Cause that’s what you do.

WIL

[laughs]

Yeah.

ZACH

So I think it will turn out differently than when things do fall through with other people. I think three is a li’l bit easier to share the burden with.

WIL

Yeah.

[Transition sting]

KATIE

It’s easy to get stuck in a familiar pattern of thinking. Everyone has done it–convinced themselves that the path they’ve chosen is the only one there is. But that’s where collaboration can save you from a lot of time hitting your head against the same wall. And it’s also easy to let that stuck feeling make you want to set the project aside, fully intending to come back later…and to have that later turn into never. That’s another bonus of collaboration. Having teammates working with you means you don’t get to shelve the project for later/never.

WIL

When I was researching, I put out a call for positive stories about creative collaboration on social media. I was contacted…a lot. I was pretty overjoyed to hear that most people had pretty amazing experiences with collaborating, but the story that stuck out to me most came from Sarah Shachat, who was one of the creators of Wolf359, and one of the inspirations for this podcast, No Bad Ideas.

ANNE

When we reached out to Sarah Shachat about her experiences with collaboration, she spoke about having to be accountable to other people before [she] felt good and ready. She describes the writers’ room for Wolf359 as “a space to fail and ask for help and be an idiot, because everyone else in that room was flailing around too and wouldn’t think any worse of me.”

KATIE

When your personality is about 47% anxiety, that space is such a gift to have, because I promise you, there were some pretty absurd ideas thrown out in the process of picking a title. At one point, we’d decided to forego a title altogether and just have the peach emoji and the fart cloud emoji. That should give you a peek into our emotional state at the time… We did get there eventually, though.

ANNE

Instead of focusing on the device that gave the book its title, we decided to think about other elements of the story that stood out. We knew we wanted something that was one word, had a snappy sound to it, and wouldn’t be an SEO nightmare. We looked at multiple listicles that compiled interesting, beautiful, or weird words in the English language (and yes, there are multiple listicles on that same topic), but none of them felt quite right.

KATIE

“Valence” might sound familiar to those of you who remember chem class. Valence electrons determine the electrical conductivity of an element (which will be relevant later. Just wait…) but they also determine how an atom of one element interacts with other elements. So much of the focus of Valence is on how our protagonist interacts with others, and how he is changed by those interactions.

ANNE

And in psychology, “valence” can also refer to the inherent goodness or badness of a thing, which will also come into play. But that’s enough spoilers for now!

We had our title, and I don’t know that we could have come to it without all three of us working together, bringing our different perspectives, experiences, and knowledge to the table.

WIL

What Sarah sent us really moved us and, instead of us just summarizing, we figured that we’d read it to you in full.

ANNE

Right, some thoughts on collaboration.

KATIE

Man, oh man, is it the worst. 

WIL

At least at first. 

KATIE

As in all things, I’ve found that most people go into school group project scenarios in middle and high school not wanting to seem stupid. Or, you know, in some way wanting to protect themselves. They make fun or just opt out or try and muddle along, or try and Control Everything. It’s almost never about the work; it’s about finding one’s identity and an appropriate level of respect that comes with one’s identity.

ANNE

In school I was the smart one. The one who would lift the group and do the bulk of the work. Honestly it wasn’t even because my groupmates ghosted (though they sometimes did), but because that’s the way I defined myself -by being that person who knew the answer, who was willing to stay the extra hour, who would diplomatically veto cheesy PowerPoint transitions by offering to put in an additional slide. Intelligent. Serious. Focused. A sweet summer child if ever there was one.

WIL

Part of why I’d gravitated to writing in the first place is that I could do it myself. No one had to see what it was until I came out of my cave holding The Golden Idol I had stolen away from all those ancient Peruvian traps and rolling giant boulders and things. I never had to appear to be at a loss because, by definition, a blank page tells no tales. I never had to post anything before I was good and ready. 

ANNE

And that’s I think what finally made the switch flip – having to be accountable to other people before I felt good and ready. After I did a dialog pass/character notes on the three episode “pilot” for Wolf 359, Gabriel asked me if I wanted to come onboard the show as an executive producer of sorts. Almost immediately I said no, no, I’d be happy to read things but that was probably it – leaving unsaid that I thought an executive producer was an important position I’d for sure fuck up. But it was such a fun world that of course he did twist my arm and get me to come “on staff.” Once I was there, there was no hiding.

KATIE

I’m honestly not sure quite when I calmed the hell the down and realized that this collaborative space, this little “writer’s room,” was a gift. A space to fail and ask for help and be an idiot, because everyone else in that room was flailing around too and wouldn’t think any worse of me. 

[Recording]

WIL

Oooohhhh, Director Katie! Love that! Love that!

KATIE

Assistant co!

ANNE

[laughs]

KATIE

I’m not there yet!!

WIL

Anne, what about you?

ANNE

Well, I…have no experience in anything to do with anything that would be relevant to making an audio drama. At all.

KATIE

Yeah, but we’re all too gay to math!

ANNE

That is the one thing I am good at so everything here is, uh, a new adventure for me? Uh- [Laughs]

[Transition sting]

WIL

Now, I’m definitely still a hermit who liked to spend the bulk of my creative time off in a trash cave/NYC apartment alone. But working in collaboration not only allows me to better serve the stories I’m telling by getting to take advantage of a wider, richer perspective, it also gives the group of us basically one of those bowling lanes with the foam bumpers on them. I feel like when I have people around me, I can only go so wrong.

On the next episode of Scoring Magic, we were going to talk about writing someone else’s characters, but we had a pretty exciting development that we wanted to talk to you about first. We’ll tell you about how we found our producer for VALENCE.

Scoring Magic is presented by Hug House Productions. You can find us at HugHouse.Productions, where you can also find how to support us on Patreon.

Our music this week was provided by Broke for Free. You can find the song names and a link in our show notes. And BIG THANK YOU to the wonderful Sarah Shachat, one of the minds behind Fear of Public Shame, the creators of Wolf359, Time Bombs, and No Bad Ideas. We’ll link their works and Sarah’s Twitter in the show description as well.


Credits

Find Sarah Shachat on Twitter, on Fear of Public Shame’s website, on No Bad Ideas, and writing on Wolf 359.

Find Julius Dobos’s article on artistic collaboration here.

“Gold Lining” and “Summer Spliffs” by Broke for Free Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

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