Sunday, February 3, 2013

Why I'm a Terrible, Awful, No-Good, Very Bad Collaborator

This week's theme is collaboration - if we do it and, if so, how to do it well.

I can't tell you how to do it well, because I just don't do it.

I feel kind of bad about it, too.

Pretty much all my life, in one way or another, people have told me I'm not a team player. They've ranged from teachers to athletic coaches to martial arts schools and various other groups. The "team" itself varies significantly, but the message doesn't. Even as a kid, I couldn't help but notice that being a team player meant doing things their way. They try to make the case that this is not what it means, but that's difficult to do when only the person in charge of the team gets to make decisions.

They also say things like, "there is no 'I' in team," which implies you somehow give up your identity to become part of the collective - something that holds no appeal for me, whatsoever. Even that thing couples do at weddings, where they use their own candles to light the single big candle, and then blow out their own? Gives me the heebie jeebies. I always want to stand up and shout, "No! Don't blow out your own candle! Keep your candle aliiiiiivve!"

This is possibly why I don't get invited to many weddings.

In every case I can think of, I was perfectly okay with not being on the person's team. I not only took my ball and went home, I was happier being there where I could read in peace and quiet, anyway.

Which leads to my deep, dark secret. Possibly my tragic flaw.

I'd rather do it my own way.

This is a running joke in my family, dating back to when I was a kid and used words I'd read in conversation. When my parents corrected my pronunciation, I'd often reply that I liked my way better. It wasn't just being stubborn (though that factored in, too) - I'd picked the way I wanted the word to be and it annoyed me that all the other people had picked something else. With a shared language, they kind of force you into being a team player, if you want to get anything done.

(But I still say writhe more like wryth in my head.)

So, I've always felt a little bad about liking things my own way. It's antisocial and not being part of the party. I try to go along with the program when it's low stakes. I'll say the words the way I'm supposed to.

I won't blow out my individual candle, though.

And see - this is the BRILLIANT thing about being a writer. One of the reasons this is a perfect career for me. I get to do it  my way all the time. For hours and hours, I get to be alone in my head, making this little world be exactly what I want it to be.

It's like being released from prison.

After the writing is done - other input factors in. The crit from partners, revisions from the editor, etc. But I still get to decide how I use that input. If someone demanded I make a change - in the name of the publishing house team, perhaps - I really don't know what I'd do.

I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.

In the meantime though, I revel in doing the writing thing my way all the time. I roll around in it like a cat who's broken open her catnip toy and scattered it across the carpet. I'm having FUN.

Which is why I haven't collaborated with anyone. And a couple of people have asked me. I'm sure they'd never ask me to blow out my individual candle and I know in my head that I wouldn't have to do things their way, but my heart says no, no, no. I'm sure it could be rewarding. I know Word-Whores Allison Pang and James Moore do a lot of collaborating and they'll no doubt rhapsodize about the joys of combining creativity.

I'm interested to read about it.

But I still don't want to do it.

I like it better my way.


  1. Oh, this could have been written by me. I've always been stubborn (both my greatest flaw and greatest strength I think) and don't plan on changing that. And the candle thing: never heard of that, but it sounds creepy.

    1. Keep your individual candle aliiiiivvve,Sullivan! :D

    2. This is why it's not hard to picture Jeffe standing up during a ceremony and screaming, "Keep your individual candle aliiiiivvve!"

      (fairy wings optional)

    3. I plan to yell this at all solemn occasions from now on. And I'm totally wearing fairy wings to the next wedding I'm invited to. ~hopefully checks empty mailbox~

  2. I don't mind being on a team where you all have individual tasks. For me it is all about being in control. I have control issues. At work I am one of 4 Medical Staff Coordinators. We all do the same thing but with different specialties, so we are a team with our own tasks. It is hard for me to depend on someone else to get a job done. I am trying to give up little bits of control here and there. I know some loss of control will help me (like teaching my kids to do things to help out even if it is not done exactly my way). Sometimes it is good to give up control. I think Taylor taught me that. Ha ha. :)

    1. Yeah - that kind of team works for me, too. And I think Taylor is much happier now!

  3. Great post, Jeffe. Yeah, I was the kid in elementary who always got 'doesn't work and play well with others' on my report card. The collaborative projects they made us do in school never turned out particularly well. Way back in high school, I tried writing a book with my best friend - in no time at all, I'd taken the project over and she went off to do something else. It's mine all mine... bwa ha ha.

    As for the no I in team? A commercial from a few years back said it perfectly... "No I in team? Well, there ain't no 'WE' in it either."

    Having said all that, though, I do believe a group of individuals can work together to achieve a common goal. I'm just not sure I'd be good at being one of those people when it came to writing.

  4. Ha! I *love* the "no WE" comeback. I'll totally use that. And yes, I work in various groups all the time. I just don't want to write that way either. :D