A few years ago, and after two different workshops on "How To Write A Half-Hour Comedy," I completed television pilots, both of which I considered to be terrific and ready for bids by production companies.
But when I received notes from my instructors, classmates, and even a Hollywood agent, I thought, Well that was fun, and tossed their comments in the trash and my months of work into a file cabinet.
It was only recently, after a friend shared notes she had requested and received on a project underway that I realized I was a lousy collaborator; and more importantly, that those two scripts, plus a recent event I singlehandedly hosted, could have been improved if I had allowed, and accepted, contributions from others.
This realization led to soul searching to learn why I have opted to go it alone on so many projects, and these understandings are not pretty:
-I don't like sharing the limelight. After all, how much brighter the light if all of the credit goes to me.
- Other folks' notes would mean I would have to put more work into something I had deemed ready for applause.
- If I collaborate, and join your committee, I might have to leave my comfort zone regarding time and place of meetings.
- If I don't involve you, I can hurry my project along. Your suggestions will slow me down and speed is vital lest I grow bored before moving onto my next brainstorm.
Actually, there have been a few occasions when I did accept notes from others, but accept is the keyword, as opposed to being collaborative. I had submitted essays to prestigious (I got paid.) publications and each of the editors made revisions. And, each time, I welcomed their changes. I easily acceded to their expertise, but truthfully, I just wanted them to finish the damn thing and get my words into the world.
As a recent example of my need to hold everything close to my vest, let's investigate an event I hosted in my Chicago River North apartment building's lounge area on a Sunday afternoon. (Note place and time preferences.) It was titled "What Black Women Want White Women To Know: Dahleen Glanton in Conversation with Elaine Soloway." I believed I had sufficiently collaborated because an esteemed journalist, Ms. Glanton, would be the highlight of the event. And, I had engaged assistants to help me on day-of, so I thought I had teamwork covered.
Although the program was a success, with requests for more on the subject, I now recognize that the discussion could have been improved if I had asked others to be involved in the planning. Perhaps a different location would have drawn an even larger and more diverse crowd? And maybe those who prefer weekends untouched would have welcomed a 6 pm after-work discussion.
And collaborators could've warned me that my insistence on reciting Ms. Glanton's columns, and pushing my suggested reading list of 20 books, shouldn't have been the focus. Instead, my planning partners might've proposed benching my strict format in favor of more audience participation on themes of unacknowledged racial history and housing segregation.
For clues to my inability to share, let's backtrack to workplace experiences with collaboration. In the late '70s I started a career in public relations. From my very first job, I learned that each press release required inspection by a supervisor who would assure I had spelled the client's name correctly and that other key details were as error free as if it was a legal document.
That due diligence taught me that if I put sufficient effort into a Word Doc, I could rely on myself to draft the perfect pitch letter or press release. I can only remember one boss who marked up my efforts to the extent it made no sense to me. From then on, I bypassed her desk and submitted my piece directly to clients. Fortunately, they all gave me thumbs up; not surprisingly, that job lasted less than six months.
Because my four books were self-published, any notes I received focused on grammar, rather than literary content. And when these pages garnered praise, my reliance on, well you know who, was reinforced.
Would the paperbacks have made a bigger splash if I had enlisted professional editors? Perhaps, but if you scroll up to my bulleted list of confessed failings, you'll see why I have stuck to solo. Maybe now though, at age 80, it's time to chuck my corset of "don't" and "won't "for a more colorful wardrobe of collaboration? As a first step, what do you think?