Creative Partners

I’ve always been a solo flyer. Back in middle school, I was probably the best drawer in most of my classes. Then Joanna Rodriguez moved into town, and I had to share that title – which was totally fine because she was a delightful girl. Moreover, up until then, my friend who’d moved over from Guam and I were just about the only kids in school who liked anime/manga. So having another girl around – the nerdy, artsy type who like Princess Mononoke and Sailor Moon and who could draw and play on NeoPets with me? Who liked hanging out with boys without necessarily having to like them? Who’d watch Toonami’s line-up of Dragon Ball Z and Gundam Wing? That was frickin’ awesome! It was a girlmance waiting to happen.

We immediately became a trio rather than a duo, and life was good. But dang it! I was just so possessive of “my” ideas. You know… we’d rip off of other cartoons and make our own characters, like ripping of the magical-pet shows of the 90s but with our own little spin. And whenever I found a new show to rip off of, she’d be drawing her characters, too. Man… I wish I had scans of our drawings to show you, but I left them all in my parents’ garage. That’s the beside the point, though; the point is that I’d start to get annoyed that she was “copying” me… even though honestly, I copied some of the things she did too (which she smartly pointed out). I think I eventually put those trifles to rest and we joined forces to create little narratives with our characters and magical animals. We stayed friends for pretty much the rest of school before the normal drift (I was in band, she was in tennis; I was in Block B, she was in Block A, I hung out with Mexicans, she hung out with Asians… what?) and are still on good terms. Heck, we’re Facebook friends! That’s legit! But that was really my first clue that maybe, just maybe *gasp* I was not a team player. For crying out loud, even back in school when I got a group of which I didn’t approve, I’d do the bulk of the work because I didn’t want anyone to mess up “my” project.

I’m getting better at it, because I have to be. Most employers want a “team player.” They want someone who won’t take new ideas or suggestions or discards personally. Friends, too, like to matter, their opinions valued. And the ultimate partnership, marriage, requires teamwork and communication. So what are my tips for working with a creative partner?

1. Communicate, communicate, communicate
Of course this is #1. Of course. You don’t have a team if you don’t talk. You have two (or more) people working on their own solo projects that hopefully converge. I’ve felt that way a number of times myself during this endeavor.
Because I’m mostly in charge of characters and the designing thereof, I sometimes feel out of synch with what Justin’s creating. He’ll show me a level he’s creating, and a little situation he was proud of, and instead of being proud with him, sometimes my reaction is, “I didn’t know you were going to do that.”
Ugh.
The best way to avoid these feelings is frequent and meaningful communication. “What are you working on now?” “What kind of ideas do you have going forward?” “Thinking of any big changes to the outline we had?” Not just asking these questions of each other, but asking them of ourselves and preempting the questions with our partners by bringing it up when possible.
2. Trust your partner
Not only should you cultivate trust in your partners through your project, but you should only partner with someone that you already trust. If you don’t trust this person to reflect the same standard of quality that you expect of yourself, you’ll only spend all of your time looking over their shoulder at their work, and not enough time actually doing your own.
When you divvy up work, divide it in such a way that each person does what plays up to his or her strengths. And when you can admit, “Ok, Justin makes music way better than I ever could,” you may find yourself able to let go of these tasks because of your confidence in your partner’s abilities.
3. Think it as “ours” not “mine”
That’s a bit of an obvious one, but perhaps not easily accomplished. It requires a measure of trust, as discussed above. But when you tie your name in with someone else, don’t think about how the work might affect your reputation. Your partner is an equal part in this venture as you, and both want it to reflect well for future pursuits. Furthermore, if you’re concerned about your partner’s feelings and reputation too, you will be given further impetus to produce quality work. Knowing that the other person feels that same way as you will help allay any anxiety that perhaps the quality is not up to your standard.
4. Write it out
Sometimes, people get into weird “debates” only to find that they actually have been agreeing all along. I don’t know why. Perhaps our diction is unclear, or perhaps we’ve afraid to take too firm a stance on either side of a debate because we don’t want to be offensive but thereby confusing the other person. I’m not sure why it happens, but it’s definitely happened to me. Or perhaps you really do disagree and talking it out is only making the argument heated.
Writing it out gives us clear communication, through which we can’t cut each other off and which we can analyze and re-analyze. We can read, take note, re-read, construct a solid point, choose clear words, and hopefully, through this, can come to a clear agreement.

All of this is easier to say than to actually practice, but that’s why they call it practice. We try and try and try again. Thankfully, Justin and I have trusted each other with a lot more for a lot longer, so this was easier for us. But trust is often hard-won and easily lost, and communication is a simple principle with perhaps more complicated factors (after all, everyone thinks and speaks differently; some are high-context, some are low). But when we view our project as worthwhile, that’s work that we’re willing to put in.

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