How to Collaborate for Fun and Effectiveness

I had great fun sharing some of the cover options for my creative contemplative journal. The sample covers were so beautiful that one reader asked if we could use them all, and let everyone choose their own custom cover. Now that’s an idea, and maybe even possible if we ever do a digital version. But given the limits of a printed journal, we knew we had to make the hard decision and choose just one.

Today I’m excited to share our final choice:

my creative contemplative journal

I love the way this photo captures a moment in time, with a single water droplet reflecting the world and poised in expectation for whatever might happen next. The attention to detail is characteristic of Lois’ photographic style, and the photograph as a whole expresses many of the creative elements outlined in the journal: playing with reflections, looking for signs of hope, finding focus.

Lois actually played with several different versions of this cover using different fonts and colours. We both preferred the white lettering to pair with a white coil binding. I suggested the font to echo the curve of the water droplet, and positioning the title to show up better against the background.

As we’ve been working together on this project, I’ve also been thinking more generally about what it means to collaborate. Whether you’re collaborating on a specific project, teaming up with others at work or school, serving on a church committee, or even making weekend plans as a family, what makes for healthy collaboration? What works and what doesn’t? What makes some partnerships or teams fail or flourish?

Here’s what I’m learning about creative collaboration that works:

  1. Have a common commitment. In school, I always found group projects tricky since not every student was equally committed to completing the task. With my creative contemplative journal both Lois and I knew we wanted to work together on this particular project and within the same time frame. We’re even both leading retreats on the same weekend in October, and plan to have the journal available then.
  2. Share vision and values. We both love words and images. We’re both careful about quotes and copyright permission, so if we couldn’t properly identify a quote or get permission, we left it out. I had thought of using “Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it” which I’ve seen in many places online attributed to The Sayings of Confucius, and which seemed perfect for our purposes–only when I looked for the original source in The Sayings, the quote wasn’t there. Maybe it’s from a different translation, or misattributed from someone else, or just another internet myth, but in any case, you won’t find it in my creative contemplative journal.
  3. Contribute your unique gifts. Lois is an artist-photographer who has published previous photographic calendars, she’s worked with the same printer over the years, and can set up ordering through her loishelendesigns website. I’m active on social media, enjoy playing with design, and have experience in proofreading, writing, and publishing. For my creative contemplative journal, we’ve included some great quotes from a variety of sources, including some selected quotes from my most recent publication, Spark: Igniting Your God-Given Creativity.
  4. Respect one another. Not just in theory, but in concrete practices of listening, giving honest feedback, sharing the work, being patient with questions, having a sense of humour, trusting one another, working through any disagreements (although hmmm, come to think of it, I don’t think we actually had any disagreements, thanks to #1 and #2 above and #6 and #7 below).
  5. Communicate. Communication can be a challenge even when two people are in the same room, and for Lois and me this is complicated by the distance between our respective homes in Saskatchewan and British Columbia. Since we don’t live close enough to share a pot of tea and talk in person, we rely on my google phone and her landline, her Mac and my PC, email, and Dropbox.
  6. Encourage one another. When Lois sends photos, my comments are peppered with “great” and  “love this.” When I suggested an article inviting readers into our creative process of choosing a cover, Lois said that was “a brilliant idea.”
  7. Defer to one another. Since this project is through loishelendesigns, I defer to Lois on the more technical aspects of shipping and handling and related details. If I say I don’t understand a particular photo or think a different image might work better, Lois finds something else for us to consider. We put my name first on the cover and Lois’ name first on the inside.

I suppose if we were both more business-like, we would have talked about all of this ahead of time and drawn up a contract. Instead, we’ve allowed our collaboration to develop more creatively and organically.

In that way, our collaboration is an act of faith,
like any writing or creative work.

“That’s too risky,” says the voice of reason. “Any partnership needs to be clear.” “Get everything in writing.” And certainly that’s the advice I’d give to anyone else. This is a classic case of don’t do as I do, but do as I say.

And yet for us, collaborating in this way has been creative, fun, and effective.

When I told Lois I wanted to write a blog post on how to collaborate, she replied, “That would be a great blog post. So much of work in our culture is individual merit and goals and reward. What does it look like to share?”

This article is my answer. Thank you, Lois, for inviting me to share this project with you!

Your turn:
As always, I welcome your comments below – what does healthy collaboration look like to you?
And if you enjoyed this article, I’d love for you to subscribe for more faith-focused, writing-related articles.

7 thoughts on “How to Collaborate for Fun and Effectiveness

    1. Thanks, Mary – yes, so much of writing is working alone, but I enjoy collaborative projects too, and hope that my experience might be helpful for other Christian poets and writers. Thank you for sharing.

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