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by Molly Moynahan

Collaborating on creative projects involving writing can be difficult. For me, much of my writing begins in my brain and stays there morphing from a vague set of images into actual sentences that later manifest as concrete words on the page. My first real collaborative activity was as an actress working with a director and cast mates, being critiqued, accepting direction and finding an appropriate rhythm with the scenes I shared with others.

There were magic moments such as the time I was in a group production about Sylvia Plath that was written by the female members of the Royal Shakespeare Company. I was studying history at Trinity College Dublin and there were three of us in the cast, an English girl, an Irish girl and myself. The Irish girl was an incredible actress already, well known in Dublin for playing the title lead in a production of Antigone at the Abbey Theater.

The three of us immediately clicked and became an ensemble so tight we mutinied against the director who fancied me and kept making idiotic suggestions that detracted from our depiction of Sylvia Plath in three distinct ages, child, teenager and grown woman poet. After rehearsals we would go to the pub and drink hot sherries and talk about the work.  I still remember Plath dying and the sadness I felt as we sank to the stage and the audience grew silent. 

But another collaboration I had with a fashion photographer in Manhattan was disastrous and taught me to doubt the word of other artists until I realized this particular person was a thief and his behavior had nothing to do with art. I was introduced to him by a mutual friend who explained this man was a famous photographer who wanted to collaborate with a writer on a project based on “The Bride Wore Black” the Truffaut film about a woman who avenges her groom’s murder by finding all responsible and killing them after a seduction.

His pictures were moody and sexual but not degrading or verging on pornography until they were. I wrote a continuing narrative that went with the images. After he descended into bondage and S&M I told him I was no longer going to participate. He was not happy but I thought, that was that until my ex-brother-in-law called me one day and said he was surprised to find my prose attached to perfume bottles being sold at Macy’s, their hangtags containing pictures of barely dressed women with my words incorporated. The rage and betrayal I felt was physically sickening. After a certain amount of screaming I sent a cease and desist letter and moved on. 

While living in London I was chosen as a screenwriter for a movie project involving filmmakers with clout from the U.K. I was hired to write the first draft of the film based on one of the producers loving my second novel. This happened just as my son was born and I was enveloped in a dizzying round of bewildering meetings where people kept telling me I was brilliant until a huge American producer invited me to a meeting in his suite at the Savoy Hotel and I found myself discussing shower heads standing in the massive marble bathroom. The American producer was famous, funny and gossiped about movie stars. He seemed thrilled with me and my script but after the meeting as I stood outside on the street with the original producer, I said, “He’s going to fire me.” And he didI

I stopped collaborating. Like a child taking a test in a crowded classroom, I hid my paper from others; afraid they would copy or steal my ideas.

Recently I have been asked to collaborate on several projects and it feels wonderful. I have written a book on writing college admission essays called Pitch Perfect: How to Write a Successful College Essay with my website designer, a brilliant visual and creative artist, Jennifer Rapp Peterson.  Jennifer thought of the title, designed and illustrated the book and made suggestions that infinitely improved the product.  She also helped me believe in my vision of a guide that would truly support young writers through the process of writing this essay which often becomes a nightmare assignment. 

I am also collaborating with several young, hip, funny men on a potential television series with an idea I dreamed up (literally) and, I hope, a script I am currently writing. It felt amazing to sit with these people discussing the possibilities, sharing what we found funny and extending the original concept to include new characters and situations. Yes, it is risky but there’s the rub. Without conflict, risk and new ideas it’s hard to create memorable material.  Collaborating demands trust and ego deflation, a sense of humor and a belief that your own ideas can only be improved by allowing others to share your vision.

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