Charge courageously into a messy collaboration

Over the last few months, I have learned just how messy collaborative projects can be. A lot of communication is necessary when creating something with a large group of people. Even the most ambitious students can easily be scared away from the logistical nightmare that comes with pulling a lot of brains together.

Despite the complications that arise from piecing the puzzle of a group’s many diverse ideas together, the reward of seeing a project through to its completion is well worth the initial struggles involved.

This year, Jamie DeMotts and I, co-presidents of Lawrence’s Creative Writing Club (CWC), strived to put together more collaborative projects within our club and across other campus organizations. Last term, we helped put together a project with Visiting Assistant Professor of Mathematics Luke Wolcott and the Improvisational Group of Lawrence University (IGLU). The end result was a concert that IGLU performed, consisting of improvised music to the math-related poems CWC wrote with the guidance of Wolcott and other Lawrence faculty members.

The resulting concert was a success, leaving CWC poets eager to put together another project with IGLU next year. While the outcome of the project was well received, the process of putting together the poems was anything but smooth sailing.

After CWC’s first meeting with Wolcott, Interlibrary Loan Assistant Andrew McSorley, and Visiting Assistant Professor of English Charles Austin Segrest to ask about their vision for the math-themed poems, club members were hesitant to write about a subject that they did not know much about. It was several weeks before DeMotts and I established who was writing for the project and received drafts from the writers.

Since many of the poets had no background in math, the prospect of writing about the subject was intimidating, even though the math survey packet we received from Wolcott contained enough information to spark imagination without mathematical knowledge. The amount of unknowns about the project’s outcome and the concept of writing about math delayed some of the initial planning stages.

However, after seeing the success of the math-music-poem-mash-up, it was much easier to get students on board for another collaboration. That is not to say that the next project proceeded without difficulty, though.

This term, CWC is releasing a new fragment of a serial story in the Variety section of each issue of The Lawrentian. (The third installment is available this week. Shameless plug: you should check it out). Every part pushes the plot forward through the perspective of a different character, each written by a different member of CWC.

Now, after a few weeks of wrestling through the details of the story, all stages of the plot and the purpose of each character within that plot have been established. Towards the beginning, though, the story was an absolute mess.

Since students were enthusiastic about the prospect of writing a collective story for The Lawrentian, there were many ideas that spawned from our chaotic clamor of brainstorming. However, it took several meetings before we were able to figure out a way that our thoughts could fit together in a coherent way.

There were disagreements about some of the major plot-points throughout the process. We spent an entire meeting just deciding if it would take place in a fictional or non-fictional setting, another deciding what fiction meant to us, and then yet another deciding which fictional genre we would work with.

In addition to the serial story, DeMotts and I have been tossing around ideas and speaking with Lawrence faculty members about hosting an undergraduate writing conference at Lawrence next spring. Inviting students from other schools and groups within the surrounding Appleton community will require even more coordinating and thought production.

To be completely honest, neither of us have a full grasp on where the writing conference is going to go, and how many people it will reach. Neither of us know if putting together this conference for the first time will inspire student organizations to continue the project the following year or laugh at our over-ambitious attempt to try something new.

Despite the uncertainties, I have never had so much fun playing with ideas and exploring the possibilities of a project. Last week, DeMotts and another CWC member screamed my name across campus, gaining my attention to report on a meeting with a professor about questions we had about the conference.

For the next several minutes, we geeked out about the directions that the conference could take. We squealed with glee, arms waving in the air excitedly with the realization that our vision could become a reality.

Like the beginning of the serial story, there are many ideas for us to mold together and even more people to communicate with in order to make the conference possible. Hosting a conference requires financial planning and scheduling with schools whose academic calendars are much different than our own. And boy, is it messy.

Getting students to participate in and take the time out of their busy 10-week term to take part in a project whose outcome is uncertain takes patience, courage and communication. However, it’s worth it. It’s worth the geek out when you realize that the project is possible. It’s worth the rush after seeing the end result of something you were afraid of trying. Most importantly, it’s worth the friendships you build while creating something together.

Next time you have an idea, bring it up to a friend. Talk with relevant student organizations and dive in. You never know where an idea could lead.