In my dual careers as a Licensed Marriage & Family Counselor and a Writer’s Consultant/teacher/Coach, I discovered the reason why some writing partnerships work and are successful and others fail and they get divorced. In marriages, over 50% end in divorce. After counseling hundreds of writers and therapy clients, I recognized the same elements that end a writing partnership are similar to the elements of that break up a marriage.
Yet, it’s not so surprising to find the connection between the two because each involved human beings who are unique as separate individuals.
Here are some of the most significant issues that lead members of a writing partnership to come and see me when it’s not working.
- Not speaking to each other
- One not respecting the other
- Trying to control your partner
- Being competitive rather than cooperative
- Not listening to what your partner has to say
- Wanting to take charge when the project becomes successful
If these continue in a partnership then their writing partnership will usually break up. It usually ends up this way because they don’t know how to “fix” the problems without outside help since they are too emotionally invested in themselves. Writing partners have fragile egos just like couples who end up getting divorced because they don’t go to a therapist even when they know they can’t “fix” the problems in their marriage.
For example, a writing couple came to see me because they weren’t getting along. Being a successful comedy team, they since found their partnership falling apart. After seeing them a couple of times, they knew if they couldn’t get some type of solution to their problems, they’d have to end their successful writing career. And who would want to do that when writing jobs were and are so difficult to get and keep?
First, both had to admit that their personalities were affecting their partnership and we needed to identify the traits that were to blame. Second of all, each one had to stop blaming the other for the problems and begin to look at their own responsibility for causing and adding to the disintegrating relationship.
Just like in a marriage, their relationship had soured because they let petty issues, and some important ones, overtake the writing. They continually concentrated back on the problems.
I had each of them write about why they were attracted to each other enough to become writing partners and to recall how their partnership was before they got work and got famous. They then had to read what they had written to the other. Surprising, they laughed, joked and even spoke about funny incidences and fond memories of their beginnings. I suggested they concentrate on positive aspects of their partner and how far they had come together in a cooperative partnership. It was important that they recognize and acknowledge that now, instead of being collaborative, they were being competitive. Together we discussed how the partnership went from having fun to having fights.
Through discussing things together rather than harboring resentments, here are 5 rules we came up with that helped the two get back on track to a very successful career—now as double credits as writers /producers.
5 Rules for Successful Writing Partnerships
Rule # 1. Have mutual respect for each other’s talent. If you’re good at dialogue and your partner is better at plot, then negotiate in advance that you’ll do plot and your partner dialogue.
Rule # 2. After your outline is complete and you both agree on it as your blueprint for your script, it’s important to decide whether or not you’ll each take a certain amount of scenes to write by yourself and then get together and trade the scenes so you can read and discuss them.
Rule #3. If you like to write together and be on the same page, you need to have ground rules. These are respecting the suggestions of your partner and listening to what he or she has to say before you write the scene. So that as soon as you begin the writing, you have already agreed on the structure and intention of the scene.
Rule #4 Allow for the fact that some days your partner will be brilliant and you won’t and vice versa. Don’t try to put roadblocks to your creativity, just because you weren’t as creative on that day and your partner was. Let your ego take a back seat and rest when it’s for the mutual good of your script.
Rule # 5. Let go of trying to be the boss and being the one in control. It’s a Partnership and that means two people are involved. Two people need to negotiate and not try to control the other. This attitude will enable you to listen without arguing; to be flexible without being rigid; and resilient without always being right.
These rules work and are needed in all successful and healthy relationships—both in marriage and in writing!!!