The Spirit in Collaboration

Last month, I wrote about choosing a word for 2023—SPONTANEITY—but what I didn’t mention was that there was another word that was on my mind and in my heart. It came in a close second. This other word was COLLABORATION.

In my work as a writing mentor, I am in constant collaboration with other writers: providing feedback; offering suggestions on flow, structure, and word choice; and being present as a helpmate on the writing journey. This is an example of obvious collaboration, where the goal is a book as the end product.

But there is another type of collaboration I’m also interested in. A subtler type that isn’t necessarily about creating something tangible (or at least not immediately).

I’ll give you an example. For many years, my writing retreats took place at a monastery in New Brunswick. The guesthouse was managed by one of the members of the monastic order, Sister Kate, who became a close friend during my many visits there. I would write from early in the morning until mid-afternoon and then Kate and I would go walking in the fields. Sometimes she would bring her camera (she is an amazing photographer) but most times, we would simply walk and talk.

Our conversations had an elevated feeling to them and such a natural and joyous flow. These chats meandered down beautiful and fascinating paths, touching places in us that needed exploration or healing or both. In this way, they felt less like conversations and more like collaborations in growth. Sister Kate had a wonderful take on this that had to do with divine energy (here’s a piece I wrote on the topic if you’re interested).

A similar thing is happening now in a new writing group that I’m in. There are five of us who meet biweekly at the gorgeous Agricola Street Books in Halifax. We don’t get together to help each other with writing projects or to jointly create something. We get together to simply write in each other’s company, and afterwards, to read what we’ve written aloud.

For me, there is so much that is beautiful in this. First, there is the act of creating something in community, in a place where I can hear pens scratching on paper. What a sound!

Second, we aren’t working on current projects there. Everything we write is spontaneously generated by writing prompts offered in the moment. Therefore, what we write is unplanned and unscripted and seems to arise from a tender place inside of us that longs to have its voice heard.

Third, there is the act of listening and absorbing what others have written. It sounds like the poetry of their souls and feels like an immense privilege.

And beyond all of that, there is a sense of something even deeper happening, something that seems magical and powerful in its potential. It’s like, through the speaking aloud and the witnessing of each other’s words and emotions and stories, we are helping each other plant seeds. Seeds that will one day, possibly much later, become vibrant and lush creations that none of us can yet envision.

To me, this is sacred collaboration, much like the conversations with Sister Kate. There is something mysterious at work, a process we can’t quite see or grasp, but one that simply needs to be trusted. And it is one that I am immensely grateful for. In fact, I credit those amazing conversations with Kate as the spark that led to my book, Writing Your Way. When I look back now, I can see that we were feverishly planting seeds.

Can you relate to this idea of sacred and mysterious collaborations? Or if the idea of collaboration in any form sparks you, and you have an extra 10-15 minutes, consider writing to these prompts:

  • What kinds of collaborations are you involved in right now?
  • Do they feed you? Drain you? Heal you?
  • Are there types of collaborations you are longing for?
  • If so, what small step can you take toward them?

As always, I would love to read your writing or your thoughts. Please send them my way!