Checking my ego
If this post is published as scheduled, tomorrow morning will see the world premiere of The Maples at Louisville’s International Festival of Film. The Maples is a short film that I wrote and co-produced with our two lead actors, but it started life almost a decade ago as a simple writing exercise during a commute home from work. It had no purpose beyond giving me an excuse to write. My version of jogging but with less sweat (most days, at least).
For me, writing is a very solitary exercise. Whether it is just practice like The Maples or a write-for-hire assignment from clients, I figure out what I need to do and then start scribbling in my notebook or typing on my laptop. This blog post is no different.
I won’t lie. What I like about writing is that I retain complete control of the process. I establish my destination or goals and then make them happen. I get to consider my options. I get to consider alternatives. I get to write badly and then make it better without having to deal with anyone’s thoughts or what feels to my introverted ears like a cacophony of opinions.
No matter what I work on, however, I know that my solo control of the project will come to an end if it is ever to be more than a Word doc on my computer. At some stage, I will need to engage others to share the blog post, to make the short film, to publish the magazine article. And the nerve of those people, they have opinions, questions, and expertise.
Maybe you’re not a writer, but I suspect you have skill and expertise in at least one area, if not several. (I, for example, am also a photographer, hyperactive champion of creative spirits, and fun-loving doofus.) But even with your knowledge and experience, I am confident that you need to work with others to accomplish anything, personally or as part of your job.
Those who can
A sarcastic adage tells us: Those who can, do. Those who cannot, join a team.
I would be surprised if all of us didn’t have a woeful experience working as a member of a team, remembering the one or two (or more) individuals who added nothing to a project while absorbing credit and avoiding blame. That situation sucks. It does.
But I have agonizingly learned (less agonizing now) that if I can set my ego aside, even for a minute, and really listen to people, I can learn amazing things or gain new perspectives not only on the project but on my own work.
If I allow my ego to filter things, however, I never hear good ideas. I only ever hear attacks on my work from people I decide are idiots and know nothing of which they speak (however passive aggressively and subconsciously I do that).
While working as a co-creator and writer on Some TV!, a comedy special produced by Nicholas Lemon Productions (NLP), I would watch actors and puppets do weird things with the comedy sketches I wrote, improvising new jokes or story beats. And I was okay with that because I respected their talents and knew they respected mine.
Sometimes, we needed to bring things back to the script as written, but other times, magic happened. As I jokingly told the performers: If you ruin my joke, it’s your fault. If you make my sketch funnier, I’m going to take credit.
In my science and medicine writing life, as well, I have been edited by wonderfully talented people and by people who are more interested in micromanaging their talent. Either way, I welcome their edits and hope it is a collaborative editing process where I can push back when I feel the need to. In my best relationships with editors, it is. When it isn’t, I can go elsewhere. Except in the most egregious cases, however, I do my best not to let my ego get in the way of suggestions, understanding that they may make me a better writer and better serve the readers.
And on my first feature-length screenplay Tank’s, one of our NLP partners in silly, Marsha Mason, took a serviceable early draft and helped re-envision and transform it into a screenplay that won the award for Best Screenplay for Animation at the Nashville Film Festival. I honestly believe that it would never have happened without Marsha’s insights and distance (but the award stays at my house, Marsha). I trusted Marsha and set my ego sufficiently aside to allow her to hone my genius (see, ego still intact).
All to say that when teamwork is about exploration, openness, and experimentation, when we can set our egos aside and truly listen to our teammates, it can be fun, enlightening, and energizing. No guarantees. You are just one part of any team and cannot control the other members. But it’s a good place to start, and at least you’ll know you tried.
If you’re interested in learning more about the power of play and creativity in empowering people, strengthening teams, and enhancing innovative thinking, please reach out to the team at Nicholas Lemon Productions.