I can say yes now but at least it isn’t poetry

When I read the synopsis for the Emerging Writers’ Festival panel session ‘I can say yes now but in the end it will be no’, I spotted the word ‘semicolon’, and thought, ‘Ah, this panel is going to be about the writer-editor relationship. Sweet!’ However, after the panellists started describing every creative collaborative relationship other than the writer-editor type, I realised that I had missed the ‘actors, artists, directors’ bit in the program guide. 

I was too embarrassed to leave though, so I sat through it, surreptitiously snacking on my convenience-store sandwich. Each panellist approached the collaborative issue from a different angle:

  • Scriptwriter, playwright, and novelist Luke Devenish described his experience with Neighbours as both a scriptwriter and as a ‘desecrator of words’ (i.e. script editor). Such work coloured his notion of the writer-editor relationship; as a writer, he dreaded the editing process. Den of Wolves gave him a more positive experience of the process and now he loves editors. 
  • Angela Betzien, from The Real TV Project, explained the concept of intellectual ownership and argued against it. To her, art is a religion, something communal, and she fully embraces the collaborative process, working closely with actors, and other artists. 
  • According to Paul Callaghan, a video game writer, ‘…every medium has some sort of collaboration with the audience…’ The game is the best medium for such a collaboration, providing basic grammar for participants to create their own very long sentence.
  • For comic book writer Liz Argall, respect is the key to a collaborative relationship. In relation to comics, this means: a) writing only what is important, b) not drawing stick figures. 

In other words, the panellists believed firmly in the ‘yes’ part of ‘I can say yes but in the end it will be no’. However, Callaghan also emphasised the importance of being clear about one’s vision in the collaborative process or else others will override it: if you’re going to say ‘no’, you had better have a very good reason for saying it.

During Q&A, the necessity for contracts in regards to collaborative projects was also brought up. Betzien said that contracts never worked for her, but Argall thought that they might be useful if there’s money involved initially. Argall also added that it was better to have no contract than a badly written contract. 

Though ‘I can say yes…’ wasn’t relevant to my current work, at least it wasn’t a yawner. In the corridor, I bumped into my transient friend, Stuart. He had just been to the poetry stuff in the Melbourne Room, and he didn’t look thrilled by it.


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