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How to Evaluate a Potential Creative Partner

In the intricate ballet of creativity, finding a partner who not only matches your steps but also inspires new ones is a journey fraught with challenges and rewards. 

At Sterling & Stone, our evolution from a fledgling studio to a thriving community of over 40 storytellers has been a testament to the transformative power of well-matched collaborations. This guide aims to illuminate the path to discovering your ideal creative partner, blending our lessons learned with practical advice for forging successful partnerships.

Getting to Know Each Other’s Creative Process

Before diving into the practicalities of a collaboration, it’s crucial to understand the creative process from each other’s perspectives. Mutual understanding forms the bedrock of a partnership, influencing everything from your daily routines to how you tackle challenges together. 

The following questions are designed to peel back the layers of your creative personas, offering insights into your work habits, decision-making processes, and how you navigate the various stages of creation. By exploring these aspects, you lay the groundwork for a partnership that not only thrives on shared goals but respects individual workflows and needs.

1. What do each of you enjoy or find frustrating about each phase of the creative process: brainstorming, outlining, drafting, revising, editing, post-production and marketing?

2. What’s your usual creative routine? Do you unplug to create or are you always available? When are you usually working, and given any time difference between you, when would you overlap?

3. How do you process information — by going away and thinking about it before you respond, or by talking it through with someone else? Do you think best with a pen in your hand, or while you’re walking the dog? How important is it to have a face-to-face conversation with someone if you’re talking about something important?

4. How do you like to give and get feedback? Are you comfortable giving it off-the-cuff or do you want time to organize your thoughts?

5. How do you make decisions? Do you need time to get comfortable with your options or do you make snap decisions based on what your gut is trying to tell you?

6. What does your current production process look like, and how many other people does it include? Where is it likely to get bogged down due to your lack of enthusiasm or aptitude?

7. What does an average day or week look like for you when it comes to productivity? How about a bad day or a good day?

Understanding Each Person’s Creative Needs

Here are some questions to start the conversation, so you can identify ways that your needs might complement or clash with each other. No answer is good or bad, as long as it’s true — the important thing is whether or not each of you is comfortable giving the other person what they need, and whether your needs (and ability to meet them) are complementary. 

1. How much creative control do you need? Will you chafe in a group collaboration where everyone votes on which idea wins? Do you need to be the person who has the last word on what stays in the story and what goes? Do you want final say on things that fall into your area of expertise? If you disagree with a decision that your collaborator feels passionate about, how hard will it be to let it go and move on?

2. Are you a big ideas person or a details person? Or do you have the ability to switch between those perspectives? Would you rather be responsible for coming up with a brief synopsis of each act of the story or are you into creating a detailed outline? Do you want to decide on the strategy for the promo campaign or do you actually want to run the ads? Do you get lost in the weeds during the edit, or can you see the overall shape of the story during the revision?

3. How much autonomy do you need, both in general and during different phases of the project? Does it give you energy to pass off each chapter to your collaborator as you write the book, or do you need to go away and finish the whole thing before you let anyone else change a word? Where do you get stuck and need help getting unstuck? Do frequent check-ins make you feel supported or micromanaged?

4. How much encouragement and/or validation do you need, and how do you need to receive it? Does a quick thanks when you pass on the outline hurt your feelings or make you feel appreciated? How important is it to know what your partner likes about the draft you just finished, and how long can you wait to find out before you wonder if they hated it? Do you assume that everything’s fine as long as you don’t hear something negative, or do you worry that you’ve offended your collaborator if you don’t talk every day?

5. How easy is it for you to put yourself in your collaborator’s shoes? When you’re late with a draft, are you worried about getting yelled at or do you feel guilty that your partner is been inconvenienced by waiting? When you’re having a disagreement with another person, how difficult is it for you to see their side of things? Can you anticipate how your partner might react to a situation, or does their reaction often surprise you? 

6. How much ego investment do you have in your ideas? Will your feelings be hurt if your partner rejects an idea outright, even if they can explain why they don’t like it? How can the other person make you feel like your idea has been taken seriously? How hard is it for you to take someone else’s suggestion and run with it?

7. What are your standards for quality, and how important is it to you to meet or exceed them? How upset would you be if your collaborator wanted to publish an imperfect story to meet a deadline? How embarrassed do you feel when readers point out a mistake in one of your stories? Is one revision pass enough before you’ll hand the draft off for editing, or do you need to polish it until every sentence shines? What kinds of problems must you fix before you can let go of the story, and when would you shrug and vow to do better on the next story? Do you apply the same standards of quality to everything you write, or do you have different standards for different projects or pen names? What is good enough for you? 

8. How do you know when a story is ready to ship? How often do you find yourself rewriting a story with the sinking feeling that you’re not making it better? Or throw out a finished draft and start over from scratch, without getting someone else’s opinion on whether it can be fixed? 

9. How often do you get “stuck in your head” and what do you need to get out of it? Do you get stuck when you can’t find the answer to a research question? Do you go into a downward spiral of doubt when you hit a block in the story? What causes you to procrastinate, and how hard is it for you to get moving again? How long do you allow yourself to be stuck before you’ll reach out for help? What tools do you have for getting unstuck, and when do you need to pull someone else in for brainstorming or troubleshooting? At what points do you lose enthusiasm for a work-in-progress and what do you need to regain it?

10. How good are you at articulating your ideas at each stage of the creative process? Do you need to think everything through before you can explain your thinking to someone else, or is it easier for you to think out loud? Does your subconscious do a lot of the heavy lifting during brainstorming? If so, how important is it for your partner to read between the lines or ask you the right questions to tease those ideas out of your subconscious? What do you like to plan — character, world elements, twists, secrets, etc. — and what do you need to discover in the draft?

11. How comfortable are you with thinking strategically versus thinking tactically? Can you switch between those two kinds of thinking? Or understand the other mode even if it doesn’t come naturally? Are you great at executing on someone else’s strategies, or do you need someone else to execute on yours?

12. Are there stages of the creative process where you need feedback or input? Are there certain stages where feedback or input derails you? If you do need feedback or input, how do you prefer to get it? Verbally or in written form? Do you want it to be structured in some way, or is a brain dump/gut reaction okay? If someone else asks for your feedback, how do you prefer to offer it?

13. Where do you usually get stuck in a story? Does it vary from story to story, or do you get consistently stuck at the same point structurally? Do your characters’ motivations change as you write, requiring you to re-interview them in the middle of the draft? Do your endings typically fall flat? Or does it take you forever to figure out what your protagonist’s flaw should be? How do you usually address these story problems when you’re writing alone?

14. What are you great at helping other people figure out? Are you the person in your critique group that fixes everyone else’s openings? Or who can see the theme that’s starting to develop in their stories? Are you amazing at developing characters or coming up with cool world elements? 

15. How hard is it for you to take feedback without feeling criticized? What makes it easier and harder to hear feedback? How difficult is it for you to see that the other person is being helpful, and what do you do when you think they aren’t? Do you need time to process feedback before you respond, or do you allow the sting to fade first? When you agree with feedback you’ve received, how hard is it for you to figure out what to change? 

16. What do you need from the people around you when you’re having a bad day? Does it help to talk about something neutral or to focus on work? Does sympathy make you feel better or worse? Do you prefer to wait until the bad day or frustrating situation is over before discussing it? Do you need your partner to notice how you’re feeling, or do you feel comfortable bringing it up and asking for emotional support? Does it help to joke about it?

17. How hard is it for you to tell someone a hard truth or to have a difficult conversation? Would you rather do anything else, or do you prefer to tackle it right away and get it over with? Do you wait for the topic to come up naturally, or are you comfortable starting the conversation? How likely are you to “go to bed angry” versus sticking with a conversation until it’s finished? Or do you avoid difficult conversations at all costs, even when doing so causes the relationship to suffer?

18. What makes you feel appreciated? Would you rather receive a personal compliment or a compliment on your work? Or do compliments make you feel uncomfortable altogether? Is it important to have your contributions recognized publicly? (The five Love Languages are an excellent framework for discussing this with your collaborator.)

19. When you disagree about something important, how do you approach resolving that disagreement? Do you start by trying to understand the other person’s position, or by laying out your own arguments? Do you feel like you need to settle who’s “right” before anything else can happen? How hard is it for you to acknowledge that the other person has a point, and do you need them to acknowledge your point first? Do you believe that it’s possible to agree to disagree, or do you see that as a kind of conflict avoidance? Can you disagree with someone without being annoyed or angry with them? Can you work with someone or be friends with them and still have a standing disagreement?

20. How do you handle it when you’re not able to meet your own expectations? Do you ask for help? Redo the work? Adjust your expectations? Criticize yourself or the work so that others will know you can tell it’s not up to snuff? Try to do better next time? Also, does it matter if the work is good enough for your partner? 

21. How important is it for you to learn something with every project? Do you let learning happen organically, or do you deliberately choose projects that will challenge you? How far outside of your comfort zone are you willing to work? What’s your tolerance for writing “the same but different”? 

22. How patient are you, and what tests your patience? How do you handle it when your partner drops the ball or disappoints you? How much latitude are you willing to give someone before you need them to improve? What kinds of mistakes or excuses push your buttons? How do you want your partner to handle it when you let them know they’ve disappointed or upset you? What behaviors or bad habits are deal breakers, and why?

23. How important is it to you to “keep score” — both when it comes to your own performance and to your partner’s? Are you competitive with yourself or with others? Or both? Do you track your progress? Do you try to keep up with the people around you, or are you okay with measuring growth and momentum by your own set of standards? Do you keep track of who contributes what to a project? If so, how do you measure each person’s contribution? Does it bother you if one person is contributing more to the relationship? How do you handle winning and losing? Can things be uneven, but still be fair?

24. How does someone else earn your trust? By answering all your questions? By making a good faith gesture? By trusting you first? Do you need to work with a person for a while to get a feel for their trustworthiness? Do you rely on others to vouch for a person you’re considering trusting? Or are you willing to start by trusting and give yourself an easy out if that turns out to be a mistake? 

25. How passionate do you need to be about a project to do a good job on it? Can you write anything as long as it gets you where you want to go, or do you need to love what you do? Are you okay with working on a mix of projects, some of which you’re passionate about and some of which just need to get done? What does it take to keep you going on a project where you’re not enthusiastic about the work? When you’ve lost your passion for a project, is it possible to get it back? If so, what’s worked in the past? 

26. How good are you at estimating how long a task will take? Do you tend to have a clear idea what a project will demand from you, or is every project different? How likely is your work schedule to be disrupted by the needs of others or by unexpected circumstances? 

27. Once you have a vision for a story, how difficult is it for you to change that vision? Is it difficult for you to admit that a new idea might make the story better if it requires you to move in a new direction? Or if the new idea wasn’t your idea? At what point in the creative process do you become married to the current version of the story?  

28. How much interaction do you want to have with the outside world? Do you want to be the face of your collaboration, to share that outward-facing position, or to leave dealing with the outside world to your partner? How would you prefer to split the responsibilities of dealing with fans, other authors, promotional partners like BookBub, journalists, etc.?

29. Which parts of the writing and publishing process are easy for you, and which parts do you find difficult? Do you love outlining a story but want to move on to a new story as soon as the outline is done? Do you love writing the draft but loathe revisions? Do you enjoy tinkering with ad campaigns but suck at create promo graphics? Which parts of the process would you love to hand off, and which parts would you miss if someone else took them over?

Embarking on a collaborative project is much like setting sail into uncharted waters. With mutual understanding as our compass and shared goals as our north star, there’s no limit to the creative horizons we can explore together.

See you next Wednesday!