is two guys collaborating to write on writing and collaboration.

Collaboration Archives

May 30, 2009

Collaborative Unblocking posted by Aimee


Friend of Spitball! Aimee Larsen lives in Oakland, and was kind enough to talk about her process for your amusement, which is usually the state I find myself in whenever interacting with her thanks to her wicked sense of humor. She’s on Twitter as @valkyreez, and can be reached — Martin

During a long-overdue shoot-the-shit session with man-scribe Martin McClellan (which was so goddamn felicitous, in many, many ways, not the least of which was that it took place by way of Facebook chat — I’m eternally grateful when someone, anyone, jerks me out of an FB-induced coma/zombie state by introducing some topic of actual interest and importance), I rambled at length about my semi-regular meetings with a certain Alison of my acquaintance, an unassuming pixie-genius whose brilliance lends itself to, amongst many other worthy pursuits, painting. Our (kind-of sort-of) weekly collusions — which are decidedly non-sinister but slightly secretive — involve the location of a green, relatively quiet space where we talk about our progress on the work outlined in a book called The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron. This book lays out techniques that it asserts will “clear the channel” between what (Alison and I call) our Higher Powers and ourselves. It’s pretty damn critical to note that our Higher Powers (hereafter referred to as HPs) are decidedly respective — hers is hers and mine is definitely mine. They are (I’m assuming) different and, for the most part, private in conception. I really have no idea what Alison’s HP looks like or acts like, how it smells or dresses, or what it does on its days off. Damn, I can’t believe I just wrote that. It is bizarre and, frankly, embarrassing for a former punk-rock, dyed-in-the-wool, down-to-the-bone religion-hater like me to admit. (Come to think of it, I’m still fairly antagonistic about religion.)

What, you may rightly ask does this whoo-whoo, California-type spiritual practice (“channel clearing” and all that) have to do with writing and collaboration? Well, here it is, kids. We are operating on the principle that creation is a divine act. That our HPs are innately creative. And that they want us to create. That we were, in fact, created in order to create. This is, in my collaboration with Alison, the keystone of The Artist’s Way.

It’s a surprisingly powerful book. People have been telling me about it for years (from which you may rightfully infer that I’ve been blocked for years), and I finally got desperate enough to try it after discovering and accepting that not writing fucked with my health. Yes, really. I did write a 200-plus-page first draft of a novel during last November’s NaNoWriMo. When it was done, I printed the whole thing out, tied it up with rubber bands, and put it on my coffee table. The manuscript’s bulky, stolid presence was supposed to motivate me to revise it. A few of my foolishly generous friends asked to read portions of it, but I just could not relinquish it. And could not bring myself to revise it. Earlier this year, though, I finally shoveled out big heaping piles of the extraneous bullshit that was absorbing my attention. And I knew, without doubt or hesitation, that I had to write or continue to be unhappy and unwell.

You traversed the introductory metaphysical thicket. Now, bravehearts, let’s prepare to navigate the clear, sweet waters known as “the particulars.” Let’s dive right the fuck in to what the book outlines as practices essential to smashing the artist’s block.

Morning Pages

Just like it sounds: every morning (sort of), we write three pages. Of whatever. Generally stream of consciousness-generated material.

The Artist’s Date

Once a week (sort of), we go somewhere and do something (all by our lonesomes) that piques our creative interest.


The book is broken up into process-specific chapters (e.g., Week One, we’re “Recovering a Sense of Safety” and Week Two, we’re “Recovering a Sense of Identity,” etc., etc.). Each chapter ends with a series of exercises (e.g., “List five things you personally would never do that sound fun.” Chapter 4, “Recovering a Sense of Identity,” pg. 86.)

So there it is. A little tiny bit of it. Three essential parts: morning pages, artist’s date, exercises. Oh yeah, and, in our case, sitting down once a week (or thereabouts) with the other person to share the details of the last week’s odyssey and the fruits of the exercises we’ve completed.

Chapter the next. In which I describe how these practices have worked for Alison and for me, and how we actually collaborate in the deconstruction of one another’s reluctance/fear in the face of the creative process. ‘Til then.

Illustration by Christine Marie Larsen

Comments (0) — Category: Collaboration

Apr 19, 2009

How We Collaborate on a Screenplay posted by Martin


Mr. Beeson and I are working on a screenplay to enter in the Nicholl Fellowship this year. When I tell people that I’m collaborating on a script they often are curious about the process and how it works, so I thought I’d talk about just how we do it.

The script we’re working on is titled “Stray.” Old timey Spitball! readers will recognize it as one of the fifty prison planet plot ideas (first presented here, inspired by the Shannon Wright song Black Little Stray). We’ve been honing the story and exploring it for nearly two years now, including Mr. Beeson writing a prose adaptation for the 2007 NaNoWriMo.

Deciding to enter the Nicholl Fellowship competition, we had a pretty solid first act, lots of character story and an idea of what the end-goal is, but very little of the action and connecting tissue. We spent a number of weeks having story sessions where we would hash out exactly what the story is.

For us, this means spitballing. We get together every week, sit in a room and go over story ideas in as much detail as possible. We talk about what we like, what we’ve been focusing on, and we find scabs that need picking. We present problems and try to solve them. This is done entirely verbally (Spitball! endorses the Socratic Methodtm) and then we write down the salient points for institutional memory.

In this case, the story took shape into four acts: the first establishes the norm on a prison planet. The second introduces the Stray character and the complications therein. The third is some prisoners disturbing the status quo, and the fourth which is a final quest and resolution.

Those notes would be turned, mostly by Mr. Beeson, into fifty or so ideas for scenes that could happen during the act, and that propel the characters towards the larger goals we arranged for them.

From that list, posted on our Basecamp account, we wrote it out in prose, what we call our “white papers.” It was four plaintext documents that we share using Dropbox (an amazing tool for collaboration). They’re terse prose versions of the story, to flesh out themes and make sure the plot, motivations and throughput are defined.

We brought those together Saturday morning at my studio, and read them out loud tip-to-stern, interrupting as we went to clarify things or point out problems. It’s a matter of refinement. That which was great a month ago now might pale and need work. We align actions between character and plot. We solve problems that have been nagging at us. Some areas were either roughed in or not quite done, but the bulk of it was there. All together, those four documents were just a bit shy of 12,000 words. Essentially, it’s a terse and insidery treatment.

The read through is mostly good natured, although occasionally we slip into a more sniping tone. This usually indicates its lunch time, which Saturday just happened to be Piroshky.

When we were relatively happy with the look of it, we broke the scenes out into an OmniOutliner Pro document broke down all the acts into scenes.

Mr. Beeson took that document and assigned the scenes to each of us. In the past we’ve had team selection sessions, like playing pickup baseball. But we wanted to write today and I was out seeing my lovely niece play a princess named Vapid in a musical last night, so Mr. Beeson kindly shouldered the responsibility and evenly divided the scenes between us.

He also added milestones to Basecamp and assigned them. The scenes are written using Final Draft (which I’d be happy to be without, but the other alternatives I’ve tried slow me down during the writing process). The Final Draft documents are named for the scene number and put into Dropbox so that it automatically backs up, creates versions with every save, and syncs our computers with the latest work.

When we have a solid first draft of the scene, we post a message in Basecamp marking the milestone as complete. The other person can then make notes in the script or in the Basecamp message.

Once the scenes are complete and we’re happy with them, we’ll assemble them into a single Final Draft document, and do many read-throughs to look for issues, typos and make sure the voice and flow is consistent.

In our experience, at this point it’s really difficult to decipher who wrote what. Our voices and humor tend to be similar. Also, it’s difficult to decipher who-came-up-with-what-idea. Sometimes I remember, but mostly they’ve been turned and worked so much that there’s a lot of both of us in every idea that makes it onto the page.

If our past experience holds, we’ll find major flaws down the road and we’ll rethink certain things. Will that be true this time? I’d like to think we’re on the right track, but a process like this can be run a million times with a million different outcomes. I suspect we’ll never really be able to stop tweaking it.

Illustration by Christine Marie Larsen

Comments (2) — Category: writing

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What is Spitball!?

Spitball! is two guys collaborating to write about writing and collaboration. We're writing partners who have worked together since 2000, and placed in the top 100 in the last Project Greenlight for our script YELLOW.

Currently, we are both working on multiple screenplay, short story, and novel ideas independently and together, and collaborate on this blog.

What Spitball! used to be

Spitball! started as an attempt to collaborate on a screenplay online in real time. From January 2006 to July 2007 we worked on an interactive process to decide the story we were going to make. A full postmortem is coming, but you can find the find all the posts by looking in the category Original Version.

During this period, we affected the personalities of two of the most famous spitball pitchers from the early 20th Century. Look at our brief bios for more info about this, and so as not to be confused as to who is talking when.

We rebooted the franchise in early 2009 in its current form.

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Kent M. Beeson

Urban Shockah pic

Kent M. Beeson (aka Urban Shockah) is a stay-at-home dad and stay-at-home writer, living in Seattle, WA with his wife, 2 year old daughter and an insane cat. In 2007, he was a contributor to the film blog ScreenGrab, where he presciently suggested Jackie Earle Haley to play Rorschach in the Watchmen movie, and in 2008, he wrote a film column for the comic-book site ComiXology called The Watchman. (He's a big fan of the book, if you couldn't tell.) In 2009, he gave up the thrill of freelance writing to focus on screenplays and novels, although he sometimes posts to his blog This Can't End Well, which a continuation of his first blog, he loved him some movies. He's a Pisces, and his favorite movie of all time is Jaws. Coincidence? I think not.

Martin McClellan

Burleigh Grimes pic

Martin (aka Burley Grymz) is a designer and writer. He occasionally blogs at his beloved Hellbox, and keeps a longer ostensibly more interesting bio over here at his eponymous website. You can also find him on Twitter.