Creating connections through the arts and across cultures

Making Collaboration Work, Part 2: Womens Memoir Duo Kendra Bonnett & Matilda Butler

Collaboration. How do we work together to make that work better and more fun? This is our blog-of-the-month discussion on Riehlife. Read the first part of this interview with Kendra Bonnett and Matilda Butler to find out how they met. Riehlife continued interviewing this Womens Memoir duo to found out five keys to collaboration success.

In the Creative Catalyst column which Stephanie Farrow and I write for Telling Her Stories you can learn more about collaboration. From February through April Creative Catalyst explores collaboration--that most relational of art forms. present three posts on collaboration.

Riehlife: Say more about the process of working together and the lessons you’ve learned.

Matilda: Let me start our response to those two points because it is fairly hard for me to separate them. When I asked Kendra if she would co-author Rosie’s Daughters with me, she agreed before she even knew what I meant by that proposal. Why?

Ingredient #1, Trust. You need to spell collaboration with a capital "T". What I mean by that is a fully functioning recipe for collaboration needs a healthy dose of Trust. Kendra and I had known each other for a long time. She knew that I wouldn’t take advantage of her, and I knew she wouldn’t take advantage of me. Trust doesn’t happen in one day. Therefore, if you are just starting to work with someone as a co-author or a business partner, determine a number of small steps that allow you to build trust. It doesn’t have to take 30 years, but it definitely takes longer than 30 minutes.

Kendra: Since Matilda is turning this into a recipe for collaboration, let me mention that she and I both love cooking. She knew she could mention ingredients and my mind could quickly think up a second ingredient for a successful collaboration.

Ingredient #2, Shared interests: Share interests outside the narrow focus of the collaboration. Matilda and I talk multiple times a day. There are posts to plan and write for our website ( http://womensmemoirs.com ), marketing campaigns to develop and launch, online class assignments to review, email responses to discuss, order fulfillments to assign, workshop presentations and social media fan sites to develop and maintain. All of this focuses on our business.

But we also share interests outside our business. This is an important ingredient in our developing friendship that even today is stronger than six months or a year or 30-years ago. In other words, it shouldn’t be all work and no play.

Matilda: Kendra that reminds me of the next ingredient.

Ingredient #3, Honor the other person’s ideas. If Kendra comes up with a new marketing plan, I never think to immediately reject it, even if it doesn’t strike me as quite right. She cuts me the same slack. Recently, for example, I wrote a description of a workshop to submit. I sent it to her in an email and didn’t hear back. I waited, figuring that it wasn’t on target. I knew she was just thinking about it. I didn’t take it personally and knew she would honor the concepts I had presented, just make them better.

Kendra: Matilda is getting a little wordy, as usual. I always tease her that she’s never met a word she doesn’t like. Let me move us on to two last ingredients. See how gently I moved this discussion forward? Since I already tease her about being long-winded, she won’t get upset.

Ingredient #4, Divide the work load. Matilda told me about five women who decided to write mysteries together since individually they never could get a book finished. Once they got started, they realized that each had strengths. For instance: one was really great at dialogue; another liked to do the research that became the use of place and history in the story; another person turned out to be great with character development.

Matilda and I could do the same tasks although we have somewhat different strengths. For example, I do more of the social networking and marketing. She does more of the product development and analytical tracking. When we work with clients, we help them to find their strengths and to focus on them. For example, we are working with three women who are developing an online business. One loves to blog; the second is working on a product for them to market; and the third is tied into local communities.

Matilda: Who’s wordy now? I think I can guess Kendra’s suggestion for the final ingredient because it is one that we talk about a lot.

Ingredient #5, Know your collaborator’s work ethic. Kendra and I are workaholics. We both work long hours and value getting tasks finished at an agreed time. If you don’t know the work ethic of a possible co-author or online business partner, find a small project or two as a testing ground. Be sure to cut the other person slack when needed. We all get sick or have a family emergency. But a similar work ethic is necessary for success.

Kendra: That last ingredient is important, Matilda, because different work ethics can breed resentment.
Working with the right person is like adding yeast to individually premium ingredients. We spark ideas together that we’d never develop alone. We can’t really imagine any other way to work. Yet, we hesitate to recommend it for everyone. You might want to think of starting a collaboration on a small scale and then expanding it if it works. For example, before writing together you might want to co-teach a class.

Matilda: Kendra, thanks for helping to make this collaboration work. Here’s to our next 30 years.
Kendra: Yikes, do you know how old I’ll be by then?

Matilda: Yes. Nine years younger than I’ll be!

Riehlife: Goodbye, Matilda and Kendra. Thanks for telling about your form of collaboration.

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11 Responses »

  1. Just read both parts of this interview and find them fascinating. What an interesting collaboration--and what great ideas Matilda and Kendra have. It would never have occurred to me to collaborate with anyone (except my husband who is a photographer), and yet both writers make it sound appealing. Good luck with all your endeavors, Matilda and Kendra, and Janet, Thanks for putting them on your blog.

  2. Julie,

    Tell me more about how you might collaborate with your photographer husband.

    Collaboration is fascinating and can yield the 1 + 1 = 3 results for the right team. For the mis-matched team? 1-1 = 0.

    Yet, I believe that belong collaboration in our creative work that there are multiple collaborations in our daily lives--such as in our relationships, including couples.

    Thanks for your comment, Julie.

    Janet Riehl

  3. Thanks, Julie, it has been a terrific collaboration. It's tough to find the perfect business partner, but I can assure you that you get a real leg up when you start with a good friend. Matilda and I have been friends for a long. That's the real secret.

  4. My collaboration with my husband has been with his photography--photos--and my writing. We've had one piece in a literary journal, one piece in a commercial magazine, and he did some of the photos for my book, The Good Times Are All Gone Now. See http://www.juliewweston.com for a description of it. We work together in harmony, partly because he is my best friend, and I think I am his. So, we had a leg up too, Kendra--start with a good friend. Your "rulels" are good ones, whether in art or in business. I practiced business law for over 30 years, and so many problems would have been resolved if those rules had been followed in the beginning of a number of business relationships!

  5. Hi Julie:
    Kendra and I both appreciate your comments. My second long-term collaboration is with my husband. We married in order to be together in all aspects of our lives. We have co-authored books and co-founded several companies. The rules that we provide in this blog hold true for almost 40 year (in October) with my husband. Some aspects of business I am better suited for (e.g. I was always the President of our companies) and he is better suited for others (He was the VP of Technology). We've taught together, written together, and raised children together. I'm incredibly lucky. It sounds as if you are also.

    Best wishes to you.

    -Matilda

  6. Wow, two husband-wife collaborations in one conversation. How marvelous. Matilda--30 years collaborating with Kendra and 40 years with your husband--what continuity!

    Julie, Your website http://www.juliewweston.com is lovely. I'm fascinated by your multi-talented-ness. Thanks for agreeing to write a guest post for Riehlife on how that evolved and how you've made it work, I know my readers will be thrilled.

    Janet

  7. This was a wonderful conversation and I really wished it lasted longer, though whatever was conveyed had important guiding points. My own workplace experience confirms that trust comes first. And it also depends mainly on the information we receive and observations we make all around us. I did not trust my senior colleagues since I knew of their history of corruption. So I never collaborated with them due to concerns over whether my work will get due appreciation, whether the people around me will try to take unfair advantage of me, and also whether they were good enough or competent enough to work with; all these concerns went far in time and intensity till I publicly exposed their quackery and was terminated from my job.

    On the other hand, I trust my writer and editor friends (Janet, you are one of those most trusted people) and love to participate in their activities and writing ventures. It is also important that activities with mutual interest are marked and promoted. If the activity itself doesn’t attract one or more persons collaborating on a project, they ultimately feel disconnected, alienated, or even ‘used’.

    One important factor that always keeps people from collaborating is the well-known TIME. Yes, in a world where we are burdened with earning our bread and perhaps taking care of our families too, keeping up with friends for joint ventures is mostly an occasional affair. This especially applies to young people who are always in the race for securing more, financially, while they are still strong and energetic enough to do it. Thanks to the Internet, the geographical distances have been reduced to a bare minimum, and yet, we always need more time to plunge into collaborative waters and enjoy a soothing swim.

  8. Ernest,

    You amplify the issue of trust...and give a cautionary tale of when that isn't present. The question of time can work both ways. Sometimes collaboration takes more time. But, when it's a partnership it can save time. You're right. It's all about relationship.

    Janet

  9. I enjoyed your website, Julie. I read your blog and a couple of your excerpts. Nice work. Your husband's photography is great. Good luck on your continuing collaboration.

  10. Ernest, I too have been on the wrong end of a business partnership. You're right to trust your instincts. Believe me, I wish I'd listened to mine. But that's in the past now.

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