When I write, I write alone.

It’s never a collaboration unless it’s work-based, and even then, I write my twenty, thirty, or forty pages first, then pass them over with a “What do you think?” before they get chopped to bits when “together” kicks in.

If I’m writing “for real,” it’s my brain, coffee, heart, and a blank screen.  Eventually, between the ticking of the clock and sips of black gold, something emerges and I run with it.

“What are you writing?” I’m asked.

“Just some stuff.”  I don’t usually answer.  I don’t like to sound rude, but it’s just that the thoughts have to rattle around until they gather critical mass–enough strength to break free, and even then, they need to sit, rest, grow, and mature until I know if what I’ve written is something the world should see.

In the past, I wanted to talk about my ideas immediately.  No more, though.  I notice sometimes if I answer, the energy evaporates, as if there’s a finite amount and I’ve talked the idea into thin air.  The force stops spinning–a penny in the washer.  The idea falls to the floor.  It’s a toy out of the package–tossed around, not as shiny.  I don’t want to write it anymore.

Good writing comes from digging deep.  Digging deep comes from having enough silence to listen to that little voice in the head that never shuts up.  Zen masters control that voice.

I’m not a zen master.

The voice is the writer’s best friend and worst enemy–it always knows the truth.  The only thing that silences the voice is writing what it says.  If the pen scribbles anything other than the truth, the voice screams.  That’s why most writers and artists are tortured souls.  They’re tied to the rack and pulled apart by that voice, time and time again.

That’s also why collaboration is so difficult.  When you have three artists in a room, you have three inner muses, three “artist schedules,” three voices pulling three marionette’s strings.  Only after the voices have drained the blood out of their hosts can any of the artists rest.

Try coordinating that.  If you’ve ever struggled to get several people to decide on dinner and a movie, you have a fraction of an idea of what it’s like to be or work with artists.

It gets tricky.

Learning to collaborate on things that matter deeply is difficult.  It’s teaching the inner voices to speak at the right time, to find balance and harmony, to let the right person lead the way until solo voices become a choir.  The pieces of the puzzle twist and turn until they all fit perfectly, making the picture complete.

When the harmonies blend and the pieces fit, it’s magic.

What’s the secret?

The secret is that each person must be willing to give up something, and that everyone gets far more in return.  Done well, I see only what I’ve received, not what I’ve given, though I’ve given so much from my deepest places.  I contribute a piece of my heart and soul but several come back to fill up the space.

The project I’m working now–Women of Strength–taught me this lesson.  I’m learning to open up, to trust, to listen to my instincts, and to make sure my voice plays well with the voices of others, especially because it’s not my project.  I’m lucky enough to be along for the collaboration. It belongs to genius photographer and  coversupermodel for my book, “Don’t Sniff the Glue” Jodi Swanson.

You’ll see this project soon–it’s powerful.  I promise you, you won’t be able to turn away.  For many who’ve stumbled upon it in its early stages, it’s been life-changing.  I hope you’ll agree.

I never like to waste a good life lesson, and collaboration is certainly one, so I think of all the places where people do not play well with others.

“Why can’t every organization be filled with collaboration?” says the little voice.  “A school, a workplace, a team?  Why can’t organizations take strength from their members, trust them, and create magic?  Is it because they get too big?  Because people won’t give up their fiefdoms?  Maybe those at the top don’t really trust those at the bottom then those at the bottom never feel free to open the pieces of their heart that create positive change?

I spend a lot of time thinking about education.  It’s desperately in need of reform.  How do we create a story within a school or organization so every single person wants to give some of their heart and soul knowing they will receive the hearts and souls of the many in return?

I hope someone can answer that question for me–it’d fix a lot of schools.

But right now I am editing some captions for Women of Strength.  I tell my inner voice to enhance, not control.  That is my piece of this puzzle.  Later, we will collaborate.  Pictures and words unite, get designed and stitched together, and together everything becomes far more than the sum of the parts.  What’s true for simple words and pictures is also true for people and organizations.

Together, we are more.

That’s the magic of letting go, of listening, and of creating–listening to, taking control of, and balancing the voices.

It’s the magic of art, collaboration, trust, and love, whether it’s three people creating a work for the universe, or a million people working toward world peace.  The lesson, I think, is universal.  It’s something I need much more practice to get right, then to use everywhere I go.