How to Tell When it's Time to Cut Bait
When a collaboration or partnership clicks, the whole becomes greater than the sum of the parts. Some amazing art can be created. Sometimes, things go horribly awry. It is incredibly hard to tell how bad things really are when you are in the middle of things. Before settling down, you should spend some time "dating" to see if a partnership or collaboration is a love connection. Work on a limited project with your potential collaborators, and evaluate the experience from a safe distance before committing further.
Hopefully, this list will help you recognize the signs of a bad creative relationship so that you can move on and find your perfect match. Or, if you have settled down, perhaps it will help you resist doubling down on a partnership that's driving you nuts.
1. SANDBAGGING. Important information is being withheld. One of your collaborators knows something you don't, and in order to gain some advantage over you, he keeps you in the dark. If you are being sandbagged, you are not in a healthy relationship; you are connected to someone who is actively working against you in a passive-aggressive, underhanded way.
This is reason enough to pack it in and hit the road. This is a basic trust issue. If your partner or collaborators are doing this to you, run.
2. STATED MISSION VS. THE ACTUAL ACTIVITIES. This is not the same as making an honest attempt and failing. No, this is saying one thing and doing another. For instance the stated goal is to develop new material, but the group only seems interested in producing published plays that will showcase the actors.
We all have our wild hares to chase, but when things get wildly out of phase and most of the time, something more serious is at hand.
3. YOUR GOALS VS. THE GOALS OF YOUR COLLABORATORS. This is a big one, yet it's strangely easy to miss. It's really a "no harm, no foul" situation -- you're just not all on the same page. You want to create spontaneous happenings in public, someone else wants to produce Shakespeare in the park, and a third person wants to produce her one-woman show in a North Hollywood storefront theater.
This can lead to "No, but ..." brainstorming, as opposed to "Yes, and ...." Every idea thrown out is immediately shot down by someone who's just not on the same page with you. You're planning a garden salad, he's planning to change the oil in his Buick Skylark. "Carrots!" "No, Pennzoil 10W30!" "No, celery!" "No, Fram HM3887A oil filter!" If it feels like you're speaking a different language than your collaborator, you probably are.
4. ALL STICK, NO CARROT. Sometimes we need enforcement to get things done. The enforcement of a deadline, for instance. If you are in a creative relationship that is all enforcement and no positive reinforcement (e.g. rewards, opportunities, a simple "thank you"), you are most likely dealing with someone who gets off on pushing other people around. The world is too vast, and creative opportunities too ample to remain attached to a bruiser who'd rather smack you than pat you on the back.
5. FOCUSING ON BLAME RATHER THAN PRODUCTION. Ever have one of those meetings where you deviate wildly off of the agenda and into finger-pointing territory? Any hope for productivity flies out the window and you spend the next hour rehashing things that went astray -- rehashing without any attempt to actually learn from those mistakes. Nope, it's much more fun to tell a person, "You're wrong!"
This gets really sick when it becomes a proactive attempt to catch you out on something. To actually manipulate you into an unintentional lie or misstep; a game of "GOTCHA!"
6. FREQUENT CLASHES, ESPECIALLY OF A PERSONAL NATURE. This is an extension of the above, and it deserves its own bullet. There's blaming others for things that have gone wrong, and then there's taking personal potshots at them. If it's happening, again, the person you're dealing with is actively working against you. Nothing good can come of that relationship. Run.
7. DRUDGERY. Finally, if you're just plain miserable, cut bait and move on.
It can be tough. There's this thing called "The Sunk Cost Bias." There's a great article about it here. The short version is, it's damned hard to step away from something you've invested in. For some reason it feels "better" to keep doubling down on a bad hand than to simply fold. This is what Buddha meant when he said "The origin of suffering is attachment."
To paraphrase Walt Whitman, you are large; you contain multitudes. Don't let anyone sell you on the idea that leaving a messed-up relationship will in anyway hinder your ability to create. Instead, remember the sage words of Bobcat Goldthwait:
Work with your friends. Avoid chasing fame or money. Just do what you want to do, when and how you want to do it. And if it’s not making you happy, quit. Quit hard, and quit often. Eventually you’ll end up somewhere that you never want to leave.