It should come as a shock to no one that I am a big fan of agreements in writing. You might think it’s the lawyer in me that likes agreements written out and explained. It is not. It is the lazy person in me.
See, the thing is, I don’t actually like to argue. It takes a lot of energy.
People get all dramatic about things they hardly even know about. And you know that, so it makes you upset, and you get dramatic back to show them what for. Then there is a tumultuous back and forth of being dramatic until you both get so fed up you agree on the last thing that didn’t make you feel like throwing something so you can stop all the crazy and take a nap forchristsake.
Did I mention arguing takes a lot of energy?
So I like agreements in writing. Even with people I know. Even with people I’ve known for years. Even with people I’ve known for years and I care a great deal about.
Because then, when something happens, and you can’t agree with the other person on how best to solve the problem, you have something to go to (the agreement) that will solve the problem for you.
Having an agreement in writing captures what you both were thinking about when you entered the relationship: how long it would last, what it would be for, what you’re each getting from the other, what you can and cannot do after the relationship is complete, etc., etc., etc.
See, I’m not talking about a generic-I-got-it-off-the-interwebs-for-free agreement that you don’t understand. I’m talking about something written in plain, clear language that captures what you’re agreeing to.
And I’m talking about putting enough thought into it that it will be a useful document 6 months or 6 years down the road; it will communicate clear ideas and be relevant to the work or relationship that was created.
When you have a coherent document that plainly explains what you and the other party agreed to, you can go back to it when disagreements arise and let your past selves tell your current selves what to do. It makes the argument less personal and, usually, less lengthy.
So, to review a quick multiple choice test:
1. You’re forming a collective studio with your friends to save on studio rent and hang out with people you think are awesome. You:
A. Use a written agreement to explain what being a member of the studio means.
B. Place your right hand in a blender and hit “liquify.”
C. Go dunking for apples in a tub of electric eels.
2. A good friend that you’ve known for years and who is the godmother to your child has a great script for a new graphic novel and the capital to publish it. She’d like you to illustrate it. You:
A. Use a written agreement to explain the creative relationship, how rights will be shared and how compensation will be determined.
C. Decide to skip out on Father’s Day so you can travel to Argentina to have sex with a woman who is not your wife after having drawn ridiculous amounts of media attention to yourself for stubbornly refusing federal stimulus money to help buoy your state’s failing economy. (Go Cocks!)
3. Jack, a long time client, has a very important project and has asked you to help him out. The only glitch is that he needs the work done, and perfect, in 36 hours. He tells you, “I just want to get going; I don’t have time for any administrative crap.” You:
A. Draft a quick email to him detailing the relevant points of the work, including your rate, the limited time frame and reference to a contract that you have in place since he is a regular client. (hint, hint) You ask that if he agrees that this accurately captures the project he reply with an email saying so.
B. Agree to participate in a stinging nettles eating contest.
C. Shoot yourself as many times as possible in the next five minutes.
Tally your score!
3 As: Way to go!
Anything else: Read this.