With their new Hulu comedy PEN15, in which they play themselves as middle-schoolers back in the year 2000, Anna Konkle and Maya Erskine have created one of the best new shows of the year. But they aren’t just TV’s hottest rising creative duo; they’ve also been best friends since college, and creating a show together meant suddenly learning how to be both friends and co-workers.
At the Cut’s How I Get It Done Day on Monday, March 4, fellow best friends and Of A Kind co-founders Erica Cerulo and Claire Mazur — co-authors of the forthcoming book Work Wife: The Power of Female Friendship to Drive Successful Businesses — interviewed Anna and Maya about how those two relationships go hand in hand.
If you’re thinking about writing a TV pilot or any other creative endeavor with a friend, here are five of their top tips for having a successful work marriage.
1) If something isn’t working, be up-front about it.
When Anna and Maya first started having business meetings as a creative duo, Maya eventually told Anna that she had trouble finding space in the conversation (or empty air) to share her own opinions. “I talked a lot,” Anna laughed. “[Maya was] like, ‘I feel like I can’t get a word in!’ and I was like, ‘Well, I feel like it’s your responsibility to talk.’”
After some tough initial conversations about their different communication styles, they learned to clearly share what they need, rather than framing the conversation as an attack on the other person. “It’s very clearly like: ‘I am feeling like this, and I need this from you,’ as opposed to ‘You’re talking a lot and it’s clearly a problem,’” Maya said. “It was important to learn how to be honest about something that’s really scary to be honest about.”
2) You’ll probably disagree and fight. If so: step away for a bit.
After they began working together, the two found themselves having fights with much higher stakes than ever before. They learned to pause, stop the conversation, and return to it when they weren’t emotional. “When we first started the web series we would scream [at each other],” Maya said. “We were so used to being on the same page, so it was a shattering fact to be like, ‘I disagree with you,’ but also, that’s not a problem.”
Over time, they learned how to fight more productively. “If it’s starting to go down that road of becoming circular and we’re getting confused and we don’t even know what we’re fighting about, we have learned to be like, ‘I’m going to take a walk right now,’” Maya said. Anna added: “For me it’s like, if it’s still bothering me in a couple days, then I’ll bring it up, but in the middle of work, no. I’m an emotional person and I need time to cool down and see how I feel before I process it.”
3) Take their therapists’ advice.
Throughout the panel, both women were effusive about how therapy has helped them know themselves better, and become better collaborators in turn. For Anna, that meant learning to set boundaries. “I don’t have boundaries,” she laughed. “I just thought if you love someone you show them every single part of you, every tear.”
Maya also shared some words of wisdom that she learned in the therapist’s chair. “My therapist said to me, remember when you are having conflict with someone that each person is talking from their wounded 8-year-old self,” she said. “That’s an important thing to remember, just to have compassion … really they’re just asking for something and [you should] try to figure out what that is.”
4) Work on your own projects, too.
Both Anna and Maya have their own acting careers in addition to working together, and they said it’s important for them to remember that working together is a choice that they have to keep committing to. “It’s a marriage, so we renew our vows every day,” Maya joked. They do a check-in every couple of months to see if they’re still on the same page and make plans for the future, even if that means one of them needs to step away from the partnership for a while. “We’re two individual people with our own identities,” Maya said. “I think it’s very important to have those conversations so there aren’t any expectations set that don’t get met.”
Anna added: “We have different priorities in our career and our priorities are changing often, because there’s things we haven’t done before.” That’s why it’s important to “be really clear [about whether] ‘I want to try this on my own’ or ‘I want to try this with you — would you want to make this together?’”
5) Prioritize your friendship over the work.
Hit show aside, both agreed that their friendship always comes first. “We would lose our work to be friends,” Maya said, while Anna nodded effusively. The way they maintain that closeness? Making sure to fit in plenty of after-work hangs doing what they love: lying in bed together watching Real Housewives and Vanderpump Rules. “That’s like our dream night,” Maya said.