This post celebrates an important moment. Yesterday we sent the finished manuscript of our book to the publisher. It’s not the end of the process of course: we still have all the business of queries, proofs and other prepublication things to get through. And there will be some marketing activities. But the manuscript is as ready as we could get it. The New Age of Ageing: how society needs to change will be published in September by Policy Press. It was written by three people: Caroline Lodge, Eileen Carnell and Marianne Coleman. Most things are better together and writing a book is one of those.
The three of us
Writing a book is intense even before adding the dimension of three authors. Eileen and Caroline have written together for some time, books and articles for teachers, books and articles on retiring. We have familiarity with our ways of working and those things that really matter to us. The three of us are members of a Retiring Women’s Group. Marianne had been the reader for Retiring with Attitude, by Eileen and Caroline, and they wanted her skills and experiences to augment and complement theirs as they tackled the book on ageing. She has an established reputation from her research on women and leadership, for example Women at the Top.
Writing collaboratively intrigues people. ‘How do you actually do it?’ they ask. And indeed how do you align the different views of content, purpose, theme and style and how do you resolve conflicts? And then how does that translate into words?
Eileen and Caroline recorded a conversation about writing a previous book. Writing Together identified the four main ways we wrote together.
- Side by side
- Back and forth
- Separate and coming together
- Dolly mix of the above.
We did all these again, but less side-by-side, which was harder with three of us. Put another way: we talked, planned, wrote, reviewed, learned from each other through more talk and then planned and wrote again and talked and so on, and so on …
You have to talk together if you are writing together. You have to talk a lot. You have to meet and discuss the issues, large and small, that are coming up in the writing. Early on we met to put together a proposal to a publisher, consider the interviews, and decide who would take the lead on what. A year in we looked at everything we had been doing and reshaped the book again.
Throughout we tried to align our three styles of writing and the content: some chapters have more edge, some have focussed more on information, some are more passionate, some more chatty. Latterly we talked to decide the order of the chapters, to take account of readers’ feedback.
I’ve lost count of the number of meetings we have had. We have had two residentials (a previous post described our final residential meeting in January) and many, many one day meetings. There is always lots of paper, and an agenda. We are organised and decide what to do before we break for lunch. We go on until we have finished. We have completed our work together more quickly as we went on. Always, the book is clearer in our heads after each meeting; always, our understandings of issues in ageing have moved forward through our talk.
In some ways writing together is like writing alone, but with emails: hundreds and hundreds of emails. Collaborative writing would be so much more difficult without electronic devices. We send drafts, feedback, queries, research papers, redrafts, more feedback, more queries and draw attention to likely books, TV and radio programmes. We move material from one writer to another, argue about who gets to include particular quotations, and who writes which bit. We discuss format (especially spacing), point out duplication and omissions, and cheer each other along. So far we have not sent any humorous clips of cats or photos of grandchildren. We said we send twenty in a week in the previous post, but Eileen suggested it might be as much as twenty a day at times.
Two benefits stand out. Writing together improves our ideas and our writing. We share the stresses of writing to a deadline.
Dialogue leads to learning and better understanding of the material. It develops our understanding of our themes through discussion. It allows us to articulate our understandings in words to each other, then sharpen and refine them through talk. Feedback improves our writing as we learn from each other.
Our life experiences and different perspectives mean we have a rich combination of good stuff – our different sorts of families and lifestyles, ways of living, outlook on life, passions and prejudices, and our own very distinct experiences of others around us ageing and dying have meant that we can draw on those to illustrate particular issues about ageing.
In the two years we have been engaged on this book we have each had more or less productive periods. Some have been caused by holidays, writing other books, other activities and life events. We tend to divide up tasks: we all did interviewing; Caroline communicates with the publisher; Marianne and Eileen with our main readers. Having three of us means we can rely on the others to hold the process for a time and to be supportive. It also means the whole weight of the project and our commitment to the publisher does not fall on one person. Shared writing means sharing the burden of writing.
Yet again it affirms that writing is a social activity.
A celebratory haiku
Half my voice is you.
Some notes can only be reached
For Christmas 2012, Caroline commissioned this haiku from David Varela for Eileen. We were working on Retiring with Attitude, just the two of us at that time. Now we would have to amend it to ‘A third of my voice …’ which would unhaiku it. But the sentiment is the same.
An earlier post focussed on our learning. Writing Together (part 2) – what have we learned? April 2013
In April we will write a post about the processes involved in taking a book from a good idea to its publication.
Please subscribe by entering your email address in the box. You will receive emails about future posts.