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Ageing: it is not ‘them and us’, it is all ‘us’

There are three authors of New Age of Ageing. I am one. I asked the other two to reflect on what writing the book meant to each of them. Eileen has gone on holiday, so her reflections will appear in July. Marianne writes about three things:

  1. Her own learning, particularly how writing the book had clarified her thoughts about the ageing process and its implications for all of us.
  2. Writing the book also made her face up to her own attitudes, anxieties and concerns about ageing
  3. She also thought about the process of writing which was unusual as it involved collaboration between three of us and had to be fitted into everyone’s already busy schedules

This is what Marianne Coleman wrote for Bookword blog:

261 Marianne

  1. Clarifying my thoughts

What about the ageing process? Most importantly there are all the implications arising from longer life expectancy and also there are changing and more youthful attitudes amongst older people. Both of these mean the following:

We need to think differently about ourselves, recognise that the balance of age groups is changing and then do some adjusting.

We have to make sure that old people are properly provided for to live a dignified and useful life, but also see that they are the most tremendous resource and that life in older age can be fun and exciting.

We need to drop our stereotypes around ageing, most of which revolve around decline and the end of a useful life.

The change in attitudes means having more flexibility about employing people, and recognising that older people contribute massively as volunteers in the charity sector and in supporting each other and their families.

Above all we need to recognise that older people are not separate or different from the rest of the population. It is not ‘them and us’, it is all ‘us’.

It is not “them and us”, it is all “us”.

There are too many people who preach an opposite message of division between the generations even blaming older people for the economic and social problems of today. Constructive and clear sighted attitudes to older people, not blame, will help not only those who are old now, but those who will be old in 10, 20 or 50 years’ time. We need a new mind-set about ageing.

  1. My own attitudes to ageing

What about my own attitudes anxieties and concerns about ageing? I am the product of my time, belonging to a generation growing up in the 1950s and 1960s and our generation does not so willingly accept the stereotypes and expectations that are associated with ageing. Many of us see ageing differently now that we are those older people. Researching for and writing the book has given me even more of a perspective to stand back and see the changes relating to ageing in progress, and to recognise for example that beauty is not just in youth but also in maturity and decline. Dropping any lurking stereotypes about age, I have become less judgmental in the ways that I look at people of all ages. I can’t pretend that I have no anxieties about getting older. In common with the people we interviewed I am concerned about health issues and how they might impact on me and when.

One side benefit of researching and writing the book has been the opportunity to give some thought to death. Although we were interviewing older people about their attitudes to ageing it was surprising how little the topic of death came up. It seems that people avoid thinking about it and sometimes never discuss anything about it even near the very end of life. In one of the chapters I did write about death and what was said in interviews and in particular reading Atul Gawande’s book Being Mortal made me realise how important it is to be more open about this final stage of life and to talk to your family and close friends about what might be important to you at the end.

  1. Writing together

What about the process of writing? The best thing was the times that the three of us worked together to construct the outline of the book and then to fine tune it and finally to comment on drafts of chapters. This process only worked because we know and trust each other and have respect for what each of us says. Working together was creative and it was exciting to take an idea and expand it or make links that I had not seen before. The feedback on individual chapters was invaluable. It is very reassuring to be able to try out ideas and test them on your fellow authors. I wrote in a previous blog about the importance of feedback on drafts.

Not one but two books

Overall I can honestly say that writing the book was an enjoyable experience. But I am glad to take a rest, particularly as circumstances meant that at the same time that I was collaborating on this book I was also collaborating on a book on a completely different topic. That book is called Leading for Equality: Making Schools Fairer where my co-author is Jacky Lumby. I managed the process of writing two books at the same time by some careful timetabling and taking one chapter (of whichever book) at a time and seeing each chapter as a separate project. There were also times when there was a lull in the progress of one book as fellow authors had to turn their attention to other projects too. Writing two at the same time was challenging but very rewarding. The books are very different but both have fairness and social justice at their heart so the move from one book to another did not jar.

One problem now is that all the administration associated with book production (editor’s queries, questions about marketing the books, proofs etc.) is all arriving together. Still just take one thing at a time …

The New Age of Ageing: how society needs to change, by Caroline Lodge, Eileen Carnell and Marianne Coleman. To be published by Policy Press on 7th September 2016.

243 New Age cover

Related posts:

We are writing monthly posts about the stages from bright ideas to publishing our book. Earlier posts include

Getting feedback to improve our writing (May 2016)

First Catch Your Publisher (April 2016)

One Book, Three Authors (March 2016)

Writers’ Residential (February 2016)

 

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First Catch Your Publisher

One of the most stressful parts of writing for publication is finding a publisher. We have had good experiences such as being invited to write a book on a particular topic; and stressful ones, like having a first draft but no publisher.

243 New Age cover

I’m delighted to say that Policy Press took on The New Age of Ageing: how society needs to change, early in the writing process. Because of the tricky process we had been through – as Eileen explains – we were careful to target a publisher who would be interested in the book. They will be publishing it in September. We are very pleased that they have just been named the Independent Academic and Professional Publisher of the Year 2016.

I asked my two co-writers, Eileen Carnell and Marianne Coleman, to say something about the process of finding a publisher.

Eileen begins with a ballad called

The long and winding road*

We’ve walked the road before

243 Retiring Lives coverAs experienced authors we set out on a new collaborative expedition. We knew we had a book that was prescient. Reviews of Retiring Lives, our work with retirees, our membership of a retiring group, all revealed a demand for a more in-depth account of the long and complex process of retiring.

We were confident, we knew how to write and knew how to submit proposals. We knew the terrain, we had the map and compass. We were excited about approaching publishers – starting with those who had published our work before. We studied their checklists and adapted every proposal. We analysed the competition, re-wrote the synopsis, submitted draft chapters and waited.

Don’t leave me standing here

We sent proposals to eight publishers. One problem is that you can only approach one at a time. We left an interval of a month between sending material and chasing up a response. ‘A wonderful idea for a book,’ they all agreed, ‘but not the sort of thing for us’.

After all these rejections, friends suggested approaching an agent. We contacted six. Same story: ‘Great idea, but not our area’.

During this 18-month period of contacting publishers and agents, we completed the first draft of the book and polished and burnished chapters.

And many times we’ve cried

To say we experienced ups and downs would be a massive understatement. But the good thing about writing collaboratively is that the highs and lows hit one or other of us at different times. After a rejection we soon felt hopeful and excited again when we approached someone new. We were convinced every time that this was going to be the one. Throughout this period of misery and elation we refined our chapters, found further research articles and redrafted.

Dead-ends and roundabouts

Then we thought of self-publishing and attended courses and workshops to help us down this avenue. While fascinating we were not convinced about this route.

The seventh agent said:

This book is so nearly finished why not send it directly to a publisher. Look for a different sort of publisher, one who had a good, changing list that appeals to the sort of readers you want to attract.

So we approached Guardian Books.

Your destination is on the left

The editor liked the book very much but said it needed EDGE! It would be a ‘trade book’, intended for general readership. So we rewrote the whole book to address the reader directly, became more informal and modified our referencing system. This was a major change for us. We submitted – with the required EDGE. But it still wasn’t edgy enough and we had to do it all over again.

Retiring with Attitude was published by Guardian Books in the summer of 2014 and was top of their best-selling chart for ten weeks.

What did we learn?

Never give up

Get a contract before doing so much writing

* with apologies to Lennon and McCartney

Marianne and Eileen in Caroline's kitchen in January 2015

Marianne and Eileen in Caroline’s kitchen in January 2015

And Marianne wrote this about the proposal for The New Age of Ageing we made to Policy Press:

Writing the proposal is the most important single step in writing a book

The time we spent talking about and polishing the proposal was time well spent. As we have moved ahead with the writing process we have checked back to the proposal many times. Looking at it now that the book is finished I think we remained true to the initial vision, although there has been quite a lot of re-arranging of chapters and their content. As one of the three authors, I have only been involved in writing non-fiction so what I have to say may not apply to fiction, but in my view, writing the proposal is the single most important step in producing a book.

When I look back on the notes that I took from our first meeting, the first word I wrote down is ‘purpose’. The notes that followed sketch out not only purpose, but also some of the key themes that have continued to dominate our thinking as we worked our way through the writing. The first draft of the proposal emerged from those notes. Although the key themes and purpose stayed largely the same, I lost count of the number of times the whole proposal was revised. At one of the early meetings we actually read the draft out loud, which turned out to be an excellent way of picking up half finished thoughts and unfortunate wording.

What does a proposal cover?

The suggestions of what to include vary a bit from one publisher to another but the main headings are pretty similar for all. In the case of Policy Press they are:

  • Title and sub-title (we will come back to this thorny issue in another post)
  • Synopsis and aims (250 words, five key factors in bullet points and five key words)
  • Background information (e.g. why did you want to write this book?)
  • Target audience
  • Competition

Trying to make our ideas fit those headings sharpened up the thinking wonderfully!

In addition publishers need some practical details including the estimated word count, an idea of the timetable to completion, names of referees and author CVs. Policy Press were also keen to have a sample chapter to send out to referees with the proposal.

It was great to get feedback after the proposal and chapters had been read by the referees and the editor. We revised the proposal in light of the comments and it was then sent on for a final decision about whether or not we got that vital contract.

While it is important to have a good, well though through proposal it doesn’t mean you have to stick to it rigidly when writing as other ideas may occur to you and through writing you may come to understand things differently. For example, we added the final chapter, which includes our vision.

Related posts

In March we posted about collaborative writing: One Book, Three Authors. This was reported on Policy Press’s blog.

In February we posted about a residential writing retreat: Writer’s Residential

The New Age of Ageing: how society needs to change is available to pre-order on the Policy Press website for £14.99 here.

In May we plan to write about getting and using feedback.

Over to you

What strategies can you recommend to find a publisher?

 

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Writers’ Residential

Three writers are collaborating on a book. How does that work? They began in 2014 and send perhaps twenty or thirty emails to each other every week. And they must meet two or three times each year to keep the processes of writing on track and in synchronicity. They must write about 70,000 words, on the topic they indicated to the publisher, and in a coherent manner that adds to the world’s knowledge of the subject. Simples! [Add your own ironic Meerkat cheek squeak.]

Our book is non-fiction. It is concerned with the effects of people living longer and it challenges ageist assumptions and exclusionary practices. We show how the population changes concern everyone, partly because everyone who survives will get old, but also because society, families and local communities need to adjust attitudes and practices.

Postcards from the Look at Me! project: www.representing-ageing.com

Postcards from the Look at Me! project: www.representing-ageing.com

We are due to deliver the completed manuscript to the publisher in early March. We have just finished our final three-day residential in Devon. I was not anticipating that the final stretch would feel any more creative than a slog. But our three days made us energised and keen to get on with our allocated tasks. What on earth happened?

Looking after ourselves

230 StoverWe haven’t lived this long without knowing that caring for ourselves is very important. We are good at celebrating successes, knowing that the Prosecco shortage may be due to our frequent celebrations. We kept ourselves warm, in front of the open fire in the evenings and enjoyed good food. We got some some fresh air and exercise, on this occasion a walk round the lake in Stover Park, and kept good hours.

Our agenda

We had planned for these days, exchanging ideas for our agenda by email from early December. The key thing about this meeting was that we had received feedback from three readers on all 14 chapters. We knew they would say the writing needs to become more consistent. But we wanted to explore how to do that as well as address their other observations and comments. And we needed to plan everything to be done before sending our manuscript to the publisher. We began with a list of all the things to be done and began each day by setting the day’s timetable.

230 TT

Key work on vision

Our publisher had asked us to sharpen up one particular aspect of the book: what needs to change. We decided to use the end of every chapter to do this as well as keeping it in mind as we revise the chapters. And we had planned a short final chapter to encapsulate all that. This became the key work of the residential, achieved jointly.

Mostly we talk, go through our many pages, make notes, but sometimes we write together. We do this with one writer at the keyboard, and dictation by the others, or the keyboarder reading aloud and adjusting and amending, sentence by sentence, over and over again. Eileen and Caroline have worked like this before, but it is much easier with two than three. But in the end we cold not see the joins and were inspired by our own vision of a future in which ageing is not assumed to be a problem.

We have found on previous occasions that the idea of a manifesto is helpful, even if it doesn’t appear in the book in this form. Creating a statement of what the book is about is a dynamic or iterative process. Working on the manifesto, shapes the book and the writing of the chapters moves us towards the manifesto in its strongest form. Ours has emerged gradually over the two years of writing,

I remind myself that I should have trusted the process. I realised how important our vision has become when I found myself describing the book differently the following day. ‘What are you writing?’ I was asked. ‘It’s a book arguing that demographic changes do not need to be seen as problematic and how we can achieve this.’ It sounded good to me, even if the words were not what I would have said even a week ago.

Creating excitement and new stuff from dialogue

Working collaboratively with other writers helps achieve these new understandings. It is a key process in writing together. Through dialogue everyone participates and you end up in a different place, one you would not have arrived at if you had been writing alone. And usually where you arrive is at a better understanding of what we want to say and why. This is sometimes called interthinking.

Try it some time. You need tact, patience, trust and an open mind to do it. And you get better the more you do it. Reviewing the process from time to time also helps.

That tricky and elusive title

The publisher wanted us to get to a better title. We have the one from when we proposed the book: Ageing Now. And a revision as a result of an earlier writing session: Living Longer Together. These are not considered satisfactory by the publisher. But she needs it now for the American catalogue. The three of us have been brainstorming away since December when she told us we would need to do this. We had asked her for suggestions, knowing that our previous publisher had suggested the title that was exactly right: Retiring with Attitude. No luck this time.

101 RWA coverBut we tried several ways to agree a title, including looking at the final chapter, our vision. In the end we sent her our two least bad titles. I expect she will favour a variation of one of them. I would have liked to give you the title, so you could run to your bookseller and reserve a copy of this book, but I can’t.

I think we have found the title harder than any other single aspect of the writing of this book.

Future posts about writing this book together

We plan to post every month about the progress towards publication in September. We think that there are some good things to share with other writers: how we write together, the stages towards publication, working with feedback, marketing and so on. And here’s some advice for free – keep celebrating and laughing together, even if it results in a celebratory selfie that casts doubt on the authors’ sanity.

230 3 writers

From left to right: Eileen Carnell, Caroline Lodge and Marianne Coleman.

Related posts

On the tricky topic of titles on this blog in November 2015

Published today: what our editors did for us in July 2014

 

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Writing Together (part 2) – What have we learned?

Half my voice is you.

Some notes can only be reached

Singing together.

I’m delighted to present the second part of the conversation about writing collaboratively with my co-writer, Eileen. You can find the first part here.

Caroline. We’ve been writing together for eighteen years now. How would you say we have developed our ways of working together?

Eileen. Over time and through different ways of experimenting, a bit of trial and error really, so that now we write better together than we do on our own – like that haiku you gave me says.

C. So what have we learned?

E. Writing is still hard because we want to get better and better. Now I’m more aware of things than I was at the beginning – like economy of writing, ordering and making points, being more upfront. I’ve been learning those things from writing with you.

C. I think I’ve come to trust the process more, seeing how first off one writes to clarify ideas and then writes to be read and that we have developed ways of doing this together in which I trust. And we’ve consciously reviewed and reflected on our processes from time to time. Including when we decided to write for this blog!

E. When we finished our first draft of that last book we were asked to write it with more edge. We rewrote the whole book (C: 12 chapters!) and it became much better because it had to be more precise.

C. I think we had some good conversations about how we did it, like having a good hook, or being colloquial but avoiding clichés, and putting the important things up front.

E. It was a really good exercise. And it’s interesting because I can’t write like that at the beginning and have to go through the same stages again. There are no shortcuts.

C. I think it’s always lengthy, but at least we can now say to each other this bit of writing is at this stage, or needs editing or whatever.

E. That’s a really good point.

C. I know!

E. One thing I think is different about our individual approaches is that you can go further with that on your own. I spew it all out and need some thoughts from you before I can continue, whereas I think you give me more thoughtful pieces on your own. Perhaps I’m just lazy.

C. You’re just lazy.

E. Seriously, I think it’s about the essence of collaborative writing – I want to check with you that this is the sort of thing we really want to say, rather than steaming ahead on my own and just writing my bit.

C. Perhaps to some extent we have internalised each other’s writerly voices?

E. When we’ve extended the collaboration to include our reader there were several points she made and I did hear her voice, especially about the opening of the chapters not matching the content.

Writing tog

C. So what would you advise people who want to write together, based on our experiences?

E. It’s difficult to start off in a new collaborative writing relationship and what would be helpful would be to talk about, and make explicit, how they see that process happening and what approach they would want to adopt as they go forward.

C. We’ve both had experience of failing to write collaboratively with very brilliant writers. So would we agree that if it doesn’t feel good don’t do it?

E. Yeah! They need to be open all the way through and make clear the processes and feelings.

C. It probably helps that we are good friends then, although of course the friendship has also developed as we have written.

E. I don’t think its necessary to be good friends, although nice, (C: thank you) but I could imagine writing professionally with people. It’s talking openly – that’s the important thing.

C. What can go wrong then?

E. That someone isn’t prepared to adapt. So you need to listen, be flexible, be prepared to change things, see the writing as shared and not your own, not holding onto it, otherwise it’s just joined up pieces of writing.

 

Caroline and Eileen had this conversation, then edited it together.

For Christmas 2012, Caroline commissioned David Varela to write the haiku quoted at the top of the piece as a present for Eileen.

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