Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Writing as a Team


by Sue Heavenrich and Christy Mihaly

You might not normally think of writing as a team sport. Usually it’s done one-on-one, author wrestling to pin ideas to the page. But a few years back, the two of us decided to team up. The result of our collaboration is Diet for a Changing Climate: Food for Thought (Twenty-First Century Books/Lerner, Oct. 1, 2018). The book, YA nonfiction, tells young readers how our dining choices can make a difference to the earth. Trying unexpected foods – weeds, invasive species, and insects – may help solve the global hunger crisis and, at the same time, reduce agricultural emissions of greenhouse gases.

We had been critique partners for a few years when, talking at a conference, we realized that we had each been developing a book (separately) about entomophagy—the practice of eating insects.  It occurred to us that we might have the perfect project for a collaborative effort. We both wanted something that was fun to read, and also gross enough to capture the interest of middle-schoolers. Being critique partners, we had a good feel for the quality of each other’s writing. More importantly, we trusted one another. So we felt confident that we could work as a team to pull off a book project.

From the beginning, we viewed this book as a joint project. As a biologist (Sue) and environmental lawyer (Christy), both of us were already familiar with collaboration. And we felt that our different backgrounds would enrich the project. It’s also important to note that we stuffed our egos in the bottom drawer of the filing cabinet so we could focus on creating the best work we could.

When you think about writing with a colleague, there’s a good chance you’re visualizing meetings at the local café. Living 345 miles apart made that impossible, but we made good use of modern technology. We scheduled regular phone conversations to go over plans, set goals and deadlines, and keep the lines of communication clear. We divvied up tasks and then shared first drafts of chapter sections via email (rural internet still leaves a lot to be desired). Initially, one person would write a section, and we’d swap files and revise what the other wrote. This helped us develop a uniform voice for the entire book. Rubes that we were, somehow we thought that with two of us working on the project we would each do half the work. Ha! Christy calculates we did twice the amount. But the book is all the better for it.

Phone calls played another role, too. They gave us a chance to get to know each other on a more personal level. Drinking coffee and talking about the dog, the dishes, the kids… and then the BOOK. We did some of our best brainstorming over phone lines.

For more on collaborative writing, check out Tina Cho’s interview with STEM writers, Margaret Albertson and Paula Emick.

Here’s a list of tips for collaborative writing success.


11 comments:

  1. Sue & Christy - love the pics of you both eating bugs. So yummy! LOL. Congrats on this book, you dynamic duo! Congrats!

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  2. Love the subject matter of this book. Congratulations on your joint effort.

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  3. Great post that shows how you collaborate! I, too, liked your pictures. One of my students said his mom eats crickets; she's from Thailand. And here in Korea they roast silk worm larvae, but I can't stand the smell so never tasted it.

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    1. Tina, I've heard about silk worm larvae in stir fry and other dishes. Preparation is a big part of how we perceive them as food. I've had yummy crunchy crickets and some that I wanted to slather with hot sauce because they weren't so tasty.

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  4. Sue and Christy, your book sounds super interesting. And what a timely topic! I've seen articles on entomophagy popping up in many foodie magazines. (Just recently saw a recipe for cricket brownies in Edible Michiana.). Can't wait to share a copy of your book with my teens!

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    1. I had fun sharing my book with some 6th graders, and some were quite eager to taste crickets. Others not so much...

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  5. Sue and Christy - nice post on working as a team. Your photos and story are sure to whip up an appetite for your new book. Intriguing topic!

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  6. Oh those yummy bugs :) Thank you Sue and Christy for sharing your teamwork to crunch the science in food!

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  7. This book will be a great hit! I love the photos of you two brave women. Even though I can't wait to read the book, I'm not sure I'd be up for eating bugs! But maybe the book will change my thinking :-)

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  8. Congrats on a successful, and yummy, collaboration!

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