According to Herpreet Singh
In an email to Katie Gutierrez, our executive editor, I asked, “Can you give me a better idea of the team approach RTC has used in the past?” I was new to the company, and I was trying to sound professional. So I didn’t say what I was thinking: Team-writing a book sounds like a terrible idea, a disaster.
I could have stopped there and simply waited for a response, but I felt dread, a sense of panic, because I also really wanted to work on the book she had approached me to write. So I rambled on, “I’ve never written a book as part of a large team. I have no sense of how this goes.” Translation: What if we “team” members have conflicting visions? “What are the various team roles, and how do they interact?” Translation: What if we hate what the other writes? Who rules out the other person’s work? “Is this something that’s been done before, or are you trying something new with this book?” I asked. Translation: Are you making this up as you go? Because, no fucking way this can work.
Writing a book for and with a client, helping someone tell his or her story in a way that is authentic to the client’s own experience and vision and voice—it’s challenging. So when I tried to factor in moving through the book writing process working with not only a client but also with two other writers, I felt terrified.
In her response, Katie explained that I would interview the client directly, and Francesca would have access to the interview recordings and transcripts. Francesca would write first drafts of chapters and send them to me for review. I would have two days to work with the chapters, editing for content, style, and voice before sending them to Katie for a final review—the team completing one chapter a week in this way. Then, she added, “…the process typically includes only one writer and then me, but we have done it this way in the past.” She didn’t say how it had gone, and ended the email with, “Thoughts on this?”
My thoughts? Still: No way this can work. I answered, “I feel totally at ease with this approach... I think it’s the right way to go.” In that moment, in late April of 2014, I think I had convinced myself that I felt at ease.
Of course, we hadn’t started writing the book…yet.
According to Francesca Crozier-Fitzgerald
I, on the other hand, received Katie’s invitation to the team in the midst of a slightly different situation. I had been working in a technical writing position, editing standard text for our publications, writing long, mundane meeting reports, and organizing my department’s communications operations. This invitation to dive back into creative writing felt like a safety raft had been thrown in my direction. Yes, please, and thank you, I said, and I was pulled aboard.
I suppose it was part thrill and part my impetuous personality, but I hardly asked any questions about the logistics about this team-writing project. I was coming from a place where I was often asking for feedback and impressions on my writing, and receiving little response. From my years as a journalist, I was hardened by harsh edits on first drafts, and welcomed the idea of handing off to Herpreet and Katie for their red pens. The idea that I would have confidantes in this project, someone to tell me which parts needed more texture, where we needed to see more character, more realistic dialogue was the support I needed for this first book project. The writing would be a conscious collaboration of three keen writers, with the overarching input from our client—the reason the project was attractive in the first place.
Then, the best encouragement to trailblaze forward with the writing team was that which came from our client, himself. After I accepted the invitation, we bounced around a few emails to communicate our individual and combined responsibilities and discussed the approach to our client as well. As far as I know, he said something cool to the effect of “rock on,” because soon after, we were all locked into gear. In a check-in call with our client, he expressed that he was happy to hear that his story would be molded by the hands of not one, but three storytellers. Not only did he trust us with his story but with every unknown element of collaboration we’d need to coordinate to place and refine the words on the page.
The three of us left that writing kick-off call with pride for our individual writing styles and a sincere sense of obligation to let them blend, organically to tell our client’s story. As the first with the baton, I took those high spirits as momentum and later that day, Chapter 1 was written. Trusting in your team to tell a story and having the trust of the story’s keeper is a lethal combination.
Think of some of the oldest stories that have withstood the test of time, passing through the lips and hands of millions since our ancestors first developed them. Storytelling, in its most natural form, is a group effort.