“… And I was wondering if you’d like to write a book with me.” Sarah asked me this in the rain. Early summer, stalks of rhubarb hugged tightly to my chest. Our feet on the mulch and our children in the driveway. “Yes,” I said. I cried. We hugged, the rhubarb between us. “Yes, yes, please, yes.”
That was eighteen months ago. In that time, we pitched our book, signed a contract, and started writing. In that time, we’ve also watched as the project created ripples (tidal waves) in our lives: my family bought a house, hers sold another; we discerned school, child care, and how much bacon we can cram into our families’ Tuesday dinners. We wrote, rewrote, rewrote again; we’ve spent a year practicing our book’s elevator speech to our friends, families, other writers, our church, our combined five kids, my dog, and each other.
And we’re still friends.
We’ve done a lot of living through this project, and we’re still friends. How?
By grace? By Sarah’s good fortune of working with a former newspaper editor (who doesn’t mind critiques)? By my good fortune, of working with an author of about a dozen other titles? Probably those things, a little bit.
But I think it works because I value how we sharpen one another’s words (Prov. 27:17). As members of Redbud Writers Guild, Sarah and I value creating in a community of fearless female writers of faith. We continually ask how our words and influence can be made stronger together.
Perhaps writing one book with one other person, by extension of that value of co-creation, chips away the pride, the fear, the whatever-it-is that surrounds our solo work. Gone were the aspirations we had for the book individually: and what’s now taking shape in our Google Docs folder is something much, much richer. We hold very loosely the words we’ve written, submitting to each other in love when one suggests edits. This is hard, soul-level work but this is how you write a book with someone: you must learn to hold on loosely. You must share that file before you think it’s perfect. You must show them your ugly writing. This is hard. You must encourage and then ask good questions about the parts that don’t yet work. This is so hard.
But really: How can we enjoy inviting someone else into the introvert’s dream career (the cabin in the woods, the typewriter, the bowl of dry Apple Jacks, the flannel shirts)? How does Sarah not weep when she sees an email from me in her inbox? (And she has plenty of reasons: we also plan age-based ministries at church together. There’s no escape!)
First, we value our relationship and what God’s doing in our lives over the book. Our families meet for dinner most Tuesdays: we cook together, we pray together, our kids play together. Our book is based on a yearlong experiment our families did together, so we’ll talk about what God’s up to and what we’ve read lately. We rarely talk about the writing over dinner. Really. Our book is a small, small fraction in the work that God’s doing in our lives: our faith, our dreams, careers, children, marriages, and who gets the last piece of bacon all come first.
Second, we’ve wrapped this project in grace.
Hey, you won’t always have the same vision. That’s OK: find unity where you can.
You won’t always feel the same about the book. That’s OK: celebrate what you can.
You will sometimes think you’re on chapter nine when your coauthor calls: “I think we need to rewrite the introduction.” Your heart will sink. “Again?” (And you’ll know she’s right.) It’s OK.
You will sometimes send your coauthor three chapter drafts for her approval and hear nothing back for twenty-one days. (This is that “sanctification of your soul” stuff you’ve heard about.) You will sometimes send a crummy pile of words to your coauthor and hear back only, “That’s a good start,” and you will fall into a twenty-four-hour abyss of dejection. But when you get back up into your chair — select all and delete — you’ll start over. Something new will spring from your fingers. A few hours and a few thousand words later, she’ll probably say, “This is it. This is what we needed to say.”
And you’ll eat a brownie for lunch to celebrate.
See, all this starting and stopping, all this “no, that’s not it,” and “expand here,” and “where’s Jesus in this chapter?” is holy work. It’s two people taking turns holding a shovel, chipping away at the dirt that obstructs what it is we’re trying to reveal (hint: Jesus).
God, Triune God, created in community. We merely play at doing so when we create with another person. I pray that when we stand back from the finished product, though, we’ll give thanks to God, look at each other, and declare our project good.