How to write a book with a friend

With the arrival on my front steps of a cardboard box of Shifting Stats Shaking the Church: 40 Canadian Churches Respond, a huge, sprawling project came to a close for me and for my friend and co-author Patricia Paddey.

It was a marathon of research and writing and rewriting that resulted in the satisfyingly chunky, beautiful-looking book I held in my hands last week. My friend Patricia had received her books a few days earlier, but waited until I had mine before she posted a photo of the book on her Facebook account. It occurred to me later that she had waited on purpose of course, sitting on her books (maybe not literally) for two full days before sharing the good news. I think this graceful and generous gesture characterizes the way we worked together, and the way it is possible for two writers (each possessing ego, drive and strong ideas) to write a book together.

Here’s how we did it:

  • We researched separately and together, creating a huge excel sheet stored in dropbox that we colour-coded and updated constantly, after a phone call or email or google search produced another great lead, and confirmed a good fit or a bad fit for this project.
  • As we finalized our list of 40 churches — each of them to be their own chapter — we would both claim and assign chapters for ourselves and to each other. If there was a story that resonated especially, we’d say: “I’ll take that one.” If there was a story that struck one of us as especially difficult for some reason, we might say: “Can you please take that one?”
  • We were in constant contact by email, phone and in person at some library halfway between Mississauga and Port Perry. In person, we accomplished a great amount of research and got to laugh too loud in a library as well (which actually seems to be okay to do these days).
  • As we wrote and completed chapters we would post them for the other to read and edit in dropbox. We did not write together, but divided and conquered and then made each other’s work better. We are not afraid to say: “Huh? That doesn’t make sense to me,” or applaud  and say: “That’s beautiful. I got chills.” Always there was an undercurrent of “iron sharpens iron”  making the work itself sharper.

Humility and humour meant that we could listen to each other and the book was the ultimate winner. I believe it is better because we did it together. This is not the first time Patricia and I have tackled something huge together. I’m sure it won’t be the last.

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