Article - Writing Book

Writing the Book

by Helen Dennis and Bernice Bratter

Published in Aging Today by the American Society on Aging, 2008

The good news was that the Scribner publishers (Simon & Schuster) came to us with a request to write the book -- Project Renewment: The First Retirement Model for Career Women.  That meant we avoided writing a lengthy book proposal (we had a short one),h iring a literary agent and shopping for a publisher.  


We accepted the invitation and had no idea what lay ahead of us. We both had young grandchildren to enjoy, full careers and/or full education/volunteer commitments.  We decided to follow the advice of the first director of the University of  Southern California’s (USC)  Andrus Gerontology Center’s Davis School – the late Dr. Margaret E. Hartford.  She urged anyone writing a book to remain fully engaged with life; that it would challenge and enhance one’s thinking and writing.  And that’s what we did. 


Leading that full life did not preclude our thinking about the book for two years at almost every waking moment and often at 3:00 a.m.


From signing the contract to the release of the book was a 24-month process. During that time we each had temporary life experiences that distracted us from the task at hand.   Fortunately, we developed an exceptional supportive relationship in which one or the other could “pick up the slack”.  At the end, the time and energy spent was balanced. 


We quickly learned the importance of having a compatible relationship.  “It could be a disaster to find myself working with someone who did not share my values or world-view”.  Having similar background helped.  Both of us are from the “Silent” generation with hard-working immigrant parents. We both approached the task with extensive knowledge of aging, transitions and retirement. We shared a strong work ethic, commitment to excellence and to writing a book that would fill a void for career women, providing them with exceptional value. We agreed:  this endeavor had no place for egos. 


Letting go of our own material was the norm.  Ideas developed, were deleted, revised and resurrected.  It didn’t matter who had the idea or who wrote the draft. Since each of us has different strengths, the division of labor was easy. Whoever had the “strength” wrote the first draft. We collaborated on every aspect of the writing and production of the book, each having an imprint on every segment.  In rereading the book in hardcover, it was difficult to remember who wrote which part, and it didn’t matter.  


And then there were illustrations.  We were surprised about how many drafts were needed to convey the moment we wanted to capture.  Fortunately, we had an extraordinary illustrator who translated our vision into terrific drawings.  We found ourselves discussing how women should be portrayed regarding diversity, sizes, shapes, hairstyles and clothing.  We pulled together our own informal focus groups to get reactions to the drawings.  Their critique was useful – “women no longer use rollers, the jewelry is outdated, the women are too skinny or too plump, the clothing is too 80’s, the hairstyle is too 70s.”  The illustrations were modified until they were just right. 


We discovered that it takes a team to write a book.  We had an editor, intellectual property attorney, illustrator, research assistant, computer consultants, website designer and readers.  The Scribner team included people from publishing, editing, marketing, designing and publicity. 


We now have a website, business cards and email addresses so that we can be in touch with our readers.  The book has given us a sense of accomplishment, fulfillment and great pleasure. We both are grateful for the opportunity.


While it was not planned for that purpose, the structure of  Project Renewment: The First Retirement Model for Career Women lent itself to an approach that allowed its authors to share the “empty page syndrome”.  The book is divided into two parts.  The first part begins with the rationale for the book, and it is followed   by 38 essays that focus on the most discussed issues of  Project  Renewment women.  Lastly, there is a guide on how to establish a Project Renewment group.


The authors decided which parts each of them would take to produce a first draft. Once completed, they exchanged drafts for further editing and revision.  In this way each author put her imprint on every segment of the book. Since their book had illustrations, they worked with the illustrator to coordinate the illustrations with the writing.


Facing a blank page is daunting for any writer.  How to integrate the dialogues with what we know about the subject and then add some perspective –- and make it engaging -- were ongoing challenges.  We wanted readers to enjoy the book, as well as learn from it.

Writing the book was on the first step.   The completed manuscript is edited and sent back to the authors multiple times for corrections and additions.  There can be several drafts before the book moves on to copywriting and printing. Each footnote and quote is verified.  This last process can take two to three months to complete. 

The writing was consuming, challenging and joyful. At times we found the work load enormous, given that neither of us was willing to surrender our careers, families or volunteer lives.