Written by A Guest Author November 23rd, 2023

Dancing to the Finish Line

By Ruth Wilson

It all started with a phone call. My friend, Jeannie Dennler, called to say that she needed help finishing a book that she had started ten years earlier. “If there’s one thing I need to do before I die, it’s to finish this book. It’s been hounding me for way too long. I need your help. Will you work with me?” I had just finished another book, so I was open to the idea of starting a new writing project. What concerned me, however, was the fact that I had never co-authored a book before. I wondered what that would be like.

Jeannie and Carol Quick (another person working on the book) were my friends. I didn’t want to do anything that might jeopardize the friendship. I had written several other books and was thus quite aware of what the process entails. The experience can be intense and frustrating; the process nerve-racking and complicated. I found that just working with an editor and a publication team can involve a great deal of give and take. What would it be like to throw two co-authors in the mix – especially two people who had already been working on the book for quite some time.

I consulted with my husband, Fred. He knew both Jeannie and Carol. His advice was to steer clear of the whole situation. “You’ll only be asking for trouble,” he said.  “If it took them ten years to get this far in writing the book, how many more years would it take with a third person involved?” I’m a writer, however, and the invitation to write feels almost irresistible. I said “yes”, and that was the beginning of the co-authoring dance.

I read somewhere that the writing process is like a dance in that it involves a lot of back-and-forth movement, some synchronicity, and a touch of creativity. That’s what it means when you dance with ideas and words. The dance can get a lot more complicated when you’re working with a co-author or two. You now have to avoid stepping on each other’s toes!

Jeannie and Carol had started the book and were heavily  invested in the framework and overall message. My role — as Jeannie explained to me — was to “clean it up”. Would that leave me out of the dance? I wasn’t OK with that, but decided to look at the unfinished manuscript anyway.

After reading what Jeannie and Carol had written, I felt comfortable with the outline and tone. I had some ideas, however, about how to fill in what I considered the less well-developed sections of the book. Would Jeannie and Carol be open to my suggestions, or would they think that I was “cutting in” to a dance that belonged to them? I decided to give it a try. Success! I was invited to write an additional section and to become a third co-author of the book.

Thinking of this writing project as a dance was helpful to me throughout the process. Jeannie, Carol, and I each had a role to play. Defining those roles helped us stay in sync with each other. We also had to move in time with the music – that is, the timeframe for completing the project. My role included developing a book proposal and submitting it to a publishing company. Fortunately, I had ties with Routledge Publishing through other books I had written.

On August 10, 2021, Routledge offered us a contract! That’s when the music started to play with greater intensity. We now had a deadline (January 15, 2022) and some obligations to fulfill, such as obtaining written permissions for photos and artwork. Again, defining our individual roles was critical to the successful completion of the book. At times, we had to adjust our movements to the rhythm and pace of our partners. I almost stumbled when Jeannie told me that we’d have to ask for an extension of time to complete the manuscript. I had never asked for an extension before. In fact, all of my other books were completed ahead of schedule. But in this case, I wasn’t the conductor of the music; and Jeannie was a dance partner, not a note on the page. And so we continued dancing all the way to the finish line.

Our manuscript was submitted to Routledge on March 15, 2022 and published in October, 2022.

The book is titled “Creating Quality of Life for Adults on the Autism Spectrum: The Story of Bittersweet Farms.”

Bio: Ruth Wilson, a retired educator, currently works with the Children & Nature Network as curator of the Research Library. She has several published books, including Nature and Young Children, Learning is in Bloom, and Naturally Inclusive. Ruth lives in New Mexico where she enjoys writing, hiking, and biking.



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