Collaboration is the Key: Notes from Co-Writing an Early Chapter Book Series, a guest post by Laura Brown and Elly Kramer
Although many great reads are penned by a single author, collaboration has been key to our writing process. We both got our start in children’s educational television where there is often a writer’s room. Under the leadership of a show’s creator(s), team members contribute ideas about character, setting, and story, and often provide notes at every stage in the scripting process. Because of this background, collaboration felt like the natural way to write an early chapter book series, too.
Educators and business leaders have emphasized the importance of collaboration for some time now. 21st Century learning identifies collaboration as one of the primary learning and innovation skills for the future (P21 Partnership for 21st Century Learning). According to research from the Association of American Colleges and Universities (2018), more than 80 percent of mid to large size employers prioritize collaboration skills in new hires. Here’s the story of how our collaboration came to be and the benefits it has afforded us.
A partnership is formed
Like so many great partnerships, ours was formed in the ladies room! We were in Toronto, participating in a writer’s room for a new television series. Elly was serving as Development Executive and Laura was Curriculum and Research Director. But we both secretly wanted to write scripts, too. When we ended up together in the ladies room, Elly popped the question, “Do you want to write scripts with me?” The answer was “Yes!” and the deal was sealed.
Inspiration for Trillium Sisters
After we had written four scripts together, we started to explore other ideas. Elly had always wanted to write about families. It felt like a universally appealing starting point. Although every family is different, we all have one! Plus, we know how important and grounding family is for our readers.
We both were excited, too, to explore what we call modern princess magic –strong girls solving their own problems. But we wanted there to be strong men and boys, too, all working together to raise each other up. That’s why we created a family with three sisters and a little brother headed by a nurturing father.
When Laura went skiing in Colorado, she found a world for this family. She was enjoying a gentle run down the mountain when she came upon a beautiful stand of Douglas Firs. She found herself imagining who might live beyond those trees. Perhaps there was a village where people lived in treehouses, ziplined to work, and felt completely connected to the animals and nature on the mountain. Laura wanted every child to experience this beautiful alpine world. When she returned and told Elly about the setting, Elly was just as excited. With the world, characters and major themes settled, we began to brainstorm story ideas.
The Nitty Gritty: How We Write Together
Crafting an entire book series is different, of course, than writing a script. Through trial and error, we’ve found a process that preserves the benefits of co-writing but also ensures efficiency and consistency in the writing.
First, we brainstorm story ideas together. Because we live far apart, this often involves a zoom meeting and huge steaming cups of coffee. But it’s a lot of fun, probably our favorite part of the process.
Once we find an idea we both love, we outline the story together. This is a long process and involves a great deal of revision. When we feel we have the main beats of the story, one of us then takes primary responsibility for writing the book. This works well because we’re writing a series. We each take primary writing responsibility for half the books. While one person writes, the other acts like an editor, reading and revising what’s produced. The editor might punch up the dialogue, suggest a plot turn, or help the primary author get “unstuck” when she reaches an unexpected obstacle.
What We’ve Learned
As we reflect on what has and hasn’t worked well, there are some clear takeaways. First, choose your partner(s) thoughtfully. The most helpful partners have strengths that don’t duplicate but complement your own. Second, speak your thoughts aloud. Your partner can’t guess what you’re thinking! Share the half-baked idea you just can’t get out of your head. Research shows discussion helps collaborators find connections among seemingly disparate ideas (Sparks, 2017). Also, remember to tell your partner what’s important to you and discuss conflicts as soon as they arise. And finally, be sure to ‘Yes and’ your partner. ‘Yes anding’ means accepting what someone says and then building on it. We have found ‘yes and’ leads to hidden gems that might not be apparent in the original idea.
Our book series, Trillium Sisters, is about three sisters who are learning to work together and find greater strength through teamwork. That’s what we’ve been doing, too, in our collaborative writing. Our partnership has helped us to be more creative and accountable. Most importantly though, we’ve enjoyed the writing more because it’s a shared experience. We wish you and your students happy and fruitful writing collaborations.
P21 Partnership for 21st Century Learning. A network of battelleforkids. Framework brief. Retrieved from: https://www.battelleforkids.org/networks/p21/frameworks-resources
Sparks, S.D. (2017). Children must be taught to collaborate, studies say. Education Week. Retrieved from: https://www.edweek.org/leadership/children-must-be-taught-to-collaborate-studies-say/2017/05
Watson, C.E. and McConnell, K.D. (2018). What really matters for employment? Association of American Colleges and Universities Liberal Education, 104(4). Retrieved from: https://www.aacu.org/liberaleducation/2018/fall/watson_mcconnell
Meet the authors
Trillium Sisters is co-written by educational television veterans, Laura Brown and Elly Kramer. You can follow them on instagram at @laurabrownauthor and @ellykramerauthor.
Laura, an educational psychologist, has served as Content Expert or Curriculum Director on over 50 children’s television series at Nick Jr., Disney Junior, Netflix, Spin Master Entertainment and many others worldwide. She is currently Curriculum Director at WarnerMedia Preschool/Cartoonito. Laura resides in Northern New Jersey, but in another life she would gladly live in a treehouse in the forest.
Elly is a senior creative executive with over 19 years of experience leading the development of innovative content. She is currently Head of Animation for Imagine Entertainment’s Kids and Family division. Previously, she was VP of Production and Development with Nickelodeon. A lifelong New Yorker, Elly currently resides in Los Angeles.
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About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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