Writing is most often a solitary act. We sit with paper and pencil, or computer, by ourselves, and build a story word by word, tear it down, build it again. But there is another kind of writing—collaboration—when we work with friends to create a story that is richer, more textured than what one writer alone might do. And that is what happened when Phyllis Root, Liza Ketchum and I wrote the text for our new book Begin with a Bee (Spring, 2021). We are so fortunate that Claudia McGehee is doing the illustrations for this book.
Phyllis Root has written many picture books and received many, many awards. Liza Ketchum has written an awesome number of middle grade and YA novels—and received many awards. And we all love bees. Liza has been part of bee study group. We had worked together on a manuscript about turtles but could never quite make it sing a unified song. Still, we loved working together. We decided to write about bumblebees, specifically Rusty-patched bumblebees—the first bees to be placed on the Fish and Wildlife Federation’s Endangered Species list.
We all did all the research we could on the lives of bumblebees. We learned bumblebees are essential pollinators. And they are unique pollinators. When the bumblebee is collecting pollen it takes the pollen producing structure of the flower in her jaws and they perform a behavior called “buzz pollination,” in which the bee grabs the anthers of the flower in her jaws and vibrates her wings. This vibration sets loose pollen that would have otherwise remained trapped in the flower’s anthers. The Xerces Society notes that, “Some plants—including tomatoes, peppers, and cranberries—benefit significantly from buzz pollination.”
And we wrote. Phyllis wrote the first draft. We all commented and made some changes. And we just kept commenting and changing for several drafts, many months. After a while, we realized we needed to be in the same space at the same time. We got together at a little rented cabin in Wisconsin—along with our dear friend, fellow-writer and teacher, Marsha Qualey. We worked for one day, read our manuscript to Marsha. And she said in her usual cut-to-the chase style, “But why are you telling this story?” We knew we had more work to do.
Two more days. More re-writing. And, though we weren’t totally done, we had a draft we could share when we left that cabin.
Writing together is sharing, re-considering, putting story ahead of self, giving up some of our own ideas for better ideas from someone else. It is learning and is also often joyful.