Marian Sandmaier, Writer and Book Editor

 

Secrets of a Successful Collaboration

Twenty years ago, the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) asked me to write its first-ever guidebook on women and heart disease. NHLBI sent me research materials--journal articles, fact sheets, conference reports--and I immersed myself in the subject. I submitted a manuscript, did a round of revisions, and the government presses rolled. I thought that would be the end of it.

A few years later, NHLBI asked me to expand the 32-page booklet. Every three years after that, I updated and expanded it again. Today, the 120-page Healthy Heart Handbook for Women is a core part of NHLBI's national campaign to raise awareness about women and heart disease. While I'm proud of this accomplishment, it was also hard won. Throughout the process, I learned a lot about what does--and doesn't--create a successful writer-client collaboration. I'd like to share some of these discoveries with you:

Write for your audience. As I set out to write about heart disease, I didn't know a mitral valve from a lipoprotein. In my zeal to master the topic, I wrote a draft crammed with doctor-speak. When my client asked me to rewrite it for an eighth-grade reading level, my first thought was: Impossible. My second thought was: So, make it possible. I returned to my computer, wrote a new draft for ordinary mortals, and learned a lasting lesson about the power of plain language.

Respect the timeline. Every communications project involves a lot of people--not just writers but also reviewers, designers, proofreaders, webmasters and others. Everybody has a job to do. If one person fails to meet a deadline, it can have a massive domino effect. I learned to respect the schedule and make every deadline.

Get over yourself. Writers are used to working alone, but organizational writing is by nature a joint venture. As I began work on the heart disease book, a lot of people weighed in on the project. At first, I resisted: Wasn't I the Writer? Then I got it: collaboration really works! The Healthy Heart Handbook for Women is the product of generous and inspired teamwork--an example of collective wisdom in action.


 

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Marian Sandmaier | 308 Berkeley Road, Merion Station, PA 19066 | 610-291-5718 | mariansandmaier@gmail.com