What We Learned From Writing a Book Together
The process forced us to look inward, embrace change, and transformed our relationship from acquaintances to trusted colleagues
It’s better to focus on the journey and not on the destination, as the adage goes. This strategy is central to our co-authored book on parenting. But when you’re writing a book, the process is necessarily destination-focused. There exists one explicit end goal: a bound tome bearing your name on its glossy cover.
When we set out to write The Parent Compass: Navigating Your Teen’s Wellness and Academic Journey in Today’s Competitive World in the wake of the Operation Varsity Blues College Admissions Scandal, we wanted to make a difference by helping parents understand their role and how to behave during the tween and teen years. We also cared deeply about the mental health and wellness of teens today and sought to teach parents how to support that. Our eyes were singularly fixed on our destination, and getting our message out into the world consumed us.
What we didn’t know at the time was that it was our journey as writing partners — not our book with the glossy cover bearing our names — that would change our lives. It challenged us in a way we never imagined, forced us to look inward and embrace change in our own lives, and transformed our relationship from acquaintances to trusted confidants, colleagues, and friends.
It was on March 19, 2020, that the idea of our book was born. The College Admissions Scandal rocked the headlines and our first horrified phone call was to one another. We cringed as we lamented the tragedy and cursed its mastermind. After all, we had built our own successful educational consulting practices on honesty and integrity and on empowering our students to be their best selves.
Eager to help parents struggling to navigate the hypercompetitive and uncertain tween and teen years, our project quickly unfolded. We were on a mission to save a generation of listless, unhappy teens who lacked self-advocacy skills and whose parents overmanaged, overtutored, and overparented. So we got to writing. During that writing process, we learned so much about relationships, challenges, and, of course, ourselves. Here are our lessons:
Share a Passion
We breathed ours. Having seen the troubling consequences when parents speak over their kids or fail to appreciate them for who they uniquely are, we felt an obligation to write what we knew. When we got tired or had a disagreement, it was our shared passion that forced us to reach for that fourth cup of coffee or extend the olive branch.
We sought support from experts in a variety of fields: education thought leaders, teachers, counselors, fellow authors, psychologists, and more; without their wisdom, our message would not have been as compelling. Countless people along the way — podcasters, bookstagrammers, radio hosts, friends — also believed in us and our project and it was their support that taught us the values of community and paying it forward.
Now, after our book has been in print for nearly a year, we make it a point to respond to every question we receive from fellow authors and every request we receive from people simply wanting to learn more.
Two Is Better Than One
As fellow authors know, writing books involves extreme highs and lows, and this project certainly had its share. From a last-minute change in cover art and book title to Covid-19 forcing the cancellation of a multi-city tour and in-person book launch, to late-night deadlines on hard and unrelenting chapters, the two of us weathered the storms together much better than we would have been equipped to do alone.
We had set a common goal and were determined to achieve it no matter the obstacles. And we did. Sharing the peaks and valleys made the journey infinitely more fun and exhilarating.
Writer’s Block Happens
The blank page (and brain) can be frustrating, but much less so when you have a partner to lean on. Some chapters left us stuck in a vortex, a black hole of writing, so to speak. Sometimes neither of us actually had the energy or stamina to push through. But just when one of us was about to give up, the other intuitively came in for the save. In cheerleading one another, we learned firsthand the astounding power of positivity, optimism, and teamwork.
Divide and Conquer
We divided up the work based on the topic of certain chapters; given our different backgrounds and styles, one of us may have been the right person or stronger in conveying the chapter’s overarching message, but every word of every page belongs to us jointly. We take pride in the fact that together we have edited and painstakingly selected each word and that we wrote and wrote until we agreed.
Play on Strengths
From the inception of our book, we’ve known that we have different strengths to exploit. One of us loves to write, has an eye for detail, is reserved and picks her words carefully, and frankly finds too much talk exhausting. The other one is a whiz at marketing, is an extroverted talker who can make friends with anyone, loves to connect people, and needs very little sleep.
We divided our writing and our tasks based on our strengths and interests. One managed more of the editing, the other managed more of the social media and outreach. It was our differences that made our partnership so successful — and the process fulfilling.
Partner in Everything
Despite those differences, we aim to do every podcast, interview, and appearance together because that’s when we’re at our best (but it hasn’t always been easy). We are teammates first, working together for our common goal of sharing the parent compass movement with our readers. No one is competing to be faster, stronger, or first across the finish line. We navigated our book’s journey together at the same pace. It felt all the more gratifying that way.
No, it was not all roses. Our styles are very different. Our wires crossed from time to time. We hurt each other’s feelings without thinking. We were forced to self-reflect and face our own demons. We became acutely aware of our inadequacies, quirks, and irksome behavior. We made difficult life changes, owned up to our shortcomings, and learned to apologize. We communicated and came out the other side stronger. It was one of the biggest periods of growth in our lives.
Maintain a Sense of Humor
Writing a book (or essay or article) together is fun. We laughed as we recalled our own parenting mishaps or when our kids called us on things. We had challenges in the journey that, while not funny at the time, we can now look back on and laugh. Was releasing a book during Covid fun or funny? No, but did we make lemonade out of lemons and stumble upon a hosting gig and accidental podcast with every dream guest we could have imagined? Yes! So, that is fun and also kind of funny!
The journey for us was a circuitous one. We cried when we argued. We got mad when publishers said “No.” We squealed when publishers said “Yes.” We laughed when we flubbed during a podcast recording. We screamed when one opportunity didn’t come through, and we screamed when another one did. So, yes, the destination was important and some might call it life-changing: Finally, we share a book bearing our names on its glossy cover. But in the grand scheme of things — with the broader journey, and our growth both individually and collectively — now that’s life-changing.
About the Co-Authors
Cynthia C. Muchnick, M.A. & Jenn Curtis, M.S.W. are the co-authors of The Parent Compass: Navigating Your Teen’s Wellness and Academic Journey in Today’s Competitive World. To learn more, follow them on Instagram @parentcompass or visit www.parentcompassbook.com.
Cynthia Clumeck Muchnick, MA, is a graduate of Stanford University and has been working in education for the past 25+ years as a former Assistant Director of College Admission, high school teacher, educational consultant, and author of five other education-related books. She speaks professionally to parents, students, teachers, and businesses on topics such as study skills, the adolescent journey, college admission, and now the parent compass movement.
Jenn Curtis, MSW, earned a BA from UCLA and MSW from USC and has been an educational consultant and professional speaker for the past 12 years. As the owner of FutureWise Consulting, she has worked with hundreds of students throughout the nation on every aspect of the college admission process. She is particularly passionate about empowering teens to approach life with intention and educating parents about using their parent compass.