Co-writing Committee-itis

by Hazel Edwards & Jean Roberts
The Internet Writing Journal, October 2003
Committee-itis by Hazel Edwards & Jean Roberts
Click here for ordering information.
Collaboration on a book has been described as like a marriage without sex. Conflict can arise. If so, Jean and Hazel must be the odd couple because this writing relationship worked well and we didn't "divorce" during the year long process. As a management consultant, Jean Roberts has years of practical experience in belonging to and working on all kinds of committees. Hazel's managed to avoid joining any committee until this year. So the Committee-itis relationship was a combination of the highly skilled and the naïve wary.

Writing books is usually a solitary occupation. A successful collaboration, based on equal but different skills and resources, is preferable because you have two imaginations working, and it's fun, especially when the book is a humorous challenge to a generic subject like committees. And you can have coffee breaks.

Where Did the Idea Come From?


Jean had been conscious of the time and energy wasted by members' frustrations with meandering committees. Hazel supplied the title Committee-itus and the concept of a virus infecting the body. The aim in writing the book was to inject humor while at the same time providing practical checklists and strategies to make committees -- and the experience of committee membership -- more successful: and to "keep it simple".

Although we'd known each other for years, and independently authored many books, we'd never written together before.

Introducing "Iris the Virus"


We decided the use the medical analogy of a "virus" infecting a committee, and that our strategies in the book were a way of immunizing against the threat. Having a doctor in the family was an asset for checking the medical terminology. We had great fun thinking up examples relating to various parts of the body. Then we created "Iris the Virus". Checklists for symptoms, common complaints, remedies and even post mortems for "dead" committees are included.

To help the reader identify the presence or absence of known symptoms, we've included two separate surveys in Section 1 -- the first is to check for signs of the Committee-itis virus in your own body, and the second is to check for signs of the virus in your committee meetings

Satirical Scenarios


Our decision to offer a number of open ended satirical scenarios for use as classroom, training, workshop or conference activities provides opportunities for committee members and others to role play various committee experiences with a prepared script. Examples include a Mt Paperwork Whodunnit script (with an optional meal), Hat Tricks which enables "dressing up" with hats, and a Minutes of Time script set in another world where the currency is satisfaction rather than time or money. This enables a different point of view on daily problems associated with committees.

It's always helpful at conferences or workshops to have a fun activity that is closely related to the topic or theme of the occasion. Through humor, the participants learn from a different perspective and are then able to apply improvements into their workday situation. For example, secondary students will be able to achieve an effortless transfer of skills and strategies to improve the many meetings in which they are encouraged to participate in their school and after-school lives.

As a playwright, Hazel's experience in scripting for theatre, TV and classrooms was relevant for the Committee-itis workshop and conference scripts.

Committee-itis workshops are planned nationally for 2003.

Practical Tools for Improving Committees:


Along with humor, we decided to offer practical tools, checklists and strategies for readers to immediately try with their own committees. We also identified 39 different kinds of committees that people of various ages and experience can be involved with, and these are presented as a collage at the front of the book. We even defined a committee as "Any group of two or more people gathered around a table of any size, who talk among themselves, handle reams of paper and meet at regular or irregular intervals."

Variety of Committees


To enable readers to recognize the presence and effect of the devious Iris the Virus, we've taken a range of common committees, and shown how each can be infected without even knowing it. These include: Finally, trying to organize a combined photo to go on the back of the book was our last challenge. Luckily we didn't need a committee for that!

**Hazel Edwards is the Melbourne-based author of 150 books for adults and children including the classic, There's a Hippopotamus on our Roof Eating Cake. Antarctic Writer on Ice is in its fourth reprint, and is available on audio and in Braille, a YA eco-thriller Antarctica's Frozen Chosen (Lothian 2003) and an Antarctic play in Right or Wrong (Phoenix Education) are some of the writing based on her Antarctic Division polar resupply Voyage 5 to Casey Station in 2001. My Dad's Gone to Antarctica,(Lothian 2004) a picture book, is in progress. Recent children's books include Stickybill TV Duckstar The Cyber Farm with Hobbit director Christine Anketell. You can visit her website at hazeledwards.com. Married with two adult children, Hazel's hobbies are swimming, belly dancing and asking questions.

Jean Roberts Jean Roberts is an established Australian writer, consultant and trainer, specialising in the governance, management and operation of nonprofit organisations, and in the social, economic and political factors that influence the nonprofit sector.

More from Writers Write