Part 4. Coauthoring “All We’re Meant to Be”—The Writing Process

by Letha Dawson Scanzoni

Introduction. Part 3 of this series left off at the point where Nancy Hardesty and I met for the first time in mid-November, 1969, immediately feeling that we had known each other for a long time.  During that visit, what would later be titled All We’re Meant to Be was taking shape in long fireside chats as we exchanged ideas on chapter content, research needed, and how we would divide the work. We knew that our writing styles were similar and that blending our material together would not be a problem.  Those two days together were enough to get the project going.

Personal benefits of the book project

After she arrived back home in Illinois, Nancy wrote:

Already I’m beginning to feel that the project is helping me straighten out some of my thinking.  Because of our discussions I feel more at home with myself; I’m beginning to want to plan ahead and do some things, not just drift (that lecture was really to myself and this grand resolve may not last long, but it’s a good start).(Nancy Hardesty, letter to Letha, Nov. 22, 1969)

I wrote back:

It’s good to hear that you feel the project is helping you personally in outlook, attitude, plans, etc. I’m sure we’ll both find this to be true more and more as time goes on and further progress on the book is made. Then, having ourselves been open to things God wants to teach us in this regard, we’ll be able perhaps to pass on some help to other women—which, of course, is the whole point of writing such a book!  I can tell you share a similar concern, and this is one of several reasons why I feel we’ll work well together.  We’re not out to “prove a point” or “argue for women’s rights” but rather we want to help women to understand better what it means to be human beings made in God’s image and how they can best realize their full potential for [God’s] glory, for the good of society, for the benefit of loved ones, and for their own personal fulfillment. ( Letha Scanzoni, letter to Nancy, Dec. 1, 1969)

In the letters exchanged after the visit, we also discussed the tone we wanted to have in our projected book.  We both agreed we would avoid sarcasm and bitterness in our writing, knowing that such accusations were often hurled at feminists by opponents of gender equality (who themselves didn’t hesitate to use invective language in their denunciations of feminism and feminists).

In her  Nov. 22  letter, Nancy had also shared more ideas about the content of the projected book. She suggested a chapter that would show: “1. what woman is not: sugar and spice, the weaker sex, a doormat, a fecund mother goddess, and then 2. what woman is, which is basically a human being in God’s image.”  She went on:

And maybe that image doesn’t include sex particularly at all.  Maybe that’s why God is described in images, metaphors that we say are both masculine and feminine.  Maybe that’s why there will be no marriage in heaven. . . .I guess what I’m trying to say is that everyone is in the image of God which contains all human characteristics and sexual differentiation is a secondary thing.  (Nancy Hardesty, letter to Letha, Nov. 22, 1969)

Scheduling the writing of the book

We knew we were undertaking a project that would require a huge investment of time and energy, and we were already living very busy lives.  “I made it to the library this week and got several more books.  Now if I can just get them read,” Nancy said in that letter . She continued:

We discussed deadlines—rather you brought it up and I avoided it. At least at the moment, I don’t see how I can get to serious writing before next a summer.  I have trouble reading one extra book a week and next semester may be worse with all the novels I’ll have to read for my lit class.  Does that sound too far away? (Nancy Hardesty, letter to Letha, Nov. 22, 1969)

Acknowledging Nancy’s full schedule of college teaching, grading, and then adding all the new research she was doing for the book, I wrote back:

About the matter of a deadline, I think both of us thought the other wanted to get the book done far sooner than is actually the case; thus, we’ve both avoided really facing a mutually satisfactory schedule
. . . . No, the summer doesn’t sound too far away. . . .Actually, I marvel at all you’ve been able to do on the project thus far . . . . I’ve appreciated your enthusiasm in plunging into this book-idea with such spirit. Already you have contributed a great deal, not only in a substantive way, but also in helping lift my sagging spirits.

I continued:

You’ve described your problems in finding adequate time to work on the book; now let me tell you mine. Then perhaps we can work out some sort of consensus to give us a tentative idea of when we should aim to have the book completed.  (1) As I mentioned to you, I write the junior high Sunday school materials for Union Gospel Press.  This is a lot of writing, eight quarterlies a year (four each of student and teacher books, and a little more than 200,000 words total—which is equivalent to writing four or five average length books each year). That in itself should be plenty to keep me busy, and sometimes I do get a bit under pressure handling the deadlines, especially at certain times when I’m juggling them with family responsibilities and social commitments. But by and large, I can handle it and should be able to fit in the writing of a book without too much difficulty. I was writing regular Sunday school curriculum materials—though not quite so extensively—while I wrote both of my last two books [Sex and the Single Eye, Zondervan, 1968; and Why Am I Here? Where Am In Going? Revell, 1966.  Revell had also published my first book, Youth Looks at Love, in 1964].  ( Letha Scanzoni, letter to Nancy, Dec. 1, 1969)

I listed three reasons why I didn’t want to give up my position as a Sunday school lesson writer: (a) I saw it as a ministry, (b) it kept me studying the whole Bible in great detail, and (c) it provided some regular income without my having to take a job away from my home, thus making it possible for me to be available to the children when they came home from school, and also making it possible to offer a little financial help to my parents who were having some tough financial and health problems.

I then went on to tell Nancy that I had a second schedule problem that could really complicate things.

(2)  Believe it or not, I’m in the process of completing my college education. I had already made application to study in the Religion Department at I.U. [Indiana University] when you were here but didn’t mention it because I thought perhaps I wouldn’t go through with it—especially if we felt we should really dig into the book writing immediately. However, last week I had a most fruitful appointment with the director of admissions and was amazed that after looking at my Eastman and Moody transcripts he gave me far more credit than I had expected, plus encouragement to do as much independent study for credit as possible. So today I mailed in the final formal application forms, and my plans are to do as many courses as possible via correspondence this winter and begin classes in the Inter-session this summer [a semester course crammed into two weeks], then full-time in the fall. Thus, your idea of working on the book during the summer months will suit me very well!  ( Letha Scanzoni, letter to Nancy, Dec. 1, 1969)

I went on to say how I had felt a restlessness and felt it was time to get busy on one of two projects I had wanted to do for a long time but had delayed: one was the “woman book” (with the growing conviction that I should invite Nancy to write it with me) and the other was to complete my interrupted education and pursue a degree in religious studies.  As I mentioned in my part of the original preface, quoted in Part 2 of this series, I asked the small group that met in our home on Sunday nights to pray with me about it, expecting the guidance to be toward one project or the other.

“I think it was more of a case of Abraham’s servant’s “I being in the way, the Lord led me” [Gen. 24:27 KJV] than it was of Gideon’s “putting out the fleece” [Judges 6:34-40], I told Nancy in that December 1969 letter, adding that I didn’t expect both projects to work out and that when they did I knew it meant very busy days ahead!  I wrote:

. . . .You mentioned that you’re beginning to see some purpose in your present state of singleness—and I think you meant the purpose of gaining real insight and experience which you can use to help other women through the book.  I look on my situation similarly and believe God has a purpose in it. The matter of the mature homemaker undertaking higher education is a much discussed subject today among educators and will continue to be even more so in the future. I think my seeing the challenge and problems of this from the standpoint of experience as well as theory can also be helpful in treating it in the book. At least, I hope I can approach this with such an attitude. In a lot of ways, what I’m doing isn’t easy and takes a certain amount of courage.  ( Letha Scanzoni, letter to Nancy, Dec. 1, 1969)

Our frequent correspondence

And so the letters kept flying across the miles between Mundelein, Illinois, and Bloomington, Indiana.  We wrote to each other several times a week and sometimes daily, with many letters written on the same day and crossing in the mails. Nancy was very supportive of my educational pursuits, although I had to squeeze in writing time wherever I could find it, and it was not unusual of me to start a fairly long single-spaced 10-point typed letter with words like these:

I can’t take out much time to write right now—as much as I’d like to. I really have to do more work on that take-home exam (if I do poorly in a sociology course John’s liable to disown me!), and also I must put a meatloaf into the oven for dinner soon.  Then John wants me to go to a movie with him tonight—it will probably be a late show, since he teaches till 6 p.m. today.”  (Letha Scanzoni letter to Nancy, Oct. 28, 1970)

Or again:

If I were a “good little student,” I’d be using this hour of free time (before preparing dinner and the Friday night shopping list) to do another take home exam for social problems (this time on evils inherent in American foreign policy under the present setup.. . .). But save your lecture. I’ve already planned how I’ll write the test and it shouldn’t be a problem.  (Letha Scanzoni, letter to Nancy, December 11, 1970)

Sometimes Nancy would tease me when I began letters that way.

First, I don’t know if I approve of your taking time to write me when you should be doing a take-home test. As a teacher, I should warn you about procrastinating. (But I’m glad you did it.) I trust you eventually got it done. Your other friends are right: How do you ever get it all done???  19 hours is more than we recommend. But as I say to my students:  You’ll make it!  ((Nancy Hardesty, letter to Letha, October 31, 1970)

I also was supportive of Nancy in her studies when in addition to her teaching of English and writing, she enrolled in  courses at the theological seminary associated with the college where she taught—and then again later when she moved to Chicago to earn a Ph.D. in the history of Christianity at the University of Chicago.

During this time, we were also writing our book chapter by chapter and seeking a publisher.  As our letters kept zipping back and forth, I told Nancy in the summer of 1971:

I’ve decided to just keep a sheet of paper in the typewriter and write little bits to you at odd moments. Otherwise, I don’t see how I’ll be able to answer your last two long, rich letters—and I want to very much, not only so that we’ll keep in contact (if time permitted, I don’t think I’d find it hard to write to you daily), but also so that we’ll have it all in writing.

I, too, have noticed how our file of letters has increased over the last year. It’s incredible. I sorted out our correspondence last week and would you believe it now occupies five [pocket] folders!  Again, I was amazed as I saw how much and how freely we have shared. I thought of a statement Joe Bayly made once in his column [in Eternity magazine]—something to the effect that Christians don’t take the time these days to really discuss things by letter, and how spiritually and intellectually enriching this can be. He was contrasting it with the great correspondences of various Christians of the past, I believe. Anyway, as I sorted out our letters into a better system of filing, it occurred to me that, while I’ve often wished (and still do) that you and I lived closer so that we could talk in person or on the phone often, it may be that one of God’s purposes in having us apart is that we do have to sort out our thoughts in a special way in order to commit them to paper, and that then we have this permanent record of the development of our thoughts (and our friendship) and we are able to look up how we’ve dealt with various issues, etc.  (Letha Scanzoni, letter to Nancy, July 11, 1971).

We seldom talked by phone because long distance charges were exorbitant back then.  And there was, of course, no such thing as email for our correspondence,  nor computers for writing our book—just our trusty typewriters and carbon paper for copies.  Nancy&Letha,1971 Nancy was using an IBM Selectric at one point and a reconditioned IBM Model B later, and I totally wore out one manual typewriter (the letter “e” stopped working, which was a major handicap!) and then bought another manual typewriter—although a few times John brought home an electric typewriter from the university for short periods when he needed me to type some materials for his professional publications.  I could then use it for our letters and book project, too, during that short time.

Nancy and Letha shown here circa 1971

Our lives and correspondence: 1970-1973

What did Nancy and I talk about in all those letters?  Everything!   We were discussing the projected book, of course, but we knew it needed to emerge not only from our research and abstract ideas but from our lived lives as well.

We offered comfort and support to each other when both of our fathers died unexpectedly of heart attacks during those years (Nancy’s dad at age 58 in 1970 and mine at age 68 in 1972).

We shared the little things of everyday life, too.  Nancy would tell me anecdotes about her interactions with her students and faculty colleagues.  In addition to teaching, she was able to indulge her love of sports by moonlighting as a sports writer, putting her master’s degree in journalism to work in a way she hadn’t thought about before.  She accepted an opportunity to cover all seven Trinity College sports for local newspapers and press releases.

She sent me a copy of the April, 1973 issue of Trinity Today, a joint publication of the college and divinity school’s public affairs department which featured a profile of Nancy as “Trinity Sports Woman.” Along with the article was a series of photos of the expressions on her face as she covered a particular game (thoughtfully attentive, biting her lips, grimacing with an unspoken “ouch” at a bad move, and smiling as she wrote down something about the game that she wanted to share with readers).

One Saturday morning in 1971, she wrote of having had only five and a half hours of sleep, even though she had slept in until 11:30:

I’m still ready to say “Yeh, Lord!” this morning even though we spent 14 hours in a school bus yesterday, only to see our team defeated 6-0.  But I’m still proud of them.   This morning I picked up the Psalms and read 25:2 where it says “Save me from the shame of defeat. . .” It echoed almost exactly what the guys were saying last night.  We were defeated but there was no shame in it. We went against a much more powerful, talented team and played our best, but it just wasn’t good enough. Yet the Lord spoke to all of us in different ways through it.

I should start at the beginning—but it may not come out organized. Thanks for that clipping on “spilling out” and your words on friendship. It does mean so much to have someone to tell, share, all the little things that make life meaningful—especially someone who cares and loves and is concerned. Thank you for that privilege, thank you for listening.  (Nancy Hardesty, letter to Letha, Nov. 13, 1971).

I shared the everyday events of my busy life, too, during those packed-full years—teaching a Sunday school class, getting together with other families for picnics, working hard to balance my home responsibilities with all the other facets of my life—as a student and as a professional writer and speaker traveling around the country, along with fulfilling a contractual agreement to write a book on sex education in the Christian home (Sex Is a Parent Affair, first published by Regal in 1973 and later in a revised edition by Bantam Books in 1982).

Also in Nancy’s and my correspondence,I wrote a lot about my sons (who were ages 12 and 9 when Nancy and I started the book).  The boys loved her (and still do), and for a period of time (with her consent of course) she was listed in our will as the designated legal guardian if, while they were still minors, both parents were to die at the same time.  During one of her visits, she stayed with the boys while John and I were away on a short overnight trip.  As we were saying goodbye, Dave, the younger son, asked sadly, “But who will hug me while you’re gone?” And Nancy immediately swept him up in her arms and with a warm squeeze said, “I will.”

Dave & Steve,circa 1971

Off to Camp.  Dave and Steve, circa 1971

Nancy always enjoyed hearing their news about school, friends, camp, and other adventures.  As our book progressed, both Steve and Dave took great interest in it , discussed feminism with us, and even helped in various ways.

Sometimes anecdotes about one of kids served as a springboard for our discussions, as in this excerpt from a 1971 letter when Dave was age 10.  I wrote:

On David’s report card today the teacher attached a little note that I thought applied well to our subject. All the teachers gave David the highest grade (+) on his attitude and cooperation (he did well on his academic work, too), but the main teacher wrote: “David concedes a debated point gracefully. He seems to be in it for the fun or education of it rather than to prove a point or his manhood or something like that. It’s very pleasant.”  I think she meant in regard to discussions, debates, etc. But it struck me how different things might be if boys and men didn’t feel they had to “prove their manhood” but had confidence enough to be tender, considerate, and thoughtful; and if girls and women didn’t have to “prove their femininity” by appearing helpless, docile, etc. as we’ve said so often.”  (Letha Scanzoni, letter to Nancy, June 9, 1971).

We also talked about the magazines and books we read and also articles we wrote individually for various periodicals during that period, and we were both thrilled when the first issue of Ms magazine was published in the spring of 1972.  We frequently clipped newspaper articles and enclosed them with our letters to help each other build our files of material useful for our book.

We talked about our respective marital states and learned from each other the joys, discouragements, and challenges of both singleness and marriage as they were perceived and presented in the U.S. at the time we were writing.  (I may share more about some of our exchanges on these topics in a  later post.)

The spiritual dimension of our work on the book

“Our spiritual communion is most deep.” Nancy wrote in a letter dated August 26, 1973. “As you said probably not many co-authors, even Christian ones, have prayed over their work as much as we have. Our dedication service was so beautiful and meaningful. I find myself thinking again and again of it.”

She was referring to a private ritual the two of us held together as we dedicated the book to God before taking the package containing the complete manuscript to the post office.  At last we had found a publisher (and the book would be out a year later in August 1974), and we wanted to commit the works of our hands, hearts, and heads to God.

Throughout our writing of the book, we shared with each other what God was teaching us from Scripture and in our own lives.  For a time, we did Bible studies together by enclosing with our letters our thoughts on a book of the Bible (we went through Philippians that way) or on a particular theme ( in which each of us would type out for the other a compilation of the Scriptures we had found on particular topics:  meditations on loving God, on loving others, on temptation, and other subjects).

When we visited each other, we always had times of praying and reading Scripture together.  Sometimes we included the lighting of a candle, making wherever we were seem even more set apart as a sacred space. Sometimes we included a private sharing of the Lord’s Supper together.  (Even though at the time, Nancy was Episcopalian and I was Presbyterian, we believed that when Jesus spoke of being in the midst of two or three gathered together in his name or said, “Do this in remembrance of me,” it didn’t require an ordained clergy person to consecrate the bread and wine.  And I was used to having such services with the small group of Christian couples and singles who met in my home on Sunday evenings.) These times were always deeply meaningful to both of us.

Nancy with flower,1973.scan0005 When Nancy visited me in Bloomington, one of our favorite places for talking and working on our book, as well as for prayer, Bible study,  and communion, was in the out of doors.  We loved to drive to state parks or to a lake for the afternoon. I snapped this picture of Nancy  during one of those outings in the summer of 1972 or 1973.


We were by no means always serious and often displayed a sense of humor in our letters.  We had plenty of laughs, too, during visits.  I remember one time when Nancy was visiting, my husband had to leave for a conference or speaking engagement, and before he left he told us, “Now don’t forget to put out the trash cans the night before garbage pick-up day.”  He reminded us several times.  But wouldn’t you know, the night before garbage pick-up day, we were engrossed in working on the book until about three o’clock in the morning.   Suddenly we were startled to hear a truck and the banging of metal.  “Oh, the garbage!” one of us said.  We had totally forgotten to put out the garbage cans!  “John is really going to be upset because now it won’t be picked up for a week!” I said.  “I forgot that they sometimes come before sunrise!”

So we rushed to the garage, after hurriedly picking up some waste baskets along the way to empty more trash into the  cans, but by then the truck had passed our house and the houses nearby and was part way up the hill.  We each grabbed a heavy garbage can (how we found the strength, I don’t know) and ran up the hill after the truck, trying to get the workers’ attention.  Finally, they saw us and were able to take the cans.  They must have been totally surprised and puzzled to see two women chasing after them in the middle of the night!  Nancy and I had a good laugh and a good story to tell later.

And in one letter, I told one of my strange dreams (for which I’ve had a reputation, since I remember most of them the next morning).  This one showed how our work on the book had permeated even my subconscious.  I wrote:

I had a weird dream last night (don’t I always??)—one brief one about a cow who wanted to leave her calf and go off on a career on her own!  At another point I dreamed I was talking to Paul Thompson [the child of some friends] and he was only 2 or 3 and was pounding on a nail and saying, “Pounding nails is what men do, isn’t it?”  Whereupon I dreamed I burst into a long lecture on roles: “No, Paul, it’s not what men do—it’s what persons do,  Men can pound nails and so can women. Women bake cookies, but so can men.  Persons do things, not men or women.”  I must have been in a fighting feminist mood last night, though I don’t know why—can’t recall any reading or conversation that would have brought that on!  But I don’t know.  The night before, I dreamed we bought a pet camel!  It was a problem keeping it in the yard, but the kids enjoyed riding it!”  (Letha Scanzoni, letter to Nancy, July 25, 1972)

And then I went into a discussion about a Psychology Today article I had read on dreams.

Seeking a Publisher

In 1970, we decided to start looking for a publisher.  Little did we know how hard it would be to find one and how long it would take!  But we’ll talk about that in the next post in which I’ll share a letter I wrote to Dr. Paul Jewett about how difficult it was to get our book into print.

Copyright 2011 by Letha Dawson Scanzoni