As a self-employed writer and editor, I often work independently, quietly, and alone at home on my laptop. While the industrious grind of an espresso machine and social murmuring in a coffee shop can be a nice change of pace, I find that I’m most productive in my basement office with a mug of tea and my favorite slippers.
Yet, the work can be isolating. Sometimes I forget what it felt like to hear the tapping of other keyboards over the cubicle wall, or chat with an officemate at the water cooler. While I don’t miss the commute or the smelly breakroom fridge, I do miss collaborating with colleagues on shared projects and uniting toward a common goal. I miss brainstorming ideas in the editorial suite, scribbling article outlines and headline ideas, and celebrating a job well done with a round of beers.
Shortly after I decided to “go freelance,” I joined a women’s networking group. We meet monthly to talk about the challenges, successes, and day-to-day learning opportunities of being self-employed and small business owners. My original connection to the group is my friend Lauren, a photographer, graphic designer, and branding pro who contributes to an online food magazine a few times a year. I love her for her outstanding talent, sage advice and warm laughter. When she suggested we collaborate on a story together—her photos plus my writing—I jumped at the chance. I pitched a few story ideas and, amazingly, the publication accepted one.
The winning pitch centered around a woman brewery owner who overcame health struggles in order to produce a gluten-free beer, and, eventually, open a 100% gluten-free brewery. When I set off to interview the brewery owner, she was gracious, honest and humble, and revealed that her story would be incomplete without including her friend and fellow entrepreneur, the owner of a gluten-free malt house.
If you know about beer, then you know that malted grain plays a key role in the four ingredients that make up beer (along with water, yeast and hops). Upon interviewing the maltstress (and yes, that’s her real title!), it was apparent that these two business owners had collaborated with each other for years and would continue to do so in order for their businesses to succeed. While I captured quotes and outlined my ideas on paper, Lauren captured photos of the women, the rural grain elevator-turned-malt house, and the brewery where it all came together. I loved seeing Lauren’s images, and I appreciated sharing my drafts with her as the story came together. After weeks of drafting, editing, and editing some more, we submitted the piece.
It wasn’t until the story published—with Lauren’s gorgeous photos adding untold depth to my prose—that I realized the connection: just as the brewery owner and maltstress collaborate to produce one-of-a-kind beer, Lauren and I had collaborated to create a written and visual documentation of their journey. While we don’t share an office or even the same city anymore, we’d been able to brainstorm an idea, refine the process, and collaborate to create our own successful product. I look back and feel honored that I got to tell this story of collaboration…while I myself collaborated with a talented friend.
I hope we do it again someday soon, but for now, the only thing left to do is celebrate with a round of beers.
Monica Parpal Stockbridge is a writer, editor and communications consultant. She launched her career writing about commercial refrigerators for an e-commerce startup before landing a role with a food and restaurant magazine. She’s written for branding firms, tech companies and marketing agencies, and she’s a big fan of craft beer. Her friend and collaborator is Lauren DeFilippo. Read their story at Life & Thyme.