The Books Briefing: The Writers Who Don’t Work Alone

Writing is sometimes seen as a solitary pursuit, but co-authors, editors, and friends enrich the process: Your weekly guide to the best in books

The Atlantic

Who wrote Shakespeare’s plays? A definitive statement of authorship may be hard to come by, but evidence suggests that the bard did not write alone. He co-wrote The Two Noble Kinsmen with his contemporary John Fletcher, and collaborations with actors, playwrights, and others likely informed his other works.

Authorship is not always so disputed, but Shakespeare’s case still highlights something important: Writing is often seen as a solitary pursuit, but co-authors, editors, and friends typically enrich the process. The author Erik Ofgang, for instance, wrote The Good Vices with his father. Miranda Popkey and Zan Romanoff, the novelists and close friends, similarly relied on each other for support when writing their books. A Secret Sisterhood, which is fittingly co-written by Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney, examines the relationships that fueled work from literary giants such as George Eliot and Virginia Woolf.

Fan-fiction authors often find their collaborators online. Writers in the Secret Garden, by Cecilia R. Aragon and Katie Davis, details the supportive comments and constructive criticism that make fan fiction’s collaborative online forums effective teaching environments.

Every Friday in the Books Briefing, we thread together Atlantic stories on books that share similar ideas.

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What We’re Reading

Shakespeare didn’t write alone
“Plays are by their very nature collaborative, dependent not merely on a playwright’s talent but on the abilities of various theater artists and technicians to put the play onstage. Authorship is only one, though admittedly the main one, of the conditions of play-making.”

📚 The Two Noble Kinsmen, by John Fletcher and William Shakespeare
illustration of a typewriter


The joy of writing a book with my dad
“While the verdict is out on whether collaborations lead to better writing, for me at least, it led to a better writing experience. Writing this book was difficult, sometimes more difficult than past projects, but it was never, ever lonely—and that means more than I can put into words.”

📚 The Good Vices: From Beer to Sex, the Surprising Truth About What’s Actually Good for You, by Harry and Erik Ofgang


On being happy for and jealous of a friend at the same time
“It can be hard to be really close to someone who’s trying to do the same thing that you do.”

📚 Topics of Conversation, by Miranda Popkey
📚 Look, by Zan Romanoff
📚 A Song to Take the World Apart, by Zan Romanoff
📚 Grace and the Fever, by Zan Romanoff
book cover


A new book about formative literary friendships
“Female friendship, a trending theme in contemporary fiction, is ripe for fresh nonfiction attention. Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney—two young writers who are, yes, also friends—have just the book (and they got Margaret Atwood to write a foreword). They probe the lives of four literary giants, exploring formative experiences of literary sisterhood that have gone unsung.”

📚 A Secret Sisterhood, by Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney
photo of person using a laptop


What fan fiction teaches that the classroom doesn’t
“[Katie] Davis, along with her University of Washington colleague Cecilia Aragon, recently spent nine months studying a couple of fan-fiction websites, focusing mostly on young authors writing on … They published their observations in a new book called Writers in the Secret Garden, and described their theory that people on these websites are actually teaching one another to write through a kind of sprawling, communal learning that Aragon and Davis call ‘distributed mentorship.’”

📚 Writers in the Secret Garden, by Cecilia R. Aragon and Katie Davis
📚 The Broken Earth Trilogy, by N. K. Jemisin
📚 Gideon the Ninth, by Tamsyn Muir

About us: This week’s newsletter is written by Kate Cray. The book she’s reading next is Kim Ji-young, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-ju.

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