Co-Authors: Tips for your collaborative writing journey

Are you co-authoring a nonfiction book?

Here’s a question I always hear: When co-authors are writing a book, do they always have to use ‘we’ or ‘us’ or are there alternatives?

There are really very few alternatives, some better than others. Writers take great pride in their words so, first, above all, these co-authors need to set their egos aside. By doing this, it makes sharing the ‘stage’ so much easier.

Assuming the book is a ‘how-to’ or ‘self-help’ where one writer has expertise in one way, and the other in another, there are a couple of ideas. They can agree to write separate chapters or sections, and then go over them before they finish to be sure they are in sync with each other. This way each author can, if they wish, lay claim to their own writing at the beginning of the chapter, then there is no need for the ‘we’ and ‘us’ throughout. But, if it is a book on photography, a cookbook, a book on yoga poses, or something of that type, and to escape what appears to be the separateness of it all, neither of them need to put their names on any of it, other than the front cover. This is ideal for co-authors.

But how do we step back from the ‘we’ and the ‘us’ – by taking this step, we literally are removing ourselves from the writing. Look at these examples.

  1. They can write from a different perspective, leaving out any pronouns, which is actually taking out any references to both or either of them. Example: “As a society, we like to follow trends.” That could be written, “Society likes to follow trends.”
  2. Another Example: On a more personal level, such as, “We have more than eight years experience, and it is our belief that clients typically lack motivation ….” Instead try, “More than eight years’ experience has shown that clients typically lack motivation.”

No need for we, our, etc., because the reader already knows that the authors are writing the book and are referring to their experiences. It is simply inferred that the authors are referring to themselves. This works great in the nonfiction category because the reader isn’t searching for you in the work, but just looking for the facts you are putting forth.

It is really not much different than a textbook, where you will never see the words I, we, us, etc. Do that more often, and the writers can cut down on the overuse of “we” and “us.”

This technique gives the writers distance from their work, which for a nonfiction piece is great, but remember by removing yourselves from the page, the writing can feel distant to the reader.

According to Robert Olen Butler in his book, From Where You Dream, “Language, in fact, is much more often used in non-sensual ways.” The writers have to work on letting the words they choose reflect the warmth of their collective personalities.

Writing memoirs is very different. It is a single author and we want the reader to feel the closeness to the writer, but at the same time the problem is the same only with the ‘I’ – we have to really work at making sure the words we use give the reader closeness to us, but still remove many of the ‘I’ references throughout the work.

My favorite of all has been when the co-authors write a piece for the Introduction and both of them sign their name to it, and from there on, the reader feels cohesiveness and that everything in here is written by both of them. Then the writers just step back and put the text forward. Let the story/text flow. Nothing in the manuscript is attributed to one or the other or the we. Egos aside, let your story/book sing with its own voice.

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