Ghostwriting is the art of taking someone else’s story and writing it up so that it reads like they are talking and engaging with the reader. And though it may seem most often that a ghostwritten book is nonfiction, as in a business book detailing a CEO’s inspirational way of taking a company from zero to fortune 500, or a biography of someone who has had a fascinatingly unique life, would it surprise you to learn there are also a fair number of fiction books that have been written with the help of a ghostwriter?
Much of my current day job requires me to ghostwrite articles for others, often on technical solutions to real-world problems industries face. I always learn something new and get to indulge my inner geek as I do extra research into the theories and the history of the technologies I write about.
Recently, it got me thinking about the nature of ghostwriting and why I enjoy it.
1. I love hearing other people’s stories
I’ve written about this in the past. For some reason people want to tell me their stories. Their experiences, their secrets, their hopes and dreams they don’t normally tell others, they are comfortable telling me. For me, it highlights that interconnectedness of us all because I see so many similarities in the histories of individual people as well as their dreams for the future, no matter where on my travels I find these stories. Such as the time I took a train from Northern Italy to Strasbourg, France, and I shared a compartment with an elderly Italian gentleman who was traveling outside of Italy for the first time in his life to visit his banker son in England. They were going to see a soccer match, he told me with great enthusiasm. Though my Italian was very limited and his English was almost non-existent, we spent hours talking. He showed me pictures of his family and using simple words we were able to share stories.
2. I get to share those stories with others
By writing the stories I collect into fiction or articles or a non-fiction book, I get to share what I’ve learned with others. It may sound a tad simple and maybe sentimental even, but sharing stories is in our DNA. And so many of these stories resonate with readers. Not just the biographies of war survivors, or people who’ve overcome tremendous odds to succeed, though those matter, don’t misunderstand, but I’m talking about the smaller stories of every day heroics or struggles. The, at the same time, unique yet ordinary lives. Or a simple technology solution for an industry that ordinarily wouldn’t consider using that.
3. I get paid to write
That might seem trivial, but I assure you it isn’t. Getting paid for doing something I love validates the work I do and encourages me to do more. It encourages me to continue to hone my craft, but also allows me to share my skills and help others grow as they pursue their dreams of writing. Whether it’s guiding an intern to write blogs, or helping a new writer figure out how best to structure his book on architecture, guiding a coworker on the most impactful way to arrange information for a presentation, or writing a speech for a CEO using his notes and ideas.
The one thing I’m less fond of in ghostwriting is that sometimes you don’t get to tell the story that would appeal to readers; the one you really want to tell. Like the time a wily octogenarian hired me to write “a book, no a screenplay, no maybe it should be a book, oh let’s make it a screenplay it’ll be a thrill for the kids and grandkids to see my name in lights.”
His story idea was decent enough, if a bit old Hollywood of the Cary Grant – Rosalind Russell era, but he tried to stuff it with too many subplots that he insisted should be in there because he was paying for me to put them in there and he felt Hollywood had gotten away from good stories. It was a losing battle. All the while, though, he was also telling me about his life which would have made for a real page-turner … I tried very hard to convince him to let me write that story, but he refused. He didn’t want his kids to know all that about him. So, I filed it under “secrets”. Between you and me, it would have saved his kids hours of therapy had they known, but sometimes you just have to let it be. Chalk it up to learning.
I look forward to the next ghostwriting project as each one brings something new.