A lot of my work comes to me in the form of the ghostwriter contract. Ghosting covers a lot of ground (a lot of sins for that matter, too), from business books that attribute to the company and not a person, to the fully developed and realized alter-personality. With this series of mini-articles I will take a look at some of the elements that make up the ghostwriter’s day job, as well as poke at the squiggly bits that have always concerned me about it.
When I tell people that I work as a ghostwriter I most often get one of two responses: one is intrigue. There’s that whiff of mystery to ghostwriting, the suggestion that I am sworn under blood oaths to never reveal my secret identity, and if anyone pokes their noses too far then they would have to come to come sort of icky end a’la Agatha Christie. Luckily however, I am very good at covering my tracks.
The second response is a bit more disheartening. It is the roundabout assertion in some form or another that ‘well that’s great – but it’s not real writing, is it?’ That sort of reaction leaves me downbeat and growly, as if I don’t have enough of an imposter-syndrome / every-word-i-write-is-a-complete-failure neuroses already. Gee, thanks.
Truth is, both responses fall short of the reality of what ghosting is. It’s a job. Writing is a trade, like any other – only in some areas of the work you get to play with imaginary zap-guns and watery witches.
The fully developed alter-ego type thing, (by which I mean also having blogs, photos, and an entire sideral ghostlife) is quite rare to be honest, and nowadays most ghostwriters seem to me a bit more akin to showrunners than they do the hack in the attic. The ghostwriter gets given a brief, usually with a fairly well-developed seed of an idea, and after that comes an intense back and forth between the ghostwriter and the client as you expand and explore on the original idea. That’s with fiction, anyway. I haven’t done any memoirs yet. [Or maybe I have, and I’m just saying that…] With most contracts you get to tweak characters and develop whole new ones, and with some clients you end up creating whole worlds for the story to make sense in. It’s dramaturgy, in a sense. You have to impregnate, facehugger-like, the right needs and aversions in your characters to create conflict, and your plot has to hit all the right emotional notes to create resolution. That’s trade, as far as I can see; the art and craft of what any writer does with their day.