It’s my birthday (actually yesterday was my birthday, but I’m taking a long weekend in celebration). Anyway, I am taking a day off so I’m presenting an article I wrote some years ago. It is still true and it bears repeating. Maybe you missed it the first time.
My ghostwriting clients are not writers. If they were, they wouldn’t need a ghostwriter, and they wouldn’t be my clients. So I am glad to work with non-writers – just because they can’t or won’t write, doesn’t mean they don’t have great stories. They do, and those stories deserve to be told.
But here’s a frustration with working with non-writers. Writers know that writing exposes you and makes you vulnerable. The more real and truthful you are, the more vulnerable and exposed. But non-writers don’t know that – until they get their manuscript back from the ghostwriter they hired to write their story, and they read their words and thoughts and feelings on paper. And then they get scared. They want to hedge and soften, and turn specifics into safe generalities, so they will feel safer.
Of course, this will kill their writing. Readers respond to gut-level stuff; that is what makes stories compelling and readable. But it’s not just the readers who get shortchanged when the story is “softened.” So does the author. By softening those rough patches, by hedging their truths and telling instead of showing their pains and joys, they have dramatically reduced the biggest benefit of writing – healing their wounds.
It is the role of the ghostwriter to guide non-writers through this scary jungle. Ghosts don’t mess around; they go right to the heart of the matter, cutting through all the prettifications, evasions, rationalizations, and sometimes even lies that the authors tell themselves in order to avoid what scares them.
Writing something down makes it real, and much harder to ignore. That’s what a ghostwriter is after – the real truth about what happened and why and how the author feels about it. A ghost claims a space inside the author’s head and does not waste their time with anything but the unvarnished truth.
And that’s where the frustration comes in. It’s not my story; it’s theirs. If they don’t want to tell the truth, I can’t make them. All I can do is offer my tools, and hope they use them.