You Didn’t See Me, I Wasn’t Here: The Power of Ghostwriting

Posted on March 13th, 2016   |   Written by: Catherine   |  Post Categories: Writing

Someone once asked me, “When people ask you to write a blog, non-fiction book or speech for them and you’re not credited with the writing, doesn’t that bother you?” My true answer is, absolutely not.

To my way of thinking, ghostwriting a blog, non-fiction book or speech is like building a house. When I say a house is mine, it is mine. I’ve paid for it – and I live in it and call it my own. And even though a builder supplied the bricks and mortar, the foundation, the nails, wood and roofing for it and an architect provided the design, it’s still mine.

I pay these professionals to craft my house. And I get to live in it and call it my own. But I am an active participant in the process of building it. Before a nail is pounded, there’s much discussion between me and my professional team. My input to the architect about what features I’d like to see, with the painters about what colors to paint the rooms, and the builders as to whether I’d like clearstory windows, molding, or tile backsplashes – these all stem from my imagination. I have merely allowed those who have the right tools to help me put my dream house together.

In much the same way, I help people “build their dream communications.” Using phone conversations, their written input and edits, and learning how they might express themselves by observing how they’ve either talked to me or in other writings teaches me how to “be them.” I then “craft their house.”

Ghostwriting also resembles film, theater, and television acting

The best actors immerse themselves into the roles they play and become those characters. They aren’t really those characters, but they do represent them in authentic ways.  In essence, I do the same with my writers. I “act as them” and create a framework for what they want to say.

Years ago, I wrote speeches for a city mayor. When she presented them, her inflection and delivery were so personal my words unequivocally became hers. All I did was provide the foundation and framework for her expression. And I was proud to help her shine.

Now, in writing non-fiction books and blogs for others, I apply the same principles I learned as an actor in college theater – I become my writers. It’s fun, challenging, and lucrative.

Why do people hire a ghostwriter?

There are many reasons, but usually it’s because they’re too busy to write, they can’t find the time, or they just don’t have the knowhow. They need someone else to “frame the house.”

If you’re a writer thinking of ghostwriting for others, here are some tips to get you started:

  • Learn to actively listen. As a former radio news journalist, I honed the skill of listening to ensure I reported the story accurately. Writing it right the first time saved me huge time, a lot of grief and countless edits. Active listening will not only save you time, it will clue you to what’s most important to the writer – and help you identify the tone or “voice” the author wants you to convey. Is it a chatty, personable tone or more business-like? Active listening to how the would-be writer expresses themselves will tell you.
  • Ask copious questions. Your primary objective should be to get as much information as possible. So find out what the main goal is for the piece of writing. Frame your questions around these objectives. Ghostwriting is about listening to your client, interviewing them for what matters to them and crafting what they say in an interesting way that’s meaningful and readable for audiences.
  • Lose your ego. Unless you are comfortable putting other people in the limelight and stepping away from it yourself, forget about being a ghostwriter. By its very definition, a ghostwriter is invisible. Those long hours you spend laboring over your computer or searching for the perfect phrase in your mind by their very nature do not belong to you. You have to be willing to “give them away.”

In an episode of the TV sitcom “Frasier,” Frasier helps Habitat for Humanity build a house. But he’s so invested in the process, he’s unable to let go of “ownership” of it. He pesters the inhabitants about their interior design choices and hovers around their garden giving instructions as to what plants should be put there. You simply can’t “be a Frasier” as a ghostwriter.

In ghostwriting, the true joy comes from seeing a product you’ve “built” for someone else in print or online. Helping others realize their dreams becomes its own best reward.

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