Why do I ghostwrite for a living?
There are plenty of writing jobs out there for a writer with my level of talent, confidence and go-get-em. I love great advertising copy and the TV show Mad Men, so why not pursue copywriting as a career? I could be a generalist and write anything that came my way, so why not that? Why don’t I give up the ghost and just write my own voice? What’s so compelling to me about writing– not just for other people, but as other people?
1. I love to learn from the best
The part about ghostwriting I love the most is the conversations, what others call the “interview”, because they invariably lead to opportunities for me to show the person something they do that could be done even better by looking at it from another perspective. I know what you’re thinking: Isn’t ghostwriting supposed to be about the other person?
Not in my book. The way I see it, I ghostwrite because it makes me happy. People hire me because it makes them happy. We strike a deal because we each see something in the other person that we want. The number one thing I want it to learn is something new from someone who does something better than I do.
That’s why the research and discovery time – from the back and forth Q & A, the dodging of questions, the sidebars and tangents, the pushing beyond their comfort zones, the moment I realize they do something that’s really great that they don’t even know and I make a note, the non-verbal cues, the rhythm and cadence of their voice, the learning I get to enjoy, the stories, the joy of directing and guiding the conversation while the other person still has the freedom to answer as they like, etc., etc., etc.–all of these things are to me pure joy.
Before I wrote for a living I was a professional student. When I realized I was taking more and more classes, but not for any particular degree, simply because of my love for learning, is when I stopped with the head knowledge and got more involved in peoples lives. That’s the kind of learning I find most valuable. The kind that’s been lived. And wouldn’t you know it, that’s the kind of clients I admire most, too: the one’s who live what they proclaim.
2. It pays well
There’s no getting around it. If ghostwriting didn’t pay very well, I wouldn’t do it long-term. Oh, I’d do it short-term: for the love of learning, of course. But you don’t learn from the best by taking the $6000 ghostwriting jobs. The best do their homework before they approach a ghostwriter. They know roughly what a good ghostwriter charges. They know why they’re going to write a book. They know it’s not because they’re going to make a mint. They know they’ll be fortunate if they break even. They know it’s about cross-promotion of their interests and increasing their credibility. They know if they want to make money directly from book sales, they’re going to have to write three or four books before that starts. John Grisham was a full-time attorney for three or four books (New York Times best sellers, mind you) before he could stop his day job and just write fiction. They know they’re not the exception.
They know their book is about marketing and promotion of the other things they’re really good at. To ‘publish’ means ‘to proclaim’. Great proclamation, in the form of a published book, isn’t cheap. When it is, the level of proclamation is also cheap. I want the best for my clients and that’s what they pay for: the best from me.
3. It’s not about me
I love my wife more than I can say. I love kids. I love animals. I love movies and the arts and creation and coffee ice cream and coffee.
In all those things that I love, what’s the one thing every sentence has in common? Exactly. It’s the thing you and I both think about 95% of the day. It’s a habit we can’t shake. Built into our DNA, I suppose. I like to think I’m better at thinking about other people than I was 10 years ago, but I’m not sure it’s really true.
Ghostwriting, however, is seriously not about me. It’s the kind of thing that when I walk away from spending time with a client (in person, reviewing an audio recording, or writing a draft), I always feel grateful to have had a concentrated period of time not thinking about myself. Even better, I will have been thinking about how to make someone else sound better, look better, perhaps even be better.
This selfless bit is not something that comes naturally for me. Take the time right now. It’s 1:19 a.m. Am I up late because I’m a writer and that’s how we roll? Because I had a day full of meetings and putting late night/early morning hours into my Ghostwrite Pro post still has to get done – gee, aren’t I a dedicated, never say die type?
The truth is, yes, I had meetings all day; yes, I do like to write late at night when it’s quiet and there aren’t any distractions. Ultimately, though? I didn’t start it last week and so here I am doing it at the last minute. And why didn’t I start it last week? I’m sure it had something to do with what I wanted to do at the time.
Why do I ghostwrite again?
It’s starting to look like I ghostwrite to become a better person. Between you and me, that’s not what I expected to discover here at my big conclusion. I had this line all prepared about how it makes me a better fiction writer. Still, as long as it’s doing the job, I’m having a blast doing it and I’m making a living at it, I’d say I chose the perfect profession.
[Image: Tony the Misfit]