“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.” ― Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
To become a good writer, one must develop a broad and thorough general knowledge, otherwise a specific knowledge of a few key subjects. I recommend both. A good writer is well educated and not always traditionally – but well read a width and breadth of subjects and will often know more in specific areas than even postgrad students. Writers should have a strong general knowledge of world history, geography, politics, psychology, human behaviour, literature, the sciences, art, varying cultures and current affairs in a number of countries – as well as a high knowledge in specific areas – ideally two to three. This will help you as a ghost writer because you will be able to talk with customers about things other than the content inside the book. In turn, proving, along with your portfolio… that you are not a phony.
The more writers I meet, the more it seems to be a kind of ‘badge of honour’, to not read. These so called ‘writers’ need to be met with great suspicion and Holden Caulfield thinks that they are phony. They have typically not worked professionally as paid creative-writers, have not been published or even finished their first draft, but are usually part-time proof readers or copy editors, if that. A creative writer however is a totally different type of spirit. He cares deeply for the world of literature, has a lust for knowledge and seeks to uncover the secrets of the universe. Like Conan Doyle, he will dig for more, and never stop. Information and that lust for life is the sustenance the creative writer lives off and for, and he is charged in a way that others aren’t – he tends to push and drive projects as if today is his last because he is in the creative zone – and that zone is the only thing that is important in his universe. In fact, nothing else exists. Writing a lot and reading a lot is as necessary to him as oxygen, and the charged creative writer will tell you this is so – there is no exception to this rule. However, there is something else to the formula when one wants to become a ghost writer.
The problem many writers face is not an intellectual one, it is an interpersonal one. Unsurprisingly, they can be some of the biggest freaks walking. I recently attended the London Screenwriters Festival, the biggest screenwriting festival in the world. Over three days, it was as if all the freaks of Europe and the US had gathered in London for one colossal freak show. Fantastic! It was a great time and the people were wonderful but the majority of personalities ranged only from the introverted to the super introverted. The introvert hosts a great mind and introspection is needed to understand the world and research deeply the self – but basic so called ‘normal’ skills are needed too – if you want to land big jobs as a ghost writer and relate to your customers…
By the second day of the festival, people had relaxed – mostly because of the open bar on the Saturday night but if you’re not intending to go boozing with your ghost writing customer each time you meet – then listen up. Writing and research can be a lonely day-to-day existence and we often forget to leave the house – sometimes for days. We grow beards, caffeine appetites; we forget to do our laundry and phone ‘Mum’ – all good signs of healthy study. However, these long periods of no bathing, scratching spots with long nails and microwave meals can accumulate over time and very soon, we have lost the habit of inter-relating with others. This is not what your customers want if they will hire you as their ghost writer. You may come across as ‘weird’ when in fact, you are not, you are a writer – you’ve been reading Nietzsche for six weeks for an essay due in two days back and anyone who challenges this flow simply ‘doesn’t understand’. This isn’t weird, this is normal – to a writer.
To land big pro jobs as a ghost writer, you will need to fill your customer with the confidence that you can do the job. Although you may be able to – you need to communicate this, not via language, but through a presence and ideally, a portfolio. This is also the key in sourcing work, which we will come to in later blog posts. Sadly, not all writers will be able to work with people – and only their computers – and the reason why unless you pick up the phone or get out of the house – you won’t succeed as a full time, fully fledged, wealthy and healthy ghostwriter. The answers lie in a balanced and healthy lifestyle. The answers lie outside of just study and the life of a hermit. Exercise, healthy eating, family time, travel, exploring and all of that other stuff we know we should be doing but aren’t is the key. I want you to become a successful ghost writer who loves their work and the customers… and there are ways and methods in achieving this success.
To begin, read a lot and write a lot – I recommend 500–1000 words a day and one book a week. If you want to know if you can become a ghost writer, ask yourself this: ‘am I reading every day and writing 500 words every day’ – and don’t lie to yourself – and if you’re just starting out, “you could do worse than strip your television’s electric plug-wire, wrap a spike around it, and then stick it back into the wall. See what blows, and how far.” Can you become a ghost writer? Yes and no. Get reading, get writing, get out of the house, pick up the phone and talk to other human beings. Take a shower, clean your house and drink lemon tea instead of coffee – if only for a short while.
To summarise: develop the different aspects of your character. Become a polished version of yourself. Wash up, clean up, and get things in order!