The flow, the secret information and the intuitive knowing a ghost writer will need:
Ghostwriting and working closely with your subject on their life story or fiction screenplay is an art in itself and will become mastered only through experience and reflection. It requires time, patience and an attuned understanding of the individual in order to find their voice. Only that will make the piece their own. Sometimes, people do not have a voice – but a good ghost writer will be able to help with this. We will discuss this further in later posts. A ghost writer is someone who is observant, intuitive, detailed and creative.
Because each job and client is uniquely different, the book or screenplay, and writing experience in completing it – shall be a different one. Therefore, being adaptable and able to flow with your client is key – they are different to the last client, so different rules apply. One must gauge people’s personalities on a day-to-day basis and working with our clients is no different – so flow accordingly. If your client is showing a heavy amount of confidence and leadership with how they want their book written, we may need to realise that this behaviour can often be a projection and not necessarily how they really feel. Deep down, such a personality may need to be led – and in doing so, you may fill your client with the confidence they were looking for in their writer. Similarly, a person showing a lack of confidence and leadership may not want you to take total charge and play the authoritarian bad cop, but may in fact be unconsciously testing you to see if they can work with you: finding that bond of trust with your client is what is needed and only you will be able to make that happen. Without that, the creative process is already stunted. Nor are they likely to want to work with you as a ghost writer and sign over your get to work deposit if there is no chemistry.
Establishing weak foundations can often create buildings that topple. Mistrust, lies and bullying will manifest later as defective to the writing and the experience the reader will one day have. Strong, healthy foundations built on truth, passion and promise will enhance the writing and the experience that the reader will have. The process of ghost writing will often reveal itself and the journey must be observed as the process, rather than a set structural approach decided in the first meeting. Be flexible, adaptable and listen. When the time is right to lead, lead but until then – flow.
Can every writer work as a ghost writer? Yes and no. Most people have it in them to write a book if they dedicate the time and effort but working as a ghost writer for someone else is an entirely different ball game. It requires a variety of skills, not just an ability to sit and type. When listening for example, are you able to collect the other information – not just the content (which you should be recording) but are you able to use your spidey-sense and gather the secret information that your client is not telling you – via the tone and speed of their speech, the way they are sitting and using their hands. Are you secretly collecting information about them that they are not telling you? If not, why not? To write a book as someone, you need to become that someone and what your client won’t realise is that they have spent thirty of forty years becoming them: you must do it in several hours. They will never understand if you are unable to write a book as them – as this is your job as the ghost writer and the one thing that they are expecting. This is not always the case but can be depending on the job. If for example, your customer has a good idea for a novel via a narrators voice that is not their own, then you are free to explore and experiment as a creative ghost writer.
I always recommend a ghost writer spend between fifteen and twenty hours with their new client and make this clear from the beginning. Without laying out this golden rule, a ghost writer may find themselves the slave of the customer and at their beck and call, because the client has suddenly ‘realised’ something important about the book, it suddenly demands more of your time, a commute on the train, another hours sit down and the journey back, or even another ‘very important phone call’. It is important for the client to realise that your time is pegged to a certain price and the price you quoted them to begin is based on the twenty hours of ‘information gathering’. Due to your ability to observe and retain all of that secret information we have spoken of – often the ‘very urgent information’ that a client must tell you is information that they have now realised, but something you realised and could see after the first few hours.
A ghost writer must realise that their subject is experiencing the ‘writing process’ without actually writing. The cathartic process that you are familiar with is new territory to the client and in turn, quite confusing for them. Be patient and let them express themselves as they need to – they will talk a lot of nonsense to you, but this is fine. Take charge and lead when necessary but try not to police your client. If they have knew revelations that are critical to the material, have them call you or send it through via e-mail and don’t forget that they are paying you relative to your time. Importantly, to avoid the six month forty hour writing/research week for a small fee disaster; clarity and business acumen is needed. If you wish to write for fun, free of the challenges of working with others, then ghostwriting is not for you. If you are ready for a challenge in sourcing work, landing the job, securing contracts and experiencing a hard writing journey with your client, then you have the potential to become a full time working ghost writer.
Ghostwriting is an amazing job and I have learnt from every client I have worked with – this is how I choose to experience the work, and something you will need to do if you want to make a living as a paid ghost writer. Some people have all of the writing and social skills to work as a pro ghost, but they do not have the time to do the work. There are ways around this. In Part III we will discuss creative ways in which a ghost writer can source work, how to promote your services as a ghost writer around your busy work schedule and some achievable writing targets.