Usually to become a ghost you have to die first. But for nearly fifteen years I’ve been a ghost, yet I’m still alive. I think I am the best kind of ghost – a ghostwriter.
The first book I ghostwrote was for my own grandmother. I wrote the story of her coming to America as a child, her experiences as a “flapper” in the 1920s, her housewife life in a mountain logging town during the Depression, and her war service in the Second World War. I interviewed her and recorded our conversations, and she loaned me a box of old letters in spidery handwriting, plus about thirty albums full of photos of people even she couldn’t remember. I wrote it in first person, in her voice, using many of the phrases characteristic of my grandmother, with idioms common for her era. I wrote the book for love of my grandmother and because I wanted my own two daughters to know their heritage.
Grandma loved her book. She was so proud of it she showed it to all her friends, and since she was a highly social woman, a lot of people got to see it. One of those people raved about the book to her daughter, and then the daughter called me up and asked me to do the same thing for her mother. That was my first paid ghostwriting job. I charged a miniscule amount considering the energy and time I spent on it, but it was a great learning experience to write for/as a total stranger. It too was a success, and for the first time it occurred to me that I might be able to make a living doing what I loved – writing – and had been doing “on the side” for the previous twenty-odd years.
So I was off and running … well, not really running. I was off and limping. I had a lot to learn about ghostwriting, especially about how to market my services. But that was almost 15 years ago, and here I still am. And now I am so much smarter about the ghostwriting business, and how to live the ghostwriter’s life. I no longer charge miniscule amounts, for one thing. I know how to conduct a great interview, winkling out stories and ideas my clients thought they had forgotten. I know some tricks to make my writing sound like someone else wrote it. I know legal stuff about copyright, royalties, and confidentiality. I know how to combat the ghostwriting “stigma” so people know it is okay to use a ghostwriter. I know how to convince people that it’s worth their time, energy, and especially their money to write a book. And those are just a few of the many things I now know about being a ghostwriter.
I believe that writing – or sharing in some way – our stories, ideas, and wisdom, is one of our most important life tasks. Our stories show us how we connect with each other, they allow us to teach and learn, they inspire us, and they heal our divisions and our wounds. Our ideas, and our lives, matter. This is why I do what I do, and it’s why I think ghosts are the good guys.
Join our NAMW member teleseminar Friday, February 22 to learn more about the ghost business and how it works!