AKA Editing Taken to its Outer Limits
This aspect of Wherewithal’s work generates the most questions. People always have questions about ghostwriting.
Where does a subject’s voice end and my contribution start?
Do I feel any discomfort knowing that words I’ve written will be attributed to someone else?
How do I get credit?
Then, most urgently, who have I ghostwritten for?
I won’t answer that question here—NDAs!—but I can say that ghostwriting is truly best thought of as really aggressive line-editing. The ghostwriter takes spoken words, memos, additional research, and a sense of story to edit down a ton of narrative data into a coherent story and persuasive argument.
It’s the ghostwriter’s job to work through the kinks and tangents of interview answers to come up with a readable structure and thematic threads. It helps to meet in person, more than once. Then a ghostwriter gets a sense of the author’s voice when conversing casually and translates that into something that works well on the page.
Just plunking down what a person said verbatim rarely works. Most mortals don’t speak in full paragraphs. People stop, correct themselves mid-sentence, trail off without finishing a thought, pause, start a completely new thought. The ghostwriter soaks all this in and tries to convey the same dynamism on the page, but cleaner, crisper, more disciplined.
Who hires ghostwriters? Busy people with successful practices! Writing a book requires a lot of unspoken-for time, and they don’t have that. They are often skilled at negotiating a wide network of friends, colleagues, and associates, and this leads to “too much going on.”
Hiring a ghostwriter helps them slow down a bit and assess (while still enjoying the feeling of being productive). A ghostwriter ultimately helps them make sense of it all—or just better explain what’s going on, both to loved ones and the world at large now, and generations to come.
A ghostwriter is in that sense not just a wordsmith but someone who perceives patterns, systems, what’s been left unsaid, and where the value is.