Last week I wrote about my job as a ghostwriter. This week I thought I’d share nine things I’ve learned from that job.
1. It’s not about me: Book projects take many hours: initial talks with the author to see if we’re a good fit and get the gist of the message or project, reading and listening to the materials provided, critiquing the manuscript, organizing, writing, researching and fact-checking, and revising—all to make someone else’s message clear and interesting. My name rarely appears anywhere in the book, and I never tell anyone else if I’ve written a particular book, even if it does really well–and even if that one slightly snobbish friend tells me about this new book she’s been reading and I really, really want to. It’s not about me.
2. Listening to understand isn’t the same as listening to imitate: There’s a big difference between being able to recite information that’s been accumulated and sounding and looking like the storyteller or teacher.
3. The trumpet must sound clearly:
Even in the case of lifeless things that make sounds, such as the pipe or harp, how will anyone know what tune is being played unless there is a distinction in the notes? Again, if the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle?
First Corinthians 14:7-8
Every author has a message, and every message should bring with it a call to action of some sort—whether it’s a book on activism against poverty that incites the reader to take part in some way, or a work of fiction that expands the imagination or changes a mindset. Whatever the author’s intent, some clarity is needed—even if it’s open-ended clarity that encourages the reader to think, to question, to ponder.
4. You don’t always clearly understand the people you think you will: One summer I wrote a series of devotionals for a local soccer league. I’m a North American mom with two sons. But you know what? No one in our family plays soccer. That assignment became an exercise in interviewing a friend who’s a soccer mom to find out what the assigned topics and terms meant. It’s important to understand people’s language, terminology and nuances if you want to communicate with them.
5. Sometimes it’s the person with whom you think you have the least in common that you connect with the most easily: The summer I wrote the soccer-themed devotionals, I also wrote a book for a Nigerian evangelist. What would I have in common with this man? Not a whole lot, it would seem: Our life experiences were different, our ways of doing things were different, our cultures were different. But our discussions were intriguing and thought-provoking, and we found many areas in which we strongly agreed or could learn from one another. We went on to do more work together, becoming friends through the process. It may be that person with whom you think you have nothing in common that you connect with in a real way. Don’t shy away from those who are different from you.
6. Some people acknowledge and appreciate; some don’t: Sometimes I’ve been mentioned in dedications or forewords; I’ve received some lovely notes or the occasional gift after books have been published; I’ve been asked to work on follow-up books; I’ve been invited to co-interview on radio for a completed book project; I’ve been recommended to friends for their projects. And sometimes I’ve received my paycheck and that’s been it. While nothing is expected beyond payment for services rendered, which group do you suppose brings a faster smile to my face? Showing appreciation is important, even if it’s just a simple phone call or a note.
7. Sometimes a little reorganization is all it takes for the message to get through: There are times when things need to be thought through and a message needs to be reordered. God isn’t a god of chaos, either in our messages or in our lives.
8. If it’s truth, then the message is more important than the messenger: Ghostwriting is all about the message. It isn’t important that my name be on the cover; it’s important that the author get his or her message to the intended audience. Do we always need to take credit for the good things we do, or for the ideas that worked out well? No.
9. Everyone has their own voice; all are important: Some people write formally, others very informally; some write teachings, others fiction—or poetry or allegory or scripts or something else; some write in first person, others do not. Some are very pragmatic, others are symbolic to the point of mysticism. Each has a distinct voice. And that’s important. Someone who’s smitten with poetry may never pick up that nonfiction book; and some who love teaching-style books might loathe allegory. Different writing styles resonate with different people.
Ghostwriting is a lot of work and can be quite challenging; but it can also be fascinating. And you can learn a lot from it–not just about writing, but about life.