Ghostwriting – what’s it all about?

Ghostwriters: The shape-shifters of the writing community.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been an avid writer. It started off with stories — or my “novels” I wrote from around the age of eight. I was addicted to churning out these pages — getting my ideas onto paper. Experimenting with different genres and styles. I wouldn’t even let anyone else read them, so the exercise was entirely for myself. And yet, despite the absence of praise and external validation, I still got such pleasure out of the hours I spent putting pen to paper. 

How I got into ghostwriting

After completing a Master’s degree in Political Science, and trying my hand at a few jobs in governmental institutions and NGOs, I naturally gravitated toward the roles which enabled me to write. And if I entered a role where this was not the main focus, it ended up becoming so! 

To be honest, it didn’t really matter what I was writing — even the more mundane tasks of meeting minutes, reports, and emails on behalf of managers kept things interesting. I enjoyed how I adopted a different voice or persona for each one. 

By removing my own ego from my writing, I find that I have been able to hone my craft in ways I didn’t before see were possible.

This was especially apparent when things progressed to writing official statements, speeches, or articles on behalf of those in more senior roles. It didn’t matter that they were the “expert” —they could provide me with all the data they wanted but then called on me to put it all into words. 

And after it became apparent that I was ready and willing to let go of what I call my “writing ego” (more on that later) with a tap of the keyboard, and channel the voice of whoever asks into my prose, this kind of work came rolling in.

The thrill of the game

I came to regard each request as an assignment. Opinion piece on behalf of a member of a small West African country’s parliament? Check. Press statement from a senior EU official? No problem. Email of complaint or feedback on behalf of my line manager? These were, perhaps oddly, some of my favorites! 

Such is how I entered the wonderful world of ghostwriting.

I began to get a thrill whenever I saw my words in print, or plastered somewhere online for thousands or more to see — even though my own name was nowhere to be found.

And so, I eventually left my third of a stint of similar public or non-profit sector office jobs to try and make a living solely from this skill I had come to develop. To write on behalf of others. To provide the sought-after service of channeling what others want to say into my own carefully sculpted prose.

How ghostwriting sharpens your writing skills

This pursuit of writing on behalf of others confused fellow writers I had come to know. Surely — they would ask — a big part of starting out as a writer is getting your name out there? Developing a portfolio? 

This is true, of course. I was aware of the downside that these words being read by so many did not credit my reputation whatsoever. They wouldn’t come up if someone Google-searched me. I couldn’t link them on my portfolio or talk about the specifics of my experiences openly — no matter how interesting or noteworthy. 

However, I did find that this ghostwriting role that had somehow fallen into my lap was also the perfect way for me to grow as a writer. When your name is taken out of the equation, and your own writing style and voice along with it, you gain greater control and a sense of intention over the voice you wish to project — even when you do go back to writing as yourself. 

Losing your writing ego

Fast forward to today, and I have several books under my belt. None of which, of course, display my own name on the cover. From politicians, to psychotherapists, to various respected academics seeking to put their research into a more accessible format— I have adopted many voices; Voices which, I am sure, if you read any of “my” works you would be surprised to learn are the product of an introverted 20-something woman in rural northern England!

And what have I discovered after these unique experiences as a ghostwriter? First things first: you must have humility and a genuine enthusiasm for writing as an art and an activity in itself. I have discovered from the reactions of fellow writers that some are in it largely for the recognition. When this is taken out of the question, writers with this as their main motivator may struggle to see the point. 

For me, as someone who enjoys the writing process itself, as well a the challenge to shape-shift into a particular role, although recognition is great and all —  I am willing to sacrifice it when required.

By removing my own ego from my writing, I find that I have been able to hone my craft in ways I didn’t before see were possible. Not only is there the obvious aspect of putting yourself in someone else’s shoes — expressing their idea on their behalf, regardless of your own personal opinions or insight— but you have you apply this self-removed mindset from every word you write. Essentially, the only part of you still reflected in the prose should be your raw skill.

Shedding your style

The thing is, many of us don’t even notice our writing style develop. Even if only near the beginning of your writing journey, and even if you cover a range of niches or sub-topics, I guarantee you will already have a pretty established tone of voice. 

It may be sarcastic and cheeky — or more dry and methodical. You may use snappy sentences. And then pair them with longer, more complex, sentences for dramatic effect (and add side-notes in parenthesis). You may — as you will have seen, I also enjoy — be a fan of emboldening certain clauses by sandwiching them between hyphens. Or have a habit of interjecting your points with little anecdotes or references to your own life or experiences…

Whatever your personal and unique style may be, you have somehow unconsciously cultivated one. But as a ghostwriter, you have to both acknowledge and learn to distance yourself from this. But don’t worry! You will most likely find that this process only gives you more clarity of what your own style truly is. Once you take off your mask and write under your own name again, you do so with a renewed awareness of your own style, having experienced what it means to write with another in its place.

That being said, a quietened essence of my writing style will still be there in my ghostwriting work if you looked really closely — and were even looking for it in the first place. But no one is. And so, my subdued writing signature remains as phantom-like as the moniker allocated to my profession.

What about niches?

Indeed, ghostwriting can take many forms. Whatever you already write about or have knowledge of, I guarantee there is a market out there for people who also know about that topic or want to create content about it — but they require your valuable ability to put it into words.

And how much do you need to know anyway? I am not a scientist by any means, but since I have experience working in healthcare advocacy, I feel most at ease writing about any topics related to health. The nitty-gritty facts and figures are provided, of course. And an overall understanding helps, so it’s not all gibberish to you. But there’s no need to also be an expert. Though of course, if you are — then that’s a bonus.

The key is having an open and curious attitude — some sort of a niche is always beneficial, but I would say a ghostwriter has to be particularly adaptable to open themselves up for more opportunities — especially since you won’t be going it alone in terms of the facts, with the client’s input. Ghostwriting is actually a great way to acquire a pretty in-depth rundown of various topics you may not have otherwise learned about.

How much background are you provided with?

Clients may provide you with every single point they want you to include, or they may simply give a vague outline and expect you to fill in the gaps. The key is establishing how much they will provide you with, and asking to see any supporting information, sources, or plans before you agree on a price and timeframe. 

Decide what you would prefer — more guidance and background so that your job is strictly a case of stringing things together and rephrasing? Or, are you happier with a little more creative freedom, calling for a more vague outline for you to then develop as you see fit— which, by the way, should also pay more! However, bear in mind that if you choose the latter, you would naturally require more of an existing background in the topic in question, as well as more time to research and plan the piece for yourself.

So you want to be a ghostwriter?

So, are you up for the challenge of detaching yourself at least somewhat from your own treasured writing style and personal voice? To write in the knowledge that your name will not be on the work? But to get the chance to truly thrive as a professional writer by providing a high-demand service?

Overall, if you are looking for more variety in your writing projects, are cool with the prospect of delving deeply into niches that may be new territory for you, writing in styles that stray from your usual brand, are okay with forfeiting your ego at least some of the time, and — perhaps most relevantly — would have gone into acting but prefer to hide behind the comfort of your keyboard — then ghostwriting could be something for you to try!

Do you want help making your dream book become a reality? Contact me today for a primary discussion about your ideas! – Roxanna

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