It sounds eerie and indistinct, the title of a novel (or a film…which of course, it is…directed by Roman Polanski).
The actual definition of ghost writing is very concrete, however: you write for someone else, and they publish your writing under their own name. Most authors are appalled at the idea of giving their precious hours of work away–and Andrew Crofts, author of Ghostwriting, a Handbook, lists the typical feedback: “Why on earth would you want to do that?” Crofts gives a number of reasons why–noting, for instance, the collaborative nature of the work, the pay (which is often good), and the fact that your words are, at least, getting out there. (For more complete answers, I can highly recommend his site, http://www.andrewcrofts.com/WhatIs.html.) There are even collective resources for ghost writers, such as the Association of Ghostwriters, or the International Association of Professional Ghostwriters. But the question remains: how do ghost writers themselves feel about their work? Does it aid in the creative process? Does it help you navigate your way into print under your own name? Is it–in other words–worth it?
On the Fiction Reboot, I have endeavored to cover a wide variety of topics in several genres. In the interest of getting a sense of this often invisible kind of work, I have asked a friend to join me with her thoughts on the process and how it affects her sense of self as a writer. Today, we will look at what it means to write fiction behind the screen–the ghost of the writing life.
How does this ghost writing affect your sense of authorship?
“Sense of authorship” – that’s a good way to put it. There is definitely some emotion attached to what we write, and I’m not sure I have defined this process for myself yet. First, some of what I’m writing might not be what I would choose to write on my own. However, I still put a little piece of myself into each story, so there is a sense of loss when it becomes assigned to another person’s name. When I see someone else take credit for that, it feels like they are taking something from me—even though I’ve signed a contract and am getting paid.
Does it help you generate ideas for your own work? Does it provide practice?
Some of what I’m writing now (the “book” a client claims she’s working on, a series of shorter stories, more of a novella), has things in it that I might want to write or expand on. That makes it very personal for me. So in a way that’s “practice”, but it’s also giving myself to something that may not mean anything to someone else (or the client) but which means a great deal to me. I’m also using my experience. Those who know me (friends, lovers) can pinpoint exactly where I’ve gotten my ideas. You might say it’s like pouring yourself into something that’s then given to strangers. It can feel like self-betrayal, but in this genre (romance/erotica), it can also feel like a blessing. It gives me an outlet for fantasy and real life stories that also hides my identity.
Some of my feeling might be specific to my genre, but I’m sure some can be extrapolated to ghostwriters everywhere – pouring your personal self into work that is then turned impersonal. It turns something personal into something very businesslike.
Would you recommend this as a means for new writers to get practice and industry knowledge? Do you see it as a collaboration at all?
Actually, I would. I think the writing practice has done me good, and I’m learning something about self publishing by “shadowing” my clients. I’ve gotten my own creative juices flowing and I’m getting ready to take a break from ghost-writing to work on my own projects that I want to self-publish. If my clients can do it, why can’t I? I do think ghostwriting could be a collaboration depending on the client. Both of my clients pay me promptly, work out ideas with me, and communicate effectively. However, when a client actively markets the work as solely their creative process, it can mess with the sense of collaboration as well as the sense of authorship.
Many thanks for these insights! Tune in Thursday of this week for an interview with Stephanie Smith, author of Warpaint!