The Funny Thing About Ghostwriting

I’m still working on this novel that I’m ghostwriting. When I accepted the job, I was really new in the world of freelancing and had no idea what I should ask as far as price goes for my work. Now that I do know, I’m basically writing this thing for free. It seemed like a lot of money to me at the time, but now that I see the amount of work being poured into it, that work comes nowhere close to translating in the price.

However, it’s experience, I suppose.

But here’s what I’ve learned about ghostwriting. And it’s the reason that I might not do it in the future, at least for novels. Articles, fine. Web content, of course. But a full novel? It probably won’t happen again.

First, I’ve learned that if you start to really dislike what you’re writing –  not just the way you’ve said things but the story – you can’t scrap it. You can’t stop and say you know what, I don’t like this anymore, so I’m not going to waste any more of my time on it.

You are, in a sense, a prisoner to the story, even when it no longer feels like something that needs to be written.

I’m working on an eBook right now, as well, and I would so much rather be working on that. I’d rather be writing that article on bioluminescent fungi. Or that tutorial on handmade garden signs.

But it’s not just writing a novel that’s the problem. It’s that I don’t love the story. It’s odd. It makes no sense. There’s no reason for it. It doesn’t have any underlying message of…anything. It will, I believe, leave readers with a feeling of “And?” wanting to know what the point was. Why even write it?

In yesterday’s post “Why We Write”, I talked about how writers tell stories that make people think and cause them to pause for a moment and consider. I believe good writing does that. if you’re not telling a true story, because those are almost always interesting and thought-provoking on their own, fiction should have somewhere in it something that makes you think.

Certain genres maybe don’t have to hold to this quite as much. Murder mysteries, for instance, aren’t really designed for literary inspiration that makes you sit and ponder. But they still make you think in the way that they’re designed to – you’re trying to figure out “whodunnit” the entire time.

This story does nothing. I’ve tried my best to work in some meaning but it still falls flat.

Ghostwriting is something that I don’t understand the way I used to. I used to think it was a great idea, because I saw it only from my perspective as a writer. I get to write a story and give it away and my name’s not attached to it so I really don’t have to be too stressed about its reception and I move along.

But now that I understand why we write – or why writers should write, I think – ghostwriting makes no sense to me. If you have a ghostwriter tell the story of your grandparents because they have a great story and you simply can’t write, that makes sense to me. But if you’re buying a work of fiction to sell under your name or you’re buying a book that would have you positioned as an authority on something….the meaning becomes lost.

In a sense, it feels like cheating. My client insists that “I’m a writer, too”.  So write your story. The most interesting part to me is that he has been most disassociated with the project. He gave me the very, very basic story idea and then said when you’re done I’ll read it and work with the editor. Odd.

I would suspect that were I to, for whatever reason that I cannot imagine, pay someone to write a novel that I was going to be selling under my name (actually it’s his pseudonym), I would want to be involved in it. I would want to read every word as it came in. I would want to give feedback.

A very strange experience, indeed. But it has been a learning experience.

As I draw to the close of this book and bid it a happy farewell (although I’m starting to wonder if that “work with the editor” segment is going to be a nightmare), and reflect back on the experience and, now that I’ve been writing for awhile, the concept as a whole, I think the funny thing about ghostwriting is that it exists at all outside of biographies.

I know some writers who love ghostwriting, and that’s great. But I, for one, think it’s foreign and strange. If you’re farming out stories hoping to get rich off novels, you’re not writing for the right reasons. Of course, you’re not really writing at all. But you’re in the business of books for the wrong reasons.

What do you think about the concept of ghostwriting novels?


2 Comments Add yours

  1. Like you, the very idea makes my head spin. If you have the idea and no ability, I guess I could understand farming it out, but then you have to accept that you’re not the creative force. You’re just setting an assignment, and you’ll almost certainly not get along with the finished article. Worse, you’ll not be able to articulate WHY you don’t like it and what needs fixing. You’ll say stupid things like “The middle needs tightening” or “This character isn’t deep enough”.
    You have my deepest sympathy.

    1. courtneyherz says:

      Indeed. And I always wonder how they will answer questions about the book when they didn’t write it. The whole experience has been odd. He has zero passion about the subject, the story, or the time period in which it’s set – which makes me wonder how he knows what he’s looking for when he reads it. Even his editor thinks that he is writing it. Essentially, he is a go-between for me and the editor, although the editor doesn’t know I exist and he doesn’t know what the story is because he refuses to read it until it is completed in its entirety. Amusing, at best, and an interesting study of the process of ghostwriting, but one which I do not wish to soon repeat haha. 🙂 Thanks for your comment!

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