5 Tools of the Ghostwriter’s Magic
Once people understand what a ghostwriter does, they always want to know how that works. Just how do I pull a story out of someone else’s head and turn it into a book? They think I’m performing magic, but here’s your peek behind the curtain. You might be surprised at how easy it can be.
(*Quick note: I am the ghostwriter, not the author. In this discussion, the author is the person with the dream, the expertise, and the ideas. They hire me to write it down.)
For the person who can’t stand sitting at the computer for more than a few minutes, recordings are a good way to capture the story. This is especially true if time is limited on either side since you don’t need to rely on set conference times. The author of the book can work from their phone in the middle of the night if they want to, speaking their ideas into the recording and sending the recordings to me. Depending on the client and the nature of the recording, I may have the recordings transcribed or just listen and take notes to incorporate into the project.
Imagine having only five minutes to get all the who, what, why, whens of a story that has the potential to change people’s lives. As a newspaper reporter, I used interviews to discover all the facts in a short period of time. This method works well for experts writing non-fiction in their field and for individuals writing memoir-type titles. The experts hire me because they don’t have the time and the memoirists hire me to help them recover the details. Interviews can be done in person, over the phone, through chat or video conference, or even back and forth through email. Some authors may already have interviews available from other sources.
Journals / Notes
Another good method for working with memoir writers is to work from journals. Many experts have notes collected on their topic. Fiction writers may have bits and pieces of their stories in writing already. When the author is an instructor, scientist or inventor working to produce a manual on their topic, they may have complete lesson plans or stages plotted out. In this situation, the author will send me copies of their journals and notes, or at least the parts they feel are relevant, then I pull out the details that make their story sparkle.
Sorry, you can never escape research. Every ghostwrite requires at least a little. However, there are some topics and some projects in which almost all of the material in the book comes from my own research. In these instances, the author’s primary role in the project is to establish the book’s outline, identify the key points that need to be made, and approves the final content. They may identify some of the experts they want me to consult or add some of their own journal articles to the source list. Whether you’re working in fiction or non-fiction, expect to spend some time looking things up.
Think of this as an extra-substantive edit. In this case, the author comes to me with a manuscript, or large part of a manuscript, already written. They had a great idea for a story and worked to write it themselves, but haven’t the time or the experience to make the story sing the way they envisioned it. We work together to evaluate the story, pull out its strong points and replace or bolster its weak points. In this case, we work together through the rewrites to create the story they dreamed. But don’t let the fact that so much of the story is written fool you. These can be some of the hardest ghosts to do.
In practice, most of these methods are used to some degree in every ghostwrite. You may, for example, find it necessary to record a phone interview with the author, then email to clarify a point or two which they address with notes from a class they took. Then you do some research on an important element in the notes and go back and forth with the author to sharpen the ideas into the point they wanted to make in the language that sounds like them.
What kinds of materials do you usually work from in your writing? Might any of these methods help you with your projects? I’ll tell you a little more about each in the coming weeks.