A Q&A-type thing
Q: I tried ghostwriting once, and it didn't go too well. How do you negotiate time/schedules and the structure of the project? My main concern is distinguishing my voice from the other writer's voice when I publish my own work. Any advice on how to be a ghostwriter?
A: Ghostwriting is definitely all about the author and the way they want to present a topic. One thing that helps me is hearing them speak to an audience, either in person or on a recording of some kind. I prefer to work from transcripts and/or have a really involved author. Their speaking to an audience is different from how they speak to me when talking through the book concept. I consider that their book will most likely go to people who fit the characteristics of the audiences they speak to. By listening to or watching a recording of the author in front of an audience, I also get to hear how the audience responds to things they say and I can grab phrases and concepts that seem to resonate the most. Boom: target audience and felt need knocked out in one shot.
After I have spent some time understanding their goals for the projects and reviewing the written or recorded content that may support those goals, I develop an outline. I have the audio or video material transcribed; sometimes I do this myself. I fit the transcribed text into the framework of the outline--nipping, tucking, cutting, and moving chunks of text around like puzzle pieces until they form the right picture. Then the writing begins.
Their Words vs. Mine
We each have our own word bank and speech patterns within which we work—some are expansive and some are limited. I try to get a feel for those patterns as I listen to the author speak or read their writing, and when I am writing for them I try not to overstep those patterns with how I would say something.
1. Don’t lean on your own language defaults.
I am usually going very slowly at this point because when you rush, you go right to your own defaults. On one project I spent most of a 16-hour day working through the first two paragraphs of a chapter. I just wasn’t finding what the author was trying to get his readers to know. In ghostwriting, you can’t rush and you can’t lean on your defaults. I stop and ask myself, “What word would the author use here?” “Is that my word or theirs?”
2. Copy patterns; mimic the beat.
I also try to find a similar juncture somewhere else in their original ideas from which I can copy a pattern. I use transcripts as jumping off points, almost like taking over for the rope-turner in double-dutch. Did you ever do that? You try to mimic their beat and speed so you don't mess up the jumpers or the vibe the group has going on. If you do, you are the worst! I never did that well. LOL! Or maybe you drum and you are taking over as an alternate drummer for a previously formed band. You do not come in with your own beats. Interviewing and frequent check-ins about word choice are other helpful strategies.
When the Author Is Not Involved
For the most part, I’ve worked with authors who are very hands-off. This can be good as well as challenging. It seems that the more prophetic an author is the more their hands and hearts are on the next new thing that God is doing. God gave them the revelation, they handed it off to me, and they're on to the next one. I’m standing with all their words in my inbox like, “But wait! I have questions.” In those cases, I trust that I have all I need, including their absolute trust, to make more authoritative choices with strict integrity to their convictions and revelations. If something is unclear, but they are unavailable, it comes out of the book. Unless I know them well because I’ve worked with their content for years, I do not try to fill in for things I don’t know without a doubt the author thinks or believes. In all truth, I employ the same spiritual tools in my process of writing for them that they did to receive their revelation or passion/burden for their message.
Being an Editor May Give Me an Advantage
Since I started as an editor (and still am), I've had time to practice being an invisible chameleon, while still working to elevating the text. The first rule of editing is to do no harm. With that, editors are charged with protecting the author's voice as much as possible. Of course, author voice seems to be relative. Still, it should never conflict with good grammar, clear logic, easy reader engagement, especially for nonfiction. To some degree, though, my thought process regarding organization of the content and flow of the work usually reflects me—my years of training, education, experience, and intuition.
A Day in the Life—Maintaining a Writing and Editing Calendar
Maintaining my schedule has been challenging for me all year (2017). My editing and writing business has boomed right at a time when I am working full-time, attending graduate school, and raising a family. It has been hectic. Not to mention, recent natural disasters (I live in Florida with hurricanes) and a recent surgery with a longer-than-expected recovery have also slowed me (and the freelancers who help me; yes, I have help) down. I was also traveling frequently during the first and second quarter of the year.
All this to say that there will always be something. I have requested revisions to deadlines. I have beat deadlines. One thing I try to do is work very hard, even if it means working around the clock. The other thing I do is try to keep open communication lines with my clients as well as setting expectations in advance. I tell them that I am busy.
There are some adjustments I have made that will soon manifest themselves, hopefully making things a bit easier. But this is the world of publishing. It's been a rush my whole career, and I pray it doesn't slow down anytime soon. I absolutely love it.
What are some tips you can share with me that you employ when ghostwriting?